The Men of Playgirl

posted by Madame Bubby

Playgirl magazine, often billed unofficially as the “magazine for women and gay men,” has undergone some changes in its presentation through the years (one can no longer obtain the traditional hard copies that were usually hidden under some gayling’s bed at some point).

Even the naked guys in the magazine have changed, and that change reflects some social trends. What is interesting is that as recently as last week, on a gay chat board, Datalounge, the subject came up, and it wasn’t just a retro/nostalgia discussion from the eldergays.

The original poster made a point that the models in the 1970s and 1980s generally revealed huge bushes, and that they were trim and muscular overall, not what one might term “gym-pumped” or, to be biased, “steroid” bodies.

Now, the first Playgirl centerfold was Lyle Waggoner, who gained fame by appearing as a regular on the iconic Carol Burnett Show. For her sketches, Carol needed a straight guy, and I bet she also knew she would attract a certain audience (the Playgirl audience) by showing off his easy, unaffected, yet indisputably, studly presence. The first issues of Playgirl did not show cock, though. That came later, when the previous censorship of such materials was finally letting up in the early 1970s.
 

Lyle Waggoner in the first issue of Playgirl
Lyle Waggoner in the first issue of Playgirl

Lyle Waggoner in a later issue of Playgirl
Waggoner in a later issue

When Burt Reynolds died recently, many remembered his moment in Playgirl. Of course the photographers hid his member, but there was plenty to fantasize about even if was not visible. And hair, so much hair. The poster I referred to on Datalounge mentioned hairy bushes as if that was a style of the past, and that observation brings up the issue of shaving. How much hair is attractive? Or the lack thereof?
 

Burt Reynolds on the cover of Playgirl in December, 1974
Burt Reynolds on the cover of Playgirl in December, 1974

And note that many of the models, especially in the eighties, loved showing off their luxuriant locks. This hair was not hippie long hair that evoked Woodstock dancing and shabby communes in the woods; it was more like the idealized long hair of medieval knights and cavaliers and the like, heroes and antiheroes of romance novels.

But the long hair encouraged even more muscles, perhaps a reaction to possible associations with effeminacy in the more conservative eighties. Thus, tight pants, pastel colors, and long hair were acceptable if your body wasn’t just buff, but pumped up.

And in 1992, a pumped up, hard-bodied stud with a tattoo (harbinging what is now a rather generic look among millennials) named Dirk Shafer appeared as Playgirl’s Man of the Year. And he was gay. He didn’t come out as gay until much later, and he died in 2015.
 

Dirk Shafer as the Playgirl 1992 Man of the Year
Dirk Shafer as the 1992 Man of the Year

Another Playgirl model, Bill Cable aka Stoner, apparently appeared with Christina Crawford (!) in a mysterious video which has disappeared from youtube, alas. He also died young, kiiled in a motorbike accident in 1992.
 

Bill Cable aka Stoner
Bill Cable aka Stoner

Now that gay for pay is prominent in the adult erotic world, one might assume that some of the current models in Playgirl’s online edition are gay. And perhaps, depending on their situation, they aren’t concerned about concealing their orientation. Still, this open fluidity seems to produce rather generic results.

The secret thrill of an actual print magazine that enticed because of its very danger, dangerous imagery, a dangerous situation for the reader, is missing.

I am not advocating for the closet, but one wonders if it’s time for Playgirl to reexamine its purpose and not just serve an Instagram page in a larger format accompanied by tips on fitness. Remember, this magazine actually dared to in its earlier years explore female orgasms and polyamory and reveal men as sex subjects and objects for women and gay men.

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Valentine's Day Homosocial Sweethearts

posted by Madame Bubby


While doing some usual “retroing” (a verb I coined a couple weeks ago), I realized that the company, Necco, that used to make those tiny candy hearts, is no longer making them. Yes, the iconic Sweethearts will not be around this year, but next year. Apparently, Necco went bankrupt, and the company that bought them out is planning to continue the line, but not this year. Apparently, there wasn’t enough time to gear up to make the usual volume, according to one media source, The Miami Herald, 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts each day for 11 months.
 

