Saturday, July 18, 2009

Venus Revealed: The Pubic Wars 2 1969-70

Hoping for a catfight. Bob Guccione looks on as Playboy girl meets Penthouse girl at a charity race day at Sandown Park, Surrey, England in the sixties

In September 1969 Bob Guccione launched Penthouse into an American market where Playboy had reigned supreme for 16 years. Despite his stated intention to produce something edgier and more accessible in the UK market his friends exclaimed that his original Penthouse was just a copy of Playboy. He had responded that there was enough room in the market for both magazines and now had to prove it. Guccione claimed that he had taken no more from Playboy than Playboy had taken from Esquire.

Susie Conway enjoys herself in April 1968

There were some differences, however. On the pictorial front Penthouse had recently moved away from the Playboy girl next door-type depiction of its Pets to something more blatantly sexy. April 1968's Pet, Susie Conway, was shown squeezing her breasts whilst sprawled in abandon on a bed. Over the next year or so these breast caressing poses became more common in Penthouse prompting Newsweek to wonder if the girls were "looking for lumps"!

Penthouse Pet Morney Turner in May 1968

Nonetheless the Playboy Playmates continued to look like happy girls next door whose clothes had just happened to fall off whilst the Penthouse Pets looked like they were thinking about sex.

Jennifer Kipp has a squeeze in April 1969

There were a few other key differences. Playboy had, for years, followed a liberal agenda and had genuinely crusaded on social issues. However, at the same time it had originally ridden (some would say even helped to create) the consumer society in America in the 1950s. Feminists, however, increasingly in this period, felt that Playboy's self proclaimed championing of liberation for women was only if it concerned sexual liberation for the benefit of men.

Barrier breaker Jennifer

Playboy influenced in a low key way; by including the first Asian America and African American girls as Playmates (China Lee in August 1964 and Jennifer Jackson in March 1965, respectively), by assuming an aura of natural superiority which appeared to be part of the system whilst simultaneously challenging it, by showing that nice girls did like sex, by discussing the heretofore un-discussable.

China Lee in 1964

Penthouse was always that little bit more sexual and, eventually, almost totally about sex, especially in the subjects covered in the Penthouse Forum "letters" section. To what state these were real letters is doubtful but they progressed from comments about the content of the magazine to increasingly esoteric sex fantasies which eventually spawned their own magazine:Forum.

December 1962: the birth of the Playboy Philosophy

Hefner had a great interest in sports, as a quintessence of the American way of life. Guccione thought that sport was meaningless, never featured it in his magazine and preferred to focus on art instead. Both magazines worked hard to get the greatest writers of the day to contribute but Guccione poured scorn on "philosophers" writing for Playboy: surely a dig at Hefner's extended (some might say rambling) attempt to put the Playboy ethic into words in the serialised "Playboy philosophy" editorials which ran in the magazine from December 1962. Hefner's model, and initial rival, Esquire awarded him a "dubious achivement" award for it in 1963. The biggest shock in US magazine publishing circles had been when Playboy overtook Esquire to become the most widely read magazine in the US in 1956. By 1972 25% of American college men were buying the magazine.

Penthouse first US edition, September 1969

At the time that Penthouse was relentlessly pursuing advertisers for its first US edition it was contrasting the more "international" (read: European, read: more explicit) content of the magazine in contrast to Playboy's "all American, cheerleader style". Guccione attacked Playboy as old fashioned and one advert's copy read "Penthouse envy. Has the ageing playboy gone soft?" Some of his advertisements were so aggressive his New York advertising agency, Nadier & Lorimer, refused to place them. Guccione paid for them personally. Guccione's attacks on the older Hefner became more personal. He called him a "closet queen". On this front Hefner won the battle, saying he didn't care that Guccione wanted to copy him: "If I were he, I'd want to be me too." The two only met once, at the house of their mutual friend Bernie Cornfeld at a party on New Year's Eve 1971. Hefner made it quite clear to Cornfeld he didn't want this to happen again. Guccione said of the awkward, brief meeting; "he was much more embarrased than I was."

Melissa Mathers keeps it under her hat in June 1962

From the earliest issues of both magazines the girls had appeared nude but with their pubic area hidden. Bare breasts and bottoms were permissible. Anything else was not. Careful photography ensured that the girls’ legs, hats, cushions, guitars, flower arrangements, blankets and even soft toys were employed to protect the viewers’ modesty (the girls, we suspect, couldn’t have cared less). The reason for this was that the presence of pubic hair in photographs was generally considered to be where the borderline fell between acceptable and unacceptable (i.e. pornography). Pornography would be banned and the magazines', circulations were such (4 million a month for Playboy at this point) that they couldn’t risk the loss in revenue. Yes, there were underground magazines published which showed everything but these were small print run publications not available, unlike Playboy and Penthouse, on the newsstands of middle America.

