Parodies of Playboy fall roughly into two groups and two eras: those created by college students, mostly in the 1950s and ’60s, and those done by commercial publishers, mostly in the ’70s and ’80s. The catalyst for the shift was the Harvard Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y,” a glossy, 102-page spoof that sold more than half a million copies in the fall of 1966. Its production values — including a full-color centerfold of a real, live naked lady — were impressive enough to discourage most amateurs, while its success on newsstands showed the pros there were Big Bucks to be had from this parody thing. This post deals with ersatz Playboys produced at U.S. colleges and universities; the next will tackle commercial and foreign specimens.
In its 20th Anniversary issue, Playboy boasted of being “parodied more often than any other magazine in the world.” I’m not sure that’s true (see here), but there’s no question it was the most parodied magazine on campus from its birth in 1953 until the Lampoon shattered the backboard in ’66. “Every year college publications across the nation issue one best issue, … usually a parody of a national magazine,” the Illinois Chaff said in 1958. “When the artists and writers of Chaff looked around for a publication to parody, they didn’t have to look far. Leading the newsstand derby by miles was a publication which college men use as a yardstick of sophistication and urban living.”
The attraction ran both ways: Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had edited Chaff’s predecessor Shaft in the late ’40s, and his new magazine — with its cartoons, girls of the month, and focus on liquor, love and laughs — was in many ways a college humor mag writ large. Not too large, however: A typical Playboy from the mid-’50s had fewer than 80 pages, used color sparingly and carried little advertising. A talented college staff could produce a pretty good likeness on the cheap, which wasn’t the case with Esquire or Life or the Ladies’ Home Journal — or Playboy itself a few years later.
From the start, Playboy had a soft spot for parodies. The Arizona Kitty Kat’s April 1955 “Playgirl,” which may have been the first, opened by thanking Playboy for permission to copy its format and style, a favor later extended to dozens of campus copycats. Playboy gave the Lampoon so much help with “Pl*yb*y” it was practically a co-publisher: “We cold-called Hefner to ask his permission,” the Lampoon’s Henry Beard recalled. “Not only does he say he’d love to have it parodied, but he says, ‘I’ll arrange for you to use my printing plant. I will tell them that you’re solid citizens. And all you guys have to do is make sure you get signatures from some of your rich graduates on the bill to make sure we don’t get stiffed.’”
Such help carried a few strings: “We must be afforded the opportunity to review the layout and art work of the cover in final form so that we can be certain that the parody will not be confused with the real McCoy,” Playboy’s William M. Klein wrote the Lampoon, adding that the parody should “maintain the standards heretofore evidenced by products of the Harvard Lampoon. It is only because of our high regard for your standards that the permission which you have requested is being granted. We would not wish material from the parody reprinted in non-prestigious or competitive publications.”
Most of the early parodies are pure emulation, sometimes with a twist. Three are called “Playgirl” and display men dressed either scantily or to the nines. The former are usually hairy and unkempt and not at all sexy. (Sometimes the only way to get skin past a censor is to play it for laughs.) Elsewhere, centerfolds ranged from rag dolls to rabbits; those that featured actual women tended to display them either clothed or carefully cropped. The left third of Chaff’s “Payboy” foldout showed an attractive model’s legs; readers who opened it found a black rectangle blocking the rest of her. The Yale Record’s 1958 “Ployboy” replaced most of its centerfold with a (genuine?) letter from the printer explaining that plates for a three-page, full-color photo would cost a budget-busting $1,480.
The Record was one of several college comics to spoof Playboy twice, but the most prolific parodist wasn’t a magazine but a yearbook. In 1959, the editors of La Ventana at Texas Tech split its contents into eight separately printed sections made up to resemble popular magazines and packaged them in a three-ring binder: “Tyme” focused on the year’s major events, “Mademoiselle” on sororities, and so on, with “Playboy” handling social life and fraternities. A few titles changed over the years, but “Playboy” was in the mix every year through 1973, when the format was dropped. La Ventana’s “Playboys” were about 10 percent parody and 90 percent standard yearbook, but what little spoofing they did, they did well, especially the covers and foldouts.
The same is true of the Garnet and Black at the University of South Carolina, which picked up the parody torch from Texas Tech. Its 1974 and ’75 editions spoofed eight mags including National Lampoon, Ms. and Southern Living. The G&B called its version of Playboy “Carolinamen,” possibly to avoid riling local bluenoses, but the resemblance was unmissable. The 1969 Jayhawker M.D., a.k.a. “Playdoc,” from the Kansas Med School is the only attempt I know of to extend a Playboy spoof through an entire yearbook. Its 200-plus pages featured two foldouts, one of which could almost pass for the real thing (above).
The best of the collegiate parodies mocked the Playboy lifestyle even as they copied it. “We considered ourselves serious satirists with a sense of fun, not just naughty fellows,” recalled Frank Stack, who edited the Texas Ranger’s second parody in 1963. “[We] aspired to the kind of authoritative satire of the New Yorker and Punch, rather than the sophomoric tone of Playboy.” Stack (a.k.a. “Foolbert Sturgeon”) and Wonder Wart-Hog creator Gilbert Shelton gave the Ranger’s takeoff some of the sass and irreverence they brought to underground comics. Their “Playbull,” the UCLA Satyr’s 1964 “Preyboy” (edited by Harry Shearer) and the Lampoon’s “Pl*yb*y” are the most fun to reread today. Highlights elsewhere include Don Addis’s cartoons in the Florida Orange Peel’s “Peelboy,” the photobombed fashion spread in the Cal Pelican’s “Peliboy,” and the backtalk to the Playboy Advisor in the Amherst Sabrina’s “Playboy” — which somehow got away with not altering the name.