Necco hearts

Now that’s an immense quality of tiny candy hearts with messages like “Be Mine” or “Crazy for You.” And what’s also immense, I think, is the dynamic of Valentine’s Day distribution that used to occur in classrooms when I was in elementary school in the 1960s.

Every year up until I think fourth grade (I am wondering if the cultural authorities of that age, still influenced by Freud, corresponded with the first rustlings of puberty), everyone would go the drug or department store and buy a big bag of small paper valentines. You would give one to everyone in your class, and I don’t remember, at least in my case, only giving them to girls. You gave one to every person in the class, regardless of gender, and in many cases, everyone got a bunch of those little hearts. Some of the more creative students, usually the girls, would even insert one of those hearts into the envelope with the card, that is, those who put their cards in envelopes.
 

1960s classroom valentines

Maybe the teachers and parents during that time were operating under the assumption that the children weren’t really thinking about gender relationships as being romantic, even though the wider culture was assuming Johnny and Sally were heterosexual and would in a few years establishing that orientation. Yet, in the prepubescent ages, everyone in the class was potentially the child’s platonic friend, and that’s what it was at that age. Ideally.

And, I could be wrong, but I think around ages 7-8, I remember the boys pretty much played with boys, the girls with the girls. Thus, the relationships on the playground were fairly homosocial, and the adults looks askance at boys who played with the girls and their gender-specific playthings and games and vice versa. Thus, perhaps, the genderless Valentine’s Day distribution kind of makes sense, even if at that age the “other” gender was often “yucky” or “icky.”

Yet, the children were running around at that time chanting, “John and Jane, sitting in a tree, ‘k i s s i n g.’ First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes John with the baby carriage. The man was pushing the baby carriage. Very interesting image in a time when everyone was assumed to be heterosexual, and the Father Knows Best world was the ideal: the man worked, and the woman stayed home and left it only to give birth and bring home another child. Well, at least love came before marriage, but not sex, in this ideal world.
 

195s man in suit pushing baby carriage

Ideal. Yet how many of those children knew they would not ever live up to this ideal, and thus they were “sick” and “wrong” The innocence of those paper valentines and candy sweethearts was ultimately illusory. Even the conventionally heterosexual youth weren’t just smoking or peeking at “wank mags” in the bathrooms and the woods and in their own bedrooms. And, looking back in with an admittedly jaded, cynical hindsight, remember those were the times when sexual transgressions against that ideal were often so secret and so heinous that one could not even name them, and when one thinks how many transgressions at that time were acts of nonconsensual abuse by family members.

When those small candy sweethearts appear again next year, maybe one could imagine them being exchanged in an honest, inclusive world where, even after the fourth grade, a boy can joyfully give another boy a valentine. And that world will not end. The world is more than we know.
 

Gay valentine
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Coffee?

Cup of coffee

Coffee is omnipresent. At least as far back as I can remember. I grew up in a world where stewardesses and waitresses always offered coffee and groups of adults drank cups of coffee (even at night). It usually came out of big metal cans, already ground. People made it at home in tall shiny percolators. Mrs. Olson spent her life in other people's homes encouraging coffee drinking. Badly made coffee meant social disgrace.
 

Mrs. Olson commercial

The beverage was the medium of socialization, its most minimal level. I don't know you that well, neighbor, but here's a cup of coffee. And you could always get coffee at places where life-changing boundary events occurred: hospitals and funeral homes. And you drank it from white styrofoam cups.

The coffee phenomenon in the West started out as an expensive treat for well-heeled gentry in late seventeenth century England, becoming the preferred drink of literary intelligentsia in what were called coffee houses. The less expensive it became (tea followed a parallel journey), the more widespread.
 

Sears department store exterior

Unfortunately, the coffee buzz was built on the sounds of whips cracking on plantations populated by African slaves. The same dynamic applies to sugar, which Americans used to add to their coffee in cute little packets (I remember ones that showed pictures of birds) or cubes before Starbucks entered the market with its elaborate lattes and coffee lingo of Tall and Grande. No more just black or sugar or cream choices.
 