Elke Sommer from 1967. A snake in the grass?

Oddly, it may have been Playboy who first showed a glimpse of the forbidden zone in a "can we or can't we see anything" way in a pictorial featuring German actress Elke Sommer in December 1967.

Agnetta: beyond a shadow of a doubt

Penthouse had scrupulously avoided even a teasing glimpse of the forbidden zone but this changed with their September 1968 UK Pet, Swedish girl Agnetta Bengston, whose knickers were transparent enough to make her fur quite clearly visible.

In addition, in the same issue, Penthouse ran a pictorial on the Bahamas which contained this photograph of a very sixties young lady in a very see-through outfit.

Joanna shines through

Likewise in January 1969 Playboy ran this photograph of actress Joanna Pettett wearing some rather see-through knickers.  Presumably both magazines thought they could get away with it as the women were wearing knickers.

At this point the Pet of the Month was the only girlie pictorial in Penthouse. In fact, there were only two pictorials altogether and invariably at this time the other one came from the set of a nudie film. In October 1968, the month after Agnetta flashed her fur, we had an unnamed actress in the featured film, Henry Ate, not quite covering herself completely with a towel.  These few tiny strands were the first uncovered pubic hair in the magazine.

Ada fluffs up

It was six months before Penthouse showed any more pubic hair but this time it was more easily visible and it was on a Pet of the Month.  Ada Grootenboer, a former Miss Holland, was Pet of the Month in May 1969. In several pictures the outline of her halo of fluff is quite visible. 

The following month, for an issue which covered both June and July 1968, Penthouse did it again with an even clearer side on pubic shot of an actress in their pictorial on the film De Sade (1968) directed by Cy Endfield of Zulu fame.

Paula Dances

Just one month later Playboy gave the world its first clear pubic shot, although it wasn't a Playmate, however, but well-known dancer Paula Kelly (and, therefore, arguably justifiable on the grounds of art) whose tasteful action montage appeared in August 1969. Playboy always claimed that they didn't take Penthouse's appearance in the US market that seriously at the end of the decade but it surely can't have been a coincidence that this picture appeared the month Penthouse's much heralded first American edition went on sale. However, because Paula was black, some civil rights leaders objected to the fact that it was a black girl who had introduced pubic hair to the magazine; accusing the magazine of confirming the view that black women could be seen as just playthings of white men. Hefner, very far from being a racist, backed off on a pubic Playboy and got his retouchers back into action for subsequent issues.

Evelyn Treacher: first US Pet of the Month. September 1969

Penthouse's first US edition, in September 1969, featured the busty, but otherwise conventionally depicted, English girl Evelyn Treacher. She had been the UK Pet of the Month in October 1968 and her pictorial, like many of the first US Pets, were exact reproductions of those from the British edition. Guccione had a large back catalogue and had no need to take new pictures for the US market.

This is not to say that you couldn't buy magazines in America which showed girls showing everything.  These were "underground" magazines however and weren't available for purchase at newsstands.

From September 1969 we have these two daring young ladies from Stingers.  This was a digest sized publication with none of the print quality of Penthouse or Playboy.

The month after Penthouse's US launch, when it had acheived a respectable but hardly Playboy worrying circulation of 235,000 copies, Playboy ran a feature on the notorious off-Broadway hit Oh, Calcutta!. Two small pictures of dancer Margo Sappington just showed her dark triangle. Presumably Playboy thought it could get away with this as it was reportage.

Ulla: grass but no bush

Penthouse's first half dozen US Pets were all re-cycled from the UK edition and all continued to cover their nether regions.

The first Page 3 girl. Ulla on November 17th 1969

Interestingly, one of these girls, Ulla Lindstrom, who was US Penthouse Pet for November 1969, became The Sun's first Page Three girl the same month, on November 17th. She didn't appear topless in The Sun but posed in a suggestively unbuttoned shirt.

November 1969

At this point Cavalier had been the only other men's magazine in the US with  a respectable circulation; running second (by some distance) to Playboy.  They had done this by largely copying everything that Playboy did.

Their models were still covering up completely down below as this girl from the November 1969 issue shows.  They hadn't risked showing the pubic flashes that Penthouse and Playboy were indulging in and Cavalier wouldn't go pubic until well after the other two.

