(This is the second of a now three-part series on Playboy parodies. The first dealt with college parodies; the next will cover parodies circulated outside the U.S.)
Unlike their college brethren, commercial publishers in the 1950s and ’60s showed little interest in parodying Playboy. Theft was another matter: As long as Playboy’s sales kept climbing, rivals tried to duplicate its appeal. The last and most blatant imitation was Ronald Fenton and F. Lee Bailey’s Gallery, which debuted in November 1972, the same month Playboy sold a record 7.2 million copies. Gallery aped Playboy down to the length of the title (precisely seven letters) but succumbed to sleazery within a year or so.
The outlier was “Plowboy,” issued in 1957 by an obscure outfit in Manhattan called Bannister Publishing. “Plowboy” was the only non-college Playboy parody of the ’50s and the only one before the Harvard Lampoon’s 1966 “Pl*yb*y” with wide distribution. It acknowledges the real thing’s chief Selling Points in a dozen pages of photo-agency cheesecake, though there’s no full nudity and the “Plowmate” is a pencil drawing. The standout piece is a four-page tour of “Plowboy’s Platinum Hayloft” worthy of a funnier and subtler magazine.
Treating the Playboy fetish for brand names and status as literally childish, Larry Siegel and Bob Clarke put more satiric bite in the seven pages of Mad’s “Playkid” than there are in all of “Plowboy.” There’s nothing smutty or suggestive, Mad being famously prudish in that regard, but the very premise of “Playkid” is radioactive today and may have prompted second thoughts even in 1961: As far as I know it’s never been reprinted.
Mad wannabes Cracked and Sick also tackled Playboy in the ’60s. “Boysplay,” a 16-page, comic book-size bonus in Biggest Greatest Cracked #4, is touted as a “Lampoon Edition of Playboy” on the cover but looks more like a fast-food giveaway and can’t articulate its own premise, if it has one. Sick’s “Playbore” is the skeleton of a comic idea fleshed out with two-line jokes and slapdash art. Both make excellent arguments for ignoring Cracked and Sick.
“Punch Goes Playboy,” with Norwegian actress-model Julie Ege on the cover, took up most of the English weekly’s November 10, 1971, issue and was reprinted in the U.S. the next fall with different ads and a 75-cent cover price. Trog’s four-page caricature of a nude Hugh Hefner is the visual highlight of both editions, which otherwise suffer from murky printing and lack of color. The writing, by contrast, is dead-on, nailing Playboy’s weakness for deep-sounding thumbsuckers (“Pollution and the Post-Vietnam Ghetto Interface,” by “Dr. Morton Krimhoretz, Ph.D., Jr.”) and workaholic Hefner’s pose as a carefree hedonist: “After a hectic day’s counting,” says one caption, “our November Playmate relaxes among his matchless collection of early American balance sheets.”
Harvard’s 1966 “Pl*yb*y” was a giant step on the road to National Lampoon, which tried to duplicate the earlier book’s success by running a centerfold parody in its very first issue. (Alas, the result was an unsexy, out-of-focus mess.) NatLamp tackled Playboy twelve times between 1970 and 1988 — more than any other publication — but the pièce de résistance was “Playdead” in the January 1973 “Death” number. Visually, “Playdead” is impeccable, from the Possum logo in the cufflinks ad to Warren Sattler’s full-color fakes of cartoonists Dedini, ffolkes, Buck Brown and John Dempsey. What’s almost shocking, and all the funnier for it, is how natural Playboy’s vision of airbrushed perfection looks in a mortuary. Unafraid of either bad taste (the Interviewee was newly dead Bonanza actor Dan Blocker, silent throughout) or puns like “Playmort of the Month,” “Playdead” is one of NatLamp’s greatest parodies. The mag turned to Playboy more and more as its creative juices dried up, spoofing single features and grinding out formulaic editions for gun lovers and computers.
The only other publication to run multiple Playboy parodies was Playboy itself, with samples of four unlikely new editions I’ve written about here. Marvel’s Howard the Duck magazine (1981) promised a parody on its covers but followed through with eight vaguely Playboy-looking pages wedged between its usual black-and-white comics. Crazy (1974) and ultra-niche quarterly Girls & Corpses (2011) were even lazier, promising parodic goodies on their covers they failed to deliver inside. Ditto the two issues of Laffboy (1965) and one-shot Bleep (1974), oversized pulps with tired gags and bubble-captioned photo trying to pass as sophisticated satire. They’re mentioned here mainly as a warning. New-Age satire sheet Wings tried harder, devoting about a third of its March-April 1979 issue to “Playwings,” but most of the parody was typical Wings content poured into a barely modified layout; like “Playduck,” it failed to sweat the details.