Slaves in a coffee farm in Brazil

Yes, the coffee shop is back and has reached heights of gourmet splendor (and I might add still based on oppressive labor in areas where the beans are harvested), but its denizens are usually working on laptops, perhaps a place to at least get out of the house in an online world. No coffee shop has a right to exists without Wifi.
 

Person at Starbucks on a laptop

Person to person connections do occur in these settings, but often they seem to be first-time encounters. I spoke with you online. Let's meet for coffee.

I've never got meeting for coffee, unless it's an early morning meeting. At my house. In my bed. I've noticed many of the traditional brands like Folger's used to show commercials with couples in intimate settings drinking coffee. White couples in fluffy bathrobes lounging around on Pottery Barn-inspired home settings. It's the wholesome after-sex drink, like the once omnipresent after-sex cigarette.
 

Straight couple in white bathrobes drinking coffee in bed

This image is retro in some way, maybe, but also, especially when paired with the cigarette, there are some associations with loneliness. Picture the elderly woman in McDonald's drinking coffee, and then going outside to smoke. And going home to repeat that action.

What's scary is one could substitute elderly single gay man in the picture above.
 

Older man sitting alone at McDonald's drinking coffee

After all, the trendy young gays go out for coffee, and either drink it at the local Starbucks or, if they are really status conscious, at some hipster place that sells environmentally friendly beans in recyclable cups. The shop also doubles as a cat petting parlor and sells locally made tie-dye scarves. The gaylings also take their coffee home sometimes, because just being seen with the cup on the street gives them social status.

The only place you will see me with a cup of coffee is early in the morning, my best time for sex, which means you will have to spend the night at my house. And trust me, if I get really turned on, you'll need that cup of joe. Woof!

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The Sears Catalog

Sears department store exterior

Sears has been dying for some time, and after its recent filing for bankruptcy, it’s self-evident: the former retail giant will be as dead as a doornail.

Many folks of my generation remember the Sears catalog, especially the Christmas Wishbook edition. In fact, Sears began as a mail order outfit only, appealing to a mostly rural America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Those isolated on homesteads could order items from a catalog; imagine the thrill of a package arriving in those days!
 

Sears Christmas Wishbook, 1964

As Americans became more citified and then suburban, Sears built department stores, and then became the main anchor in shopping malls. Now Americans with their ubiquitous automobiles could now travel to a consumer’s mecca and buy appliances for their newer homes designed to accommodate washing machines, refrigerators, and television sets.
 

Sears department store opening advertisement

Yet the catalog remained, and one of my memories as a young gayling was that catalog, and it wasn’t because of the underwear models (that dynamic arrived later). No, it was because of the home décor. I was fascinated with the living room sets Sears sold in the catalog, especially the French provincial and Early American lines. (No, I exhibited no intention at that age, even subconsciously, of becoming the clichéd gay decorator.)
 

Sears furniture in catalog, 1970s

Confined to mostly interior activities because of lack of athletic skills, I would cut up older catalogs and create my own rooms. I remember a sofa with a brown slipcover that featured prominently in my fantasy rooms, next to a ginger jar lamp. I guess I may have been going for a more lower middle class look than I had intended (think Roseanne, definitely taking place in a Sears household), but home for me equals comfort, sinking into a cushy sofa in a room softly illuminated by lamplight.
 

Ginger jar lamps

When puberty hit, I was drawn to the catalogs for another reason: the macho mustached guys wearing plaid shirts, Levis, and boots. That was the style of the time, and Sears sold “gay macho” wear because its customers were actual construction workers or even cowboys. I really like the pictures of guys posing in tight jeans and boots with clunky heels. And they were usually posing together, as clothing was sold in the catalogs based on gender. Yet the groups of good-looking, well-built guys hanging out together could produce a definite homoerotic vibe. For example, I remember one ad featuring guys leaning against a fence, that pose drawing the eye to the bulge in the jeans. I cut it out and pasted into a secret notebook.
 

Sears catalog cowboys

There’s more going on than just nostalgia for an American icon. I do find it brutally ironic that the supposed “making American great again” does not include the return of Sears, in so many ways a symbol of a time when a strong, blue-collar (and mostly white) middle class made good. But their descendants now shop at Walmart and/or Amazon, or, in some of the areas that suffered the most economically, dollar stores.