Ada on the beach

However, in the US's February 1970 issue, Guccione reprinted the  pictorial of former Miss Holland, Ada Grootenboer who had been UK Pet of the Month in May 1969. Nevertheless she became the first US edition Penthouse girl to give an unrestricted (if subtle) flash of her fur. 

At the time, Guccione's US lawyer warned him he could be looking at a two year court case. Playboy's own lawyers, when they looked at the issue in question thought that Guccione had pushed it too far and they waited for the legal hammer-blow to fall on Penthouse.

Linda in the leaves

Despite this, Playboy's February 1970 edition presented Playmate Linda Forsythe, whose pubic triangle could just be glimpsed through the reflection of a pot plant. The very first Playmate to so display herself.

Cavalier from January 1970

By this time Penthouse's US sales were over 350,000 a month. A long way short of Playboy's millions but a long way ahead of Playboy's previous number one rival, Cavalier, whose circulation was 110,000.

With, April 1970's Penthouse Guccione stopped being coy. That month's Pet, British model Stephanie McLean (wife of future Hustler chief photographer Clive and later the wife of motorcyclist Barry Sheene), was depicted strolling along the seashore completely naked except for a scuba mask and thereby, incidentally, proving that she was not a natural blonde. The picture was almost sneaked in: it was less than a quarter of a page and shot in a back lit, diffused way.

Another flash from Stephanie

What's more there were two other shots which showed the forbidden zone as well. The pictures caused great excitement at the time, as they were the first clear pubic shots to be available on American newsstands. All 500,000 copies of this issue sold out. Hefner had maintained that he didn't need to go down this route but from that moment, according to Guccione, Penthouse was driving the battle and it was down to Playboy to respond. "We were the adventurous, progressive magazine. We were what every young man in America wanted," he said. Or, at least, Stephanie was.

Bush Baby. Stephanie beached from April 1970

Suzanne in May 1970's Playboy

The following month Playboy had a feature on Canadian starlet Suzanne Benton who just showed a little corner of her fleece. A coincidence?

Benedikte Andersen: barely on show

Guccione followed Stephanie McLean with a 16 year old model from Denmark, Benedikte Andersen, whose smoothly shaved mound was quite clearly displayed but, oddly, it seemed to be the pubic hair itself rather than the appearance of the pudenda that caused concern. After all, Playboy had been showing shaved or retouched groins for years.

Polly Ann Pendleton from July 1970

Penthouse's Miss June kept herself covered and July's Polly Ann Pendleton only showed a glimpse. From then on, however most (but not all) Penthouse Pets for 1970 flashed their fur; although usually in long shot or partial shadow. Playboy simply didn't respond with their Playmates.

Playboy July 1970

This didn't mean that they weren't continuing to show the previously forbidden at all, however.  One of the things driving the fact that magazines were now thinking that the unthinkable was now thinkable was that  full frontal nudity was now being seen on the regular stage in shows like Oh, Calcutta!.  As we have seen, Playboy had featured the show before but in their piece in the July 1970 issue managed to get multiple pubic shots included.  Up until now such pictures had been very small but this article opened with this brazen full page shot.

The following month, August 1970, Playboy ran a pictorial on the film Myra Breckenridge.  It included this full page-width photo which included on the right a full-frontal view of an actress' fleece.

Leiko fails to cover up in August

Even more bold was their pictorial of Bunnies of 1970 which featured girls from various Playboy Clubs in America. One of these, part Japanese, Atlanta Club Bunny, Leiko English (later to become a fully fledged Playmate in June 1971) quite clearly showed, in a full page picture, what had only been hinted at before.  This was the first full page pubic revealing photo in either Playboy or Penthouse.  Penthouse wouldn't follow until the following month.

September 1970 was an important month in the development of the men's magazine and the direction of the Pubic Wars to follow. The President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography set up by Lyndon Johnson issued a report which said that there was little evidence that pornography was harmful and it urged the government not to interfere with the rights of adults.  

Tina McDowell in Richmond Park

Guccione had already decided to be as bold as possible for the September issue, knowing the report was due out, and presented Scottish Pet Tina Mcdowell in a pictorial shot in Yugoslavia (where Penthouse was opening a vast resort in conjunction with the Yugoslavian government) and Richmond Park in South West London where Tina had to repeatedly hide herself under a raincoat when strollers got too close.  This particular photograph was studied in some detail by Playboy who couldn't believe that Guccione had been so explicit.

Playboy, for September, was not nearly as forthright as Penthouse but Pet of the Month Debbie Ellison did show a discernible dark triangle in one small black and white shot of her sitting on a bed.

This was the very first time that a Playboy Playmate had displayed her uncovered pubic hair in the magazine.  Debbie Ellison was actually the first pubic Playmate, beating Liv Lindeland by four months.

Beautiful Austrian model Heide Mann was Penthouse's October Pet of the Month and she flashed her fur in several pictures in her pictorial.

October's Playboy was completely fur free once more but November was different.


The November Playmate, Avis Miller, was definitely displaying a few strands below her tan line in this picture; the first colour pubic Playmate.

Also in that issue, Playboy's regular Sex in Cinema feature showed several girls pubes either in very small pictures or, as on the article's title page, an out of focus action shot. However there was no question what you were seeing in these, unlike some of the "is she or isn't she" photos of a few years before.

Franca displays her Italian Heritage

In November  Penthouse had their pet of the Month, Franca Petrov, also flashing a bit of her pubic hair in a big, full page height photo.

There was more fluff on display in that issue in the lissome form of Miss Jimmy Jean Nesbitt photographed by Michael Boys.  Although she is theoretically dressed her thick bush strains delightfully against her skimpy attire.

No Furse for Jennifer

Ironically, despite her name, Penthouse's December Pet, Jennifer Furse, didn't show hers but there was another interesting development at Penthouse with their first girl/girl pictorial

From Two Women by James Baes

Given the pervasiveness of girl/girl pictorials today it is interesting to note that the issue of portraying two women in a sexual situation was even more delicate than showing their pubic hair. When Penthouse published  the aforementioned Two Women pictorial not everyone liked it. There were letters to the magazine unhappy with the direction Penthouse seemed to be taking. This is despite the fact that the 1970 pictures were very chaste: including only two pictures featuring implied kisses (no actual lip contact) and two pictures with glimpses of pubic hair.  A grumpy Mr Chinnery from the salubrious address of Brooklyn Caravan Park was even less happy. "A photograph of two females cuddling each other doesn't turn me on.  I feel it needs the caption "give us the tools and we will finish the job".  He added, "I hope it is not your intention to repeat the practice in some future issue of Penthouse."  Oh dear!

Eva Zanzinger (right) from Munich and Lottie Gunthart (left) from Vienna get into some Teutonic bonding in 1970

One of the featured models, Lottie Gunthart, would go on to be Pet of the Month in March 1971 and the Playboy-owned Oui magazine's very first centrefold in October 1972. The Dutch-born but Venice-based photographer of the pictorial, James Baes, said: "For a long time I have felt that an intimate relationship between two young women was somehow perfectly natural. After all, girls in school are always getting "crushes" on each other-they hold hands, comb each other's hair, and generally touch each other a great deal."

One man wrote in to the magazine from London saying: "Alas, the feature was ruined by the pretentious drivel accompanying the photos.  Why can't you print them for what they are - anovel and, to some, kinky way of presenting two pairs of breasts instead of one pair, without all that mealy mouthed justification for showing two women."  If Penthouse was using the pictorial to test the waters back in 1970 then the feedback was, perhaps, more negative than they had anticipated. It would be nearly two years before they tried again with a two girl set

December's Playboy must have been a bit of a surprise to Penthouse who had seen no real fight back on the pubic front. Firstly, in their Sex Stars feature they had this splendid photograph of Norwegian actress (and, of course, former Penthouse Pet for May 1967) Julie Ege in a transparent dress.


Secondly, they had a feature written by arch-publicist Jim Moran exhibiting some of his Polaroids of women.  Although very much at the arty end of the Playboy photographic spectrum no less than four images were of full-frontal women.

Naked for Jim Moran

Secondly, the December issue featured a pictorial on a model turned actress (she went on to make precisely three films) called Paula Pritchett. The opening page of this pictorial showed her in another defiantly see-through dress.

However, in addition, in a sequence of small photos running across the bottom of several pages, she is photographed being filmed for a scene in a river. Her fleece is shown just visible behind some leaves but then on the next page shown unobstructed.

These were pretty bold for Playboy but over the page they finally put a marker down to Penthouse. In a photograph that stretched across two pages Miss Pritchett gazes cooly down at a bush that is revealed in such clear detail you can see individual hairs. This picture went far beyond anything that Penthouse had run up until that point.

So, at the end of 1970 we have the beginnings of the Pubic Wars manifesting themselves and it was an early lead for Playboy.  January 1971 would see them raising the stakes again. In part three we will look at the campaigning over the next six months from January 1971.