September 3, 2006

Still wallowing in the 60s.

I've been listening to the audiobook of Roger Kimball's "The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America," which is emphatically not a pro-60s book. I'm enjoying hearing the social conservative's ultra-tart judgments about all the terrible things my generation embraced. It's fun to hear the evidence against the 60s marshalled by a sharp writer who really is beside himself at how awful and dangerous all that 60s stuff is. I need to face up to the fact that a lot of the material that affected me was crap or worse, and it doesn't bother me that some of the things I still think are great -- like The Beatles, duh! -- are also crap in Kimball's view or that Kimball won't just laugh off the stuff that we all laughed at and knew was junk at the time (like "The Greening of America"). It's actually pretty amusing to hear Kimball slam that too, especially when said crap was written by a Yale lawprof -- i.e., "The Greening of America."

So, you should understand why a quick skim of this article had me clicking over to Amazon to buy this 3 DVD's worth of "Playboy After Dark," which was a TV show that started in 1968. There are also some episodes of "Playboy's Penthouse," from 1959 -- not quite the 60s, but laying the groundwork, and hence, more interesting to the 60s person than the 1968 show. Hugh Hefner was ridiculously behind the times to a young person in 1968, but he represented the way of the future in 1959. You're wondering if I was allowed to watch "Playboy's Penthouse" in 1959, when I was 8 years old. Let's just say my father was a great fan of Playboy Magazine who had every issue going back to 1953 and always proudly displayed the newest issue on the (kidney-shaped) coffee table (sometimes along with Swank and Escapade!). (I'm really afraid Roger Kimball might read this post and have a convulsion.)

Anyway, back to the article:
As [Cy] Coleman’s smoothly addictive theme plays over the opening credits, elevator doors part and a subjective camera roams the party, stopping when the pipe-smoking Mr. Hefner turns to introduce himself. Not the most natural of hosts, his sometimes awkward presence nonetheless has its charms: if the editor and publisher of Playboy can appear uncomfortable, there was hope for every nebbishy reader, a fantasy that fueled much of his magazine’s success.

‘‘Playboy’s Penthouse,” produced in Chicago over two seasons, also helped break down racial barriers on television. Black performers don’t just entertain and walk off. They socialize. Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. join the party, chatting, laughing and sipping their drinks. Cole, who does not sing, seems pleased to relax with the likes of [Lenny] Bruce and the novelist Rona Jaffe. Conversations have a natural feel, and Mr. Hefner never rushes anyone.

Bruce is the life of the party, riffing on TV censorship, integration and the definition of a “sick” comedian. And he’s funny, relating how executives from another show wouldn’t let him tell a story about why a tattoo on his arm might prevent burial in a Jewish cemetery. (Mr. Bruce, who died in 1966, need not have worried. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in California.)

‘‘Playboy After Dark” arrived in syndication in 1968. Taped in color in Los Angeles, the show has production values that are slicker than “Playboy’s Penthouse.” But what was elegant and slightly cool about the earlier series here seems forced. Joe Cocker and Canned Heat share the bill — weirdly — with Billy Eckstine and Vic Damone. Instead of Bruce and company, there is Rex Reed discussing “Myra Breckinridge,” the legendarily awful film in which he co-starred. Under his dinner jacket Mr. Hefner wears a shirt so puffy it could have inspired a famous episode of “Seinfeld.”
I love this kind of thing.


Unknown said...

My parents used to let me watch "Playboy After Dark" too, altho in 1968 I was 16 and just beginning to awaken from my teenage sexual frustrations. I always thought it was a rather silly show, Hef included, sashaying around in his velvet smoking jacket. There were some top talents that appeared from time to time like Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett. Hef always surrounded himself with class acts, even though I never figured him for one. Interesting post today!


Ron said...

I still think a "Playboys Penthouse" style of show would be pretty cool!

How did the '60's go wrong? They thought there was some amount of surgery that could make you think Rex Reed and Raquel Welch could even conceivably be the same person! Maybe a remake with Will Ferrell and Jessica Alba is necessary...

Tom Faranda said...

The most interesting thing about this post is, that I found out you and I are the same age.

Tom Faranda

Ron said...

Having missed all this stuff (thankfully) I still marvel at how you older folk convinced yourself Playboy was classy and would just throw it on the coffee table in front of your wife and daughter....ew.

Gahrie said...


In the beginning, PLayboy was a lot more "artsy" than explicit. Playboy became more explicit due to competition from magazines such as Penthouse.

Unknown said...

Kidney-shaped coffee table! We had one of those, and a black and white TV!

Not quite in my wheelchair yet, btw.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

The difference between "Playboy's Penthouse" and "Playboy After Dark" measures the degradation of our culture during the course of the 60's. God help us if Hef had produced "Studio Playboy" in 1977!!!

A friend of mine, quite liberal, aged 35, mentioned that the adults of our 1970's childhood all look like criminals in retrospect- sweaty, hairy, poorly groomed criminals.

Ann Althouse said...

Ron: He didn't throw it.

Gahrie: But what about Swank and Escapade?

Freder Frederson said...

The difference between "Playboy's Penthouse" and "Playboy After Dark" measures the degradation of our culture during the course of the 60's.

For all the "degradation" of our culture during the 60's, let's remember a few important differences between 1960 and 1970. In 1970, all official opposition to Brown v Board of Education had ceased. Anti-mescegnation laws were no longer constitutional (although it would take until the 21st century until Alabama and Mississippi would actually remove theirs from their law books). Minorities were not only guaranteed the vote but the federal government had stringent laws in place to make sure they were permitted to vote. For the first time in over a hundred years a year passed without a lynching in this country. It was no longer permissable to exclude someone from your place of business, accomodation, your neighborhood or a job on the basis of sex, religion, national origin or race.

That sounds like a hell of a lot of progress in the culture to me.

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim said...

A good indication of the silly seriousness of the 1960s is that a common chant was "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" -- and each one of these was treated as roads to enlightenment, not mostly hedonism.

Jim Lindgren

Freder Frederson said...

A good indication of the silly seriousness of the 1960s is that a common chant was "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll"

How about those other chants of the 1960's "We Shall Overcome" and "Free at Last". Are those more indications of the "silly seriousness" of the sixties?

Ron said...

Yow, two Rons! I am he, and you are he, but we are not together!

Doug said...

Good God, Swank magazine on a coffee table? My roommates in college would buy those from time to time(used no less), but I can't imagine my wife letting me put it on display.

I have never seen these shows, they were before my time, though I have seen some clips of one of them. Seemed like everyone was smoking. The late sixties and early seventies were a tough era for the aging hipsters. You had embarassments like William Shatner singing Beatles songs, and Don Kirshner wearing a horrible toupe, shirt unbuttnoned to his navel and tacky medallions.

Ann Althouse said...

Doug: Well, Swank was edgier than Playboy but I'm talking about the 1950s.

Doug said...

I guess I am projection my 1980's view of Swank to how things were thirty years before. I didn't even know Swank had been around that long.

Also, I think the lack of nudity in movies from the sixties and prior, due to the movie codes, has always led me to underestimate what was out there as far as nudity in magazines or old fashion stag films.

Bleepless said...

If all of you advanced and progressive militants disliked "The Greening of America," why did all of your reviews drool all over its sandals? It sounds like the virtually-inevitable case of, to be kind, inconsistency.

Maxine Weiss said...

Do they talk about Charlie Manson and the Manson family ???

Very 60s -ish.

Peace, Maxine

Aspasia M. said...

oh - more stuff about the 60s. One day I gotta study the 1960s instead of getting stuck in the 1860s.

Let's not forget stuff like the Voting Rights Act, ect., came out of that decade. (also - the Pregnacy Discrimination Act, Reed v. Reed, lots of stuff I wouldn't give up for the world.)

But -- whatever were you all THINKING about the aesthetics? As a little kid I had to suffer through years of horrible puke green and gold carpet in our house. My parents refused to get new carpeting until their kids were older. (which was, in retrospect, quite intelligent of them.)

I'm still trying to imagine Playboy on the table. Really?

I do find Hefner a fascinating study in cultural history.

In the '70s he also tried to start those "playboy clubs" in chicago. Woman dressed as bunnies would serve drinks. I don't think the clubs ever did very well.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Maxine, get with it. We live in post-modern time: Charlie Manson never existed and Altamount is a myth perpetrated by that vast right wing conspiracy.

Roger Sweeny said...

Jim Lindgren,

I don't remember anyone chanting "sex and drugs and rock and roll" in the 60s. In fact I don't even remember hearing the expression till the song of that title by Ian Dury and the Blockheads in 1977.

Of course, lots of people in the 60s did believe all three of them could be paths to personal improvement.

Robert Holmgren said...

I'm hopelessly unhip. Even my kidneys aren't kidney shaped. And I always thought doing the Playboy Chicago show was classier than the LA version--perhaps due to Hef becoming downright creepy after the move.

XWL said...

I occaisonally watch The Girls Next Door in mute horror.

It's frightening, really.

The Hef of 1959 would have called the Hef of 2006 a pathetic old fool.

Bruce Hayden said...

What is weird is that Playboy/ Hef, etc. is kinda back on the air now. As I flipped channels, I kept running into Hef and his blond playmates at a "bunny" party, riding a private train car, etc. The problems are that the only guy around is Hefner, and he seems to need the girls to help him around now days. He is mostly quiet and lets the girls do all the talking. But since there aren't any guys around (other than Hef, and he doesn't count), it sounds a lot like girl talk - but among a bunch of air-headed blonds with hugely enhanced breasts and collagen lips. After growing up with Hefner defined as ultra-sophisticated, and to seem where this all has gone is rather pathetic.

I never quite understood his mystique. But it was a great busines plan. Convince everyone that your and your magazine, etc. were the ultimate in cool and sophisticated, selling more magazines and club memberships, having parties at the mansion to showcase this coolness, etc. Ended up with a lavish lifestyle filled with beautiful women and paid for by those wishing they could participate.

I always found it humorous that Hef's business empire built somwhat on the exploitation of women was taken over by his daughter.

In any case, I never understood the alure. The magazines quickly paled, esp. compared to the real thing. Sure, when I was in college, some of the guys were really sophisticated and had a lot of Playboys lying around (and turned out to be some of the same guys who got COs to avoid the draft).

Bruce Hayden said...

The reason that I see us wallowing in the 1960s is that is when the older Baby Boomers came of age. Born in 1950, the country's innocence (to the extent it had one) dissipated at the same time that mine did. Or, at least that is our/my view. The 1950s and early 1960s are viewed as a more simple time most likely because we were that way. The 1960s was when we were discovering ourselves and the rest of the world. And the younger Baby Boomers were looking at things through the eyes of their older siblings, andd what the older ones thought was cool or important, the younger ones somewhat picked up. But no surprise that so much of society sees this through our eyes, as demographically, the Baby Boomers were so powerful because of the size of our cohort. In short, we are wallowing in the 1960s because that was our youth, and we are now looking at being old.

Revenant said...

How about those other chants of the 1960's "We Shall Overcome" and "Free at Last". Are those more indications of the "silly seriousness" of the sixties?

The civil rights movement had achieved its major objectives by the middle of the decade. When people talk about "the 60s" they usually mean the more chaotic and frivolous years at the end of the decade.