And the new generation of gaylings don’t have to stealthily cut up Sears catalogs to express forbidden fantasies. They can use phone apps, but most significantly, they don’t have to hide their artistic and sexual interests in a world where girls were girls and men were men. Yet I still feel like the effort involved in cutting up those catalogs stimulated creativity. I had to work for my fun. And part of the fun was the work involved in attaining it.
 

Sears catalog '70s fashion
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I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together ...

Carol Burnett today

Yes, dear Carol, I was glad too, because I was able to see you in person for your annual reflection and audience/question answer event on Tuesday, June 12.
 

Carol Burnett live at the Chicago Theater

Carol Burnett at the Chicago Theater ticket stub

In fact, I was more than glad, because like the full-capacity audience at the Chicago Theater, I am a fan. If you are a person of a certain age (and many people of that age brought their now elderly parents), you grew up with this show, the last installment on that amazing 1970s Saturday night line-up that included classics like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family.

But this blog isn't just a nostalgia kick. Of course, to see clips of Carol singing with names like Ethel Merman and Mel Torme (names millennials might not recognize), or her spinning yarns in her inimitable way about going to the movies on a dime with her grandmother several times a week, fulfilled mine and the mostly older audience's euphoric absorption into their personal retro worlds.

What really got me was Carol (and she wanted people to call her Carol) is her complete humanity. No diva posturing (which she never did in her show anyway), no condescending royal “common touch” attitude. Like she did when she “bumped up the lights” before her show in its heyday, her wit and charm flamed out like the star she is, but rather than scorching, it emanated warmth and love.

She accepted the inevitable compliments graciously, but always managed to focus warmly and personally on the person she was speaking too, which ranged from a gay Catholic priest who admitted he would sing a variant of her song when he left a parish (how gay is that? my conservative priestly brother would cringe), to an odd question from someone who asked if she “had ever played a pregnant lady.” Huh?

When the inevitable political question came up (of course, in this fraught social climate), she admitted that she never worried about being PC when someone asked a question essentially lamenting political correctness and its effect on comedy, because the show was there for a belly laugh, not politics, and definitely not a laugh in bad taste (hear that, Roseanne?). The conservative members of the audience (they were there, I could tell the white Chicago suburban crowd like New Yorkers can tell the “bridge and tunnel crowd”) approved loudly.

But, when one of the soccer mom types who either brought her children or her mother asked her if she had ever experienced a #MeToo incident, Carol was honest. She had not. She admitted she was lucky. She married the producer of the Gary Moore Show (the place where she began her ascent to fame), and overall the men she worked with her were gentlemen. But she really zinged the audience when she said if any guy had tried anything with her, she “would kick him in the balls.” Deafening applause, ensued perhaps an elusive show of unity.

I could go on and on with her stories … her fake lesbian kiss with Julie Andrews meant to be a joke on Mike Nichols, but Lady Bird Johnson ended up as the audience for that one … the chin operation that nearly ruined a retake of a big scene in the movie Annie where she played Miss Hannigan …

And she, a truly gracious lady, acknowledged the late Harvey Korman in several clips and Bob Mackie, the masterful designer of the costumes for that show (she guesstimated he had to produce during the 11 years of that show 17,000 costumes), Bob Mackie, still active and working for The Cher Show, a gay man whose life partner Ray Aghayan died in 2011. When one thinks about the get-ups Carol wore for her beloved characters like Mrs. Wiggins and Stella Toddler, and of course the curtain rod dress in her movie parody “Went With the Wind,” one sees the show as the work of several geniuses who all came together to create (while enjoying a glorious time doing so) a world of joy and laughter.
 

Mrs. Wiggins
Mrs. Wiggins

Curtain dress
The curtain dress

The show was one of those few moments in life where time stood still. But then it was over, like the words to that song:
 

Seems we just got started
and before you know it
Comes the time we have
to say, “So long.”

Carol Burnett Show cast

Now Carol's got her own youtube channel. Check it out!

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