Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-Style in Modern America

Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-Style in Modern America

Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-Style in Modern America

Playboys in Paradise: Masculinity, Youth and Leisure-Style in Modern America


Post-war America was an exciting time. It was an age characterized by backyard barbecues and beach parties, mai-tai cocktails and Ford Mustangs, high school hops, Hawaiian shirts and Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire. This book charts middle-class America's move towards an ethos of conspicuous consumption and sexual license during the fifties and sixties.Focusing on two of the period'smost visible icons--the swinging bachelor and the vibrant teenager--this book looks at the interconnected changes that took place for American youth culture and masculinity as consumption and leisure established themselves as the dominant features of middle-class life. The author draws on a wide variety of popular examples--men's magazines, fashion and style, books, film and music--to argue that the bachelor and the teenager were complementary and interrelated stereotypes that shaped America's youth. Magazines such as Esquire and Playboy, and bands like the Beach Boys, framed and shaped a new meaning of the young American male that contrasted sharply with previous values of sobriety and moderation. This book discusses the images and icons that shaped masculinity in particular. By focusing on the changes both in masculine identity and in the form and representation of youth culture, American life is looked at from a fresh and innovative perspective.


What strikes me about the whole thing is that this crime – its planning, execution, and the police action that followed – is a unique product of the times. It seems designed for the style and tempo of the mid-Sixties – a mass-media crime. Everything about it had a superficial kind of yé-yé glamour. The cast of characters – on both sides of the law – talked and acted as if they were part of a scenario for one of the now popular hard-bitten, jazzy movies or TV serials. The crime was sexy, it was athletic, it was cool, way out, and as they say, not to be believed. It was also pretty stupid when you think about it.

But who cares? The style was there. The crooks had a kind of Man from U.N.C.L.E. appeal; they were just – well – not dowdy. As you follow through the story, you can almost hear the beat of a souped-up musical score that might have been written for it by someone like John Barry (Goldfinger).

Jack Roth, ‘The Beach Boy Caper’, Esquire, September 1965: 118.


By any measure the robbery was audacious. In 1964, in the dead of a chill October night, thieves broke into the American Museum of National History in New York and made off with a small fortune in gems and precious stones – a haul that included the Star of India, the world's largest star sapphire. In itself the burglary was spectacularly newsworthy. Yet what was already one of the biggest news stories of the winter became a media frenzy when, several days later, FBI agents arrested three suspects in Miami.

The threesome – Roger Clark, Allan Kuhn and Jack Murphy – captivated the public imagination through both their looks and their dynamic lifestyle. The ‘Beach Boys’, as they were dubbed by the press, exuded flamboyant charisma. In their twenties, they were all good-looking, tanned and athletic and all seemed to boast dashingly glamorous occupations. Clark was a yacht skipper and swimming-instructor, Kuhn a skin diver and aspiring night-club singer, while Murphy – known as ‘Murph the Surf’ – was a professional surfer who claimed to have introduced the sport to Miami a few years earlier. The gang's history as thuggish, small-time criminals went almost unnoticed as the media conjured with images of winsome rogues living lives of . . .

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