Not everyone appreciated these homages. Administrators found the Wisconsin Octopus’s 1959 “Blayboy” so offensive they made it Octy’s last issue. The Stanford Chaparral and its grad-student editor Bradley Efron were both suspended over 1961’s “Layboy,” the editor for two quarters, the mag indefinitely. “They got me on sacrilege,” Efron said then. “The thing that did it was a Ribald Classic version of the Nativity. The University was flooded with protests from the local clergy. … It was my first issue. It was a little dirty, but no dirtier than previous issues. We sold about twice as many issues as usual, though. You can’t get anybody to part with his copy now.” Fortunately, both magazine and editor were back by the end of the year; Efron eventually became Professor of Statistics at Stanford and in 1983 was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
The most recent kerfuffle came in 1989, when the Log at the U.S. Naval Academy put out a “Playmid” that featured midshipmen’s girlfriends in bathing suits. Decrying “sexual stereotyping,” Academy superintendent Virgil Hill Jr. ordered all 5,000 copies destroyed. About a hundred weren’t, and one made its way to Playboy, which reprinted excerpts in September 1989. “Destroy 5,000 copies, end up with 18,000,000 readers,” Playboy wrote. “That’s the lesson in censorship.” The Log may have learned a different lesson: There had been at least three previous parodies of Playboy at Annapolis, but there hasn’t been one since.
Nor has there been one anywhere else, as far as I’ve found. Apart from the Lampoon, few current college mags have the money or resources to parody slick national magazines. Even if they did, they wouldn’t target Playboy, which now has one-tenth its 1970s circulation and hasn’t been a yardstick of sophistication for decades.
This inventory is surely incomplete, but it contains all the college parodies of Playboy I know of. (For some, their existence is all I know of.) I’ve tried to include school name, parody-issuing publication (in italics), parody title (in quotes), date and page count (in parentheses) in each listing. Parodies that don’t include front and back covers in their page numbering are marked “+ 4.” (FYI, the “+ 8” for the 1958 “Ployboy” isn’t a typo; it was distributed behind a second cover with the Yale Record nameplate to pacify the Post Office.) The word “in” before a date means the issue’s front cover wasn’t part of the parody; “no cover” and “article” denote parodies that don’t begin with fake covers. As always, I’d welcome additions and corrections.
Playboy Parodies I: College, 1955-1989
A. By Magazines
Princeton Tiger: “Placebo,” 1955
Arizona Kitty Kat: “Playgirl,” April 1955 (36 pages)
Oregon State Beaver Dam: “Beaver Dam,” Dec. 1955 (28)
Indiana Crimson Bull: “Playbull,” March 1956 (28)
Texas Ranger: “Playgirl,” March 1956 (36 + 4)
Penn State Froth: “Playgirl,” April 1956 (64)
Purdue Rivet: “Playbouy,” May 1956 (32 + 4c)
Michigan Gargoyle: “Plowboy,” Nov. 1956
Tulane Urchin: “Gayboy,” c. 1956-57
Babson Inst. Beaver: “Playbeaver,” c. 1956-58
Cornell Widow: “Play Boy,” Dec. 1957 (36)
Yale Record: “Ployboy,” Feb. 1958 (86 + 8)
Ohio U. Green Goat: “Pla_boy,” March 1958 (40)
Illinois Chaff: “Payboy,” May 1958 (32 + 4)
NYU Vulture: “Payboy,” [spring] 1959
Annapolis LogSplinter: “Playbouy,” April 10, 1959
Florida Orange Peel: “Peelboy,” May 1959 (44 + 4)
Wisconsin Octopus: “Blayboy,” May 1959
Penn State Froth: “Playboy,” April 1961 (38 + 4)
Amherst Sabrina: “Playboy,” May 1961 (24 + 4)
Stanford Chaparral: “Layboy,” June 1961 (60 + 4)
Cornell Widow: “Gayboy,” March 1962
Texas Ranger: “Playbull,” March 1963 (40 + 4)
California Pelican: “Parody,” in May 1963 (13, no cover)
Yale Record: “Pwayboy,” Feb. 1964 (52 + 4)
UCLA Satyr: “Preyboy,” June 1964 (38 + 4)
U. Mass-Amherst Yahoo: “Preyboy,” June 1964 (40 + 4)
MIT Voo Doo: “Gayboy,” Feb. 1965 (36 + 4)
West Point Pointer: “Prayboy,” March 26, 1965 (32 + 4)
California Pelican: “Playgoy’s Handy Guide to Successful Summer Seduction” (article), in May 1965 (5)
Clemson Chronicle: “Plowboy,” May 1965 (36 + 4)
Stanford Chaparral: “Layboy,” June 1965 (56 + 4)
California Pelican: “Peliboy,” May 1966 (56 + 4)
Princeton Tiger“Placebo”, May 1966
Harvard Lampoon: “Pl*yb*y,” Fall 1966 (102 + 4)
Annapolis Log: “Log,” April 18, 1969
Purdue Engineer: “Playboy Engineer,” March 1970 (34 + 4)
Emory Spoke: “Playbod,” March 1979
Northwestern Rubber Teeth: “The Girls of the Midwestern Schools With Ridiculously High Tuition and Habitually Defeated Football Teams” (article), in Spring 1980 (2)
Annapolis Log: “Playmid,” March 1984
Hofstra Nonsense: “Playdoh,” in Nov. 1988 (5)
Emory Spoke: “Playspoke,” Dec. 1988
Annapolis Log: “Playmid,” March 1989
B. In Yearbooks
Texas Tech La Ventana, “Playboy,” 1959-1973
Kansas Med. School Jayhawker, “Playdoc,” 1969
U. of South Carolina Garnet and Black, “Carolinamen,” 1974-75
— VCR (updated 11/13/19)