Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Norman Mailer: Playboy Magazine Heavyweight

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Norman Mailer: Playboy Magazine Heavyweight

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES PURCHASED BECAUSE OF A PLAYMATE'S ALLURE, most Playboy magazines get read cover-to-cover, confirming the quip "I buy it for the articles." Because less than ten percent of each issue contains nudity, the majority of monthly pages are well-known editorial features, such as the Playboy Advisor or the Playboy Interview, advice columns, cultural commentary, humor and literary selections. Using Esquire as a model, Hugh Hefner published fiction to position Playboy as more than a mere "skin-magazine." Hefner juxtaposed the nude pictorials with literature because he believed that, for proper stimulation, both the mind and body should be addressed. The quantity of fiction published in Playboy is astonishing, making fiction the single largest component of the magazine. In just its first year of publication, from December 1953 to 1954, Playboy devoted 168 pages to literary selections, over thirty percent of its content (Lambkin 26). In the 1960s the magazine maintained over 200-page issues and published elite critics and authors such as Alfred Kazin, William F. Buckley, Leslie Fiedler, Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin, and Vladimir Nabokov. Most of Playboy's fiction is either written by popular, contemporary authors or can be classified as a parody by an unknown author of a famous story. The cultural currency of contemporary authors or familiar narratives helped sell copies--by 1973, Playboy's paid circulation peaked at seven million per month (Pitzulo 12). Playboy editors particularly sought out authors or fictional selections that would help them re-masculinize the act of reading in the midst of the Cold War gender debates. To fulfill this objective, editors first looked to Ernest Hemingway because the Hemingway code hero exemplifies the quintessential Playboy qualities--strong, adventuresome, educated, and womanizing. Then, after his death in 1961, Playboy used Hemingway's obvious successor--Norman Mailer.

In 1956, Hefner hired Playboy's first renowned literary editor, Auguste Comte Spectorsky, an up-and-coming journalist, for the express purpose of elevating the magazine's literary content. Hefner considered Spectorsky "a real heavyweight" because of his literary talents and East Coast connections. Spectorsky's The Exurbanites had recently reached the Best Sellers list, and he had the literary connections needed to "upgrade" Playboy's fiction (Fraterrigo 32). Once on the editorial board, Spectorsky began recruiting personal friends to contribute the magazine. He solicited fiction and non-fiction pieces from Ken Purdy, Philip Wylie, Vance Packard, and John Steinbeck. Even if Hefner and Spectorsky did not always agree on lifestyle choices, they were both committed to producing a virile, high-culture publication. Hefner's vision was to embellish and surround sex with the trappings of high culture. Spectorsky, on the other hand, wanted to "reinvent sophisticated culture itself by bracketing it with heterosexual desire" (Gilbert 207). Combining nude pictorials with good writing and sophisticated advertising allowed Playboy the opportunity to re-masculinize both reading and consumerism, two activities that were supposedly feminized during the postwar era.

Spectorsky viewed Playboy as his platform to "redefine male readers as 'whole men'" (Gilbert 207). He wrote:

Each issue is a tacit statement to [readers] that they are responsive to fine fiction and to pretty girls; to Lucullan dining and drinking and to serious articles and interviews that bear directly or philosophically on today's serious issues; to sports cars and classical music, jazz, fashion, the struggle for civil rights, bachelor high-life, and the world of business and finance. (qtd. in Gilbert 207)

Spectorsky sincerely believed that Playboy was a viable vehicle from which to "preach" his literary tastes. For Spectorsky, the literary selections would provide readers an outlet for discussing the pertinent issues of the day, affording them the knowledge needed for sophisticated conversations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.