The history of Playboy, beginning in Chicago

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - What is Playboy magazine without nudity?

The media company is hoping to become a 'classier version of Vice’; provocative in its thoughtful stories for men, rather than its pictures. It’s how Hugh Hefner started his career in Chicago as a promotions copywriter for Esquire. And now, it's how the PG-13 version of Playboy magazine hopes to boost sagging sales.

The man behind Playboy, Hugh Hefner, grew up in Montclare on Chicago’s Northwest Side. He created Playboy in 1953.

From there, Hefner would use Chicago to grow Playboy from pin-up magazine to global empire.

In 1959, Hefner purchased the original Playboy mansion at 1340 North State Parkway on Chicago’s Gold Coast. It became a symbol for Hefner's image as the ultimate 'Playboy.'

"He controls his kingdom from a 7 foot circular vibrating bed,” it was said in 1966.

And if that bed could talk, the stories it would tell.

Besides hosting legendary parties with A-list stars of the day, the mansion was also home to several Playboy bunnies who lived in the bunny dormitories on the 3rd and 4th floors.

There’s also the famous plate over the doorbell, which in Latin means 'if you don't swing, don't ring.'

Hefner opened the first Chicago Playboy Club in 1960 at 116 East Walton Street.

"The Playboy Club Chicago, built on the simple principle that most people like to look at pretty girls," it was said in 1966.

In just the first month of operation, nearly 17 thousand turned out to look at 'pretty girls.'

A few years later, the Palmolive Building at 919 North Michigan became the new home to the Playboy Club. The 9-foot Playboy sign on top of the building made it hard to miss the Playboy presence in Chicago.

In a 1966 interview, from the mansion, Hefner explained the basic concept of Playboy.

"Relaxed urban living, good food and drink, pretty girls and good entertainment," Hefner said.

Clubs, mansions, and playboy's headquarters were all located at 680 North Lakeshore Drive. Chicago was the epi-center of the Playboy world.

But Hefner himself said in a 2010 documentary that his “roots come from Chicago, my dreams came from Hollywood." The mansion moved and the clubs closed, but the headquarters remained until 2012.

In a farewell letter to the Tribune that same year, Hefner said "playboy could not have happened anywhere else but Chicago."

Since playboy's website went nude-free last August, it’s grown from 4 million unique users a month to 16 million. But that's mainly because Facebook and other social media companies  would not allow Playboy to post nudity.

More than 16 million people now follow Playboy's non-nude Facebook page.


LOS ANGELES (AP) — For generations, teenage boys got their first look at a naked woman from Playboy, often from a copy swiped from Dad's sock drawer or filched from a newsstand.

These days, however, you can see far more explicit photos on your phone than anything Hugh Hefner probably imagined when he launched his pioneering skin magazine 62 years ago with a centerfold of Marilyn Monroe.

Which is why, Playboy announced this week, it will stop running nude photos in its U.S. print edition.

"You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture," Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders told The New York Times, which first reported the change.

In a move Playboy said had the blessing of the 89-year-old Hefner, the magazine will continue to publish what it called "sexy, seductive pictorials of the world's most beautiful women." But those women will presumably have some clothes on.

It's the end of an era, many said Tuesday, among them author Gay Talese, who wrote about Playboy and Hefner in his 1981 book about the sexual revolution, "Thy Neighbor's Wife."

"Playboy was important enough to be the first magazine in the mainstream that could both be called a literary magazine and a magazine for masturbation," he told The Associated Press.

During the magazine's heyday, subscribers could plausibly, if not always convincingly, claim they read it for the articles.

It published the work of such writers as John Updike, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury and Joseph Heller and interviewed the likes of Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan.

It also published nude photos of celebrities such as Drew Barrymore and Daryl Hannah and made stars of Playmates of the Month like Anna Nicole Smith.

The magazine that helped trigger the sexual revolution has seen its circulation plunge in recent decades, however, because of some of the very forces it set in motion.

First it had to deal with competition from more sexually explicit magazines like Penthouse and Hustler. Now it's up against the Internet, which is awash in high-definition porn.

So beginning in March, Playboy's U.S. print edition will look more like Esquire or GQ, magazines that carry PG-13-type pictures. Its international editions will still contain nude photos.

Playboy already took a similar step online more than a year ago. It banned full nudity on its website in August 2014 in a move that made the site safer for people to visit at work.

The company said the site saw the number of monthly unique visitors soar 400 percent. At the same time, it said, the median age of visitors fell from 47 to 30, a far more desirable demographic for advertisers.

One of the magazine's veteran contributors, celebrity interviewer David Rensin, praised the end of full nudity as something Playboy should have done years ago.

"It's a good business move. The magazine's got to keep up with the times," said Rensin, whose list of interview subjects includes Bill Gates, Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Scorsese. More recently he interviewed Scarlett Johansson and also Lena Dunham, whom people can see nude simply by watching her TV show "Girls."

But for every newsmaker or celebrity who said yes to a Playboy interview, Rensin told the AP on Tuesday, there were others who said no because they didn't want their words to appear close to photographs of naked women.

One of those naked women, actress Kristy Swanson, also praised the change, although she added she'll always fondly remember posing nude for her November 2002 pictorial.

"I just think that change can be a good thing," she said.

Burlesque queen and former Playboy covergirl Dita Von Teese said she lamented "the end of Playboy's Golden Age" when master photographers glorified models and movie stars.

"But truthfully, I think it was over a while ago as the (cachet) of posing for Playboy diminished the last several years," she said.

Others questioned whether the change comes too late to make much difference for the magazine, which has seen circulation fall from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 today, according to the Times, which cited the Alliance for Audited Media.

"The perception of what Playboy is is never going to change," said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism in Oxford.

"What's hurting Playboy today is, one, its name," he continued. "What gentleman today wants to consider himself a Playboy? And the competition. I mean, GQ is doing such a great job and Esquire is doing such a great job, so for men who want that combination of fun and real good solid content, they go elsewhere."