73 Magazine was a technical monthly for ham radio buffs that ran from 1960 to 2003. Founder Wayne Green had soft spot for parody, and in April 1966 he ran a Playboy-like cover by reader Wayne Pierce, a high-school art teacher in Kansas City. Pierce also did four of the parody’s five inside pages, including a takeoff of “Little Annie Fanny” set in the world of ham radio obsessives. Pierce was no threat to Will Elder in the art department, but he’d obviously studied Harvey Kurtzman’s page layouts and storytelling rhythm; the fact that his hobby-specific jokes will sound like gibberish to most current readers is a surrealistic bonus.
Ironically, National Lampoon’s decline overlapped with the Great Parody Boom of the ’80s, whose harbingers were NL’s own “Dacron Republican-Democrat” in February 1978 and former NL editor Tony Hendra’s “Not The New York Times” that October. They were followed by scores of parodies of newspapers and magazines, including two of Playboy, one edited by Hendra, the other by his former collaborator Robert Vare.
Hendra and Vare had worked together on “NTNYT” and jointly edited the first “Off The Wall Street Journal,” which sold 350,000 copies in 1982 but showed only a tiny profit. After the two parted ways, Vare founded American Parody & Travesty Co. to produce a series of one-shot spoofs starting with “Playbore,” while Hendra became creative director on “Playboy: The Parody” for TSM Publishing, an offshoot of a marketing firm cofounded by former NatLamp publisher Gerald Taylor. Hendra recruited old associates David Kaestle, Danny Abelson and Rick Meyerowitz for “PTP,” which had led some sources to mislabel it an official National Lampoon publication. In fact, at least as many NL vets worked on “Playbore,” including Chris Miller, Jeff Greenfield and Ellis Weiner. (Bruce McCall somehow got into both.) George Plimpton, Roy Blount Jr., and soon-to-be Spy founders Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter also had a hand in “Playbore,” while “PTP’s” stable included writer David Owen and Items From Our Catalog creator Alfred Gingold.
“Playbore” hit the stands in late September, two months before its rival, but in most respects “Playboy: The Parody” came out slightly ahead. It cost a dollar more, carried 29 pages of real ads to “Playbore’s” six, and better captured the look and tone of Playboy circa 1983, likely because it gained Hefner’s approval and used several of his photographers and models. Not surprisingly, it treated Hef and his empire relatively gently, while “Playbore” made running jokes of “Hugh M. Hepner’s” galloping senility, shrinking assets and eyebrow-raising decision to turn the business over to his daughter — a step the real Hefner had taken the year before. Its foldout showed “Crispie Hepner” lounging in a soapy bath as a certain pipe-smoking editor-publisher massaged her shoulders. “Playboy: The Parody” countered with a full-frontal fake of Princess Diana, which prompted a boycott by distributors in the U.K.
Sales of both parodies were good but not spectacular. Early on, Vare predicted “Playbore” might sell over a million copies; results were closer to 750,000. Taylor initially hoped “Playboy: The Parody” would do better than the Harvard Lampoon’s “Cosmopolitan,” which had sold a record 1.2 million copies in 1972, but TSM never announced final numbers; press runs for its later spoofs, including “Cosmoparody” (1984) and “Parody People” (1986), were around 750,000 copies each.
U.S. parodists mostly abandoned Playboy after ’83, as did many readers — circulation fell by a third during the 1980s — but Canada’s Thomas Hagey struck gold in 1984 with “The Best of Playboar,” a porcine entry in the then-hot subgenre of parodies starring animals. Hagey (pronounced “haig-y,” not “hoggy,” unfortunately) grew up on a pig farm in Kitchener, Ontario, and quit school after 10th grade. In 1977 he founded Playboar as a semi-serious annual for swine breeders, “about two-thirds information, like how to pick a good pig or what to do about nipple problems, and about one-third humor,” he told the Chicago Tribune. A switch to quarterly publication in 1980 didn’t work out, so he closed the mag and moved to Toronto. There he and editor Chris Lowry rendered Playboar’s six issues into a 56-page greatest-hits collection, which was issued simultaneously or thereabouts in Canada and the U.S. in 1984.
Disappointingly, “The Best of Playboar” bears little resemblance to Hefner’s vision — and not just because its cover girl/Littermate’s measurements are 24-26-22. In fact, the pictorial on fetching Taffy Lovely is one of the few features that follows Playboy’s format closely. Most other pages would look just at home in Self or Us or any other ’80s title with colorful text blocks and off-kilter photos. In contrast, Hagey and Lowry’s full-page ads for “Benson & Hedgehogs,” “Mudweiser” and other accoutrements of fine swine living are accurate to the last detail. Maybe, not having sought the Big Bunny’s approval, they decided to steer wide of trespassing on any trademarks.
And maybe more readers are into pigs than parody: When first published, “The Best of Playboar” sold some 300,000 copies. Reprints pushed total sales over a million, making “BoP” the best-selling Playboy parody ever. This past June, Hagey published an enlarged edition in Canada, “The Very Best of Playboar,” bringing swinish behavior into the Age of Weinstein and Trump.
The following census is divided into two categories: issue-length newsstand specials (all at least 40 pages long), and shorter features in other publications. Cover-only and single-article parodies are so marked; as are the dates on parodies of back issues. Each listing contains the work’s title (in quotes), publisher or publication, date and page count (in parentheses). Stand-alone parodies that don’t count covers as pages are marked “+ 4.”
Playboy Parodies II: On U.S. Newsstands, 1957-2018
A. Stand-alone Parodies:
“Plowboy.” Bannister Publications, Spring 1957 (48 + 4)
“Punch Goes Playboy.” [reprint of 1971 U.K. parody with new ads]. Punch, 1972 (44 + 4)
“Playbore.” American Travesty and Parody, Fall 1983 (98)
“Playboy: The Parody.” Taylor-Shain Media, Winter 1984 (102 + 4)
—–. partly reprinted in What a Pair, Taylor-Shain Media, 1985 (40 + 38 pages of TSM’s “Cosmoparody”)
“The Best of Playboar,” by Thomas Hagey. Day Dream Publishing, Santa Barbara, Cal., 1984 (56 + 4)
—–. Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., 1996 (56 + 4)
“The Very Best of Playboar: Special Hardcover Edition,” by Thomas Hagey. Playboar Publishing, 2018 (84) [available in the U.S. on Kindle]
B. Parodies in Magazines:
“Playkid,” Mad #61, March 1961 (7)
“Laffboy,” KMR Publications, Feb. 1965 (COVER ONLY)
“Laffboy,”KMR Publications, Apr. 1965 (COVER ONLY)
“Playbore,” Sick, June 1965 (12)
“I, Playboy, take thee, Reader’s Digest…,” Esquire, Aug. 1965 (1)
“73,” 73 Magazine, April 1966 (5 + 1)
“Boysplay,” Biggest, Greatest Cracked #4, 1968 (16)
“Liberated Front,” National Lampoon [article], April 1970 (8)
“Esquire Interview: Hugh M. Hefner” [article], Esquire, Dec. 1970 (3+)
“Gamma Hutch: The Playboy Fallout Shelter” (Dec. 1958) [article], National Lampoon, April 1972 (4)
“Playdead,” National Lampoon, Jan. 1973 (14)
“Bleep,” Bleep Publications, 1974 (COVER ONLY)
“Playboy” [obscured], Crazy #10, April 1975 (COVER ONLY)
“Playboy [in Cyrillic]: New Soviet Edition,” Playboy, Jan. 1977 (7)
“Playwings,” Wings, March/April 1979 (20? + 1)
“Playboy: New Chinese Edition,” Playboy, Sept. 1979 (7)
“Playduck,” Howard the Duck magazine #4, March 1980 (8 + 1)
“Parents of the Girls of the Eastwest Conference” [article], National Lampoon, Feb. 1982 (2)
“The Playboy Advisor” [article], National Lampoon, Feb. 1982 (1)
“Dear Playmates” [article], National Lampoon, June 1983 (1)
“Playboy” (November 1963), in “Playboy: The Parody,” Winter 1984 (15 + 1-page intro)
“Prayboy: Entertainment for Far-Righteous Men,” Playboy, Dec. 1984 (8)
“Slayboy,” National Lampoon, Dec. 1985 (8)
“Playbyte,” National Lampoon, Feb. 1988 (10)
“Feminist Party Jokes” [article], National Lampoon, March 1986 (1)
“Interview: Steven Spielberg” [article], National Lampoon, Aug. 1986 (3+)
“Playboy” (Jan. 1000 A.D.), Playboy, Jan. 2000 (4)
“Girls & Corpses,” issue # 5, Spring 2011 (COVER ONLY)
— