Parody Of: Playboy. Title: “Pl*yb*y.”
Parody By: Punch. Date: July 13, 1966. Pages: 4.
Contributors: Alexander Frater, Norman Mansbridge, William Hewison.
Availability: Occasionally sighted on eBay.
Two months before the Harvard Lampoon used the same asterisk-specked title, the 125th birthday number of Punch contained a brief parody of Playboy called “Pl*yb*y.” British magazines Queen and Country Life were targeted in the same issue, and in each case Punch tried to imagine what “its contemporary” would look like when it too had survived for a century and a quarter. Although Playboy wouldn’t reach that milestone until 2078, “Pl*yb*y” showed both magazine and editor-publisher Hugh Hefner looking much as they did in 1966 — with a few twists. In Punch’s 2078, Hef stays young with rabbit glands, the King of England is a novelist with a whipping fetish, and the 11,651st chapter of the “Playboy Philosophy” is a roundtable discussion of society’s outdated taboo against premarital nail-biting (which future-Hef boasts has always had a “positive, attractive, romantic image” in his magazine).
“Pl*yb*y” makes no attempt to duplicate Playboy’s uncluttered layout, allowing it to cram a full-size cover, the “Philosophy,” the King’s short story, some “Advisor” queries, a cartoon and a house ad into four pages. Writer Alexander Frater gets off a few mild jokes but doesn’t build on them, and he seldom captures Playboy‘s distinctive blend of over-alliteration, ankle-deep sophistication and lust for shiny objects. The fact that “Pl*yb*y” supposedly dates from the far-distant future is sometimes noted and sometimes ignored; in any case, it’s irrelevant to the intended critique of Playboy‘s squeaky-clean, All-American hedonism. (The Queen and Country Life parodies, set it 1986 and 2022 respectively, are sharper and funnier.)
The most effective bits in “Pl*yb*y” are Norman Mansbridge’s cover caricature of Hefner and William Hewison’s mashup of fellow cartoonists Dedini and Sokol. Hewison, who was then Punch‘s art editor, also included an anniversary-related inside joke for cartoon buffs: As his two lovelies survey the pinup-strewn bachelor pad of their would-be bedmates, one says, “We won’t get much action here — these boys prefer the shadow to the substance.” “Substance and Shadow” was the caption of a famous cartoon by John Leech that Punch had run in July 1843 under the heading, “Cartoon, No. 1” — the first use of that word to describe a piece of satirical art.
Punch took on Playboy again in 1971 with a full-length parody that sold out in the U.K. and was reprinted in the U.S. the following year. I hope to get around to it sometime soon — or at least before 2078. — VCR