Parodies In Playboy, 1970-2000

Four Playboy self-parodies

Playboys for the USSR, China, Moral Majority and Dark Ages.

That’s “in,” not “of,” though some of the following are both. The Bunny Book is such an inviting target that not even Playboy could resist cooking up fake editions of itself every now and then. Self-parodies make up nearly half this list — and the most elaborate one isn’t even on it.

Pregnant Vargas girl

Vargas self-parody.

After seeing the Harvard Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y” in 1966, a “delighted” Hugh Hefner telegraphed the ‘Poonies that “If a better parody of Playboy is every created, we reserve the right to do it ourselves.” True to his word, he commissioned an issue-length spoof, supervised by Harvey Kurtzman, that would have featured most of the magazine’s regulars mocking their own work. The story goes that it was nearly complete when Hef cooled on the idea and cancelled it. Fragments have since turned up at auction houses and bookstores, including a very pregnant and indignant Vargas girl, the art for a mock James Bond story, and a Ray Bradbury pastiche by William F. Nolan called “The Dandelion Chronicles.” Kurtzman and Will Elder produced a still-unpublished episode of “Little Annie Fanny” in which she tours the Playboy Mansion; cartoonist Skip Williamson told Kurtzman’s biographer Bill Schelly that it ended with Hefner ripping off his clothes to be revealed as Super-Bunny.

Playboy never explained why — or when — the project petered out (pun). The appearance of “Playbore” and “Playboy: The Parody” just two months apart in fall 1983 might have been the final nail, but work had already stalled; most of the material mentioned here was done in the ’60s and early ’70s. Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee, who worked on it, said the idea was doomed from the get-go because Hefner fundamentally didn’t see anything ridiculous about Playboy or its mission — or about sex, really. Like many visionary magazine makers, he was his own ideal reader.

Playboy's National Pornographic

The cover and first page of National Pornographic (1975).

The four self-parodies that did make it into print are staff-written and, not surprisingly, rather toothless. All ridicule uncool losers (commies, prudes, 10th-century peasants) who just aren’t cut out for the sophisticated, high-end Playboy lifestyle; the lifestyle itself goes unquestioned. “National Pornographic,” by contrast, gleefully mocks National Geographic’s classic trope of tropical maidens on bare-breasted islands, or whatever. The full-color feature on insects humping (thoughtfully posted above) is such a juvenile idea you can’t help but laugh. In “How Other Magazines Would Photograph a Playmate,” the mag’s editors and lensmen have fun with the styles of ten magazines from True Detective to Vogue; the results are visually and verbally impeccable.

Three parodies by freelancers

Spoofs by freelancers Sussman, Slansky and Wieder.

The other parodies were done by outsiders. Gerald Sussman contributed “The Hole Earth Catalog” the year before he joined the editorial board of National Lampoon. (This was around the time in the ’70s when NatLamp was Playboy’s biggest rival for the eyeballs of male collegians.) Paul Slansky, formerly with Spy and now a Slate columnist, wrote “USSR Today” when both glasnost and the Gannett daily were new. And Robert S. Wieder, who for years did Playboy’s annual “Celebrity Christmas Carols,” ridiculed Men’s Health for its heretical notion that women might prefer guys with six-pack abs and bulging biceps to those with single-malt scotches and sports cars. —VCR

Parodies in Playboy, 1970-2000:

Playmates seen by other magazinesTrue Detective, Fortune, Family Circle, True, Life, Consumer Reports, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Popular Photography, Vogue (“How Other Magazines Would Photograph a Playmate”), Feb. 1970, 10 pp.
The Whole Earth Catalog (“The Hole…”), Feb. 1972, 3 pp.
National Geographic (“National Pornographic”), Dec. 1975, 7 pp.
Playboy (“Playboy” in Cyrillic), Jan. 1977, 7 pp. [“New Soviet Edition”]
Playboy, Sept. 1979, 7 pp. [“New Chinese Edition”]
Playboy (“Prayboy”), Dec. 1984, 8 pp. [Moral Majority edition]
USA Today (“USSR Today”), Oct. 1986, 6 pp.
Men’s Health (“Men’s Help!”), Aug. 1997, 5 pp.
Playboy, Jan. 2000, 4 pp. [dated January 1000 A.D.]

About Cullum Rogers

I'm a semi-retired freelance cartoonist in Durham, N.C., who's been collecting newspaper and magazine parodies for over 50 years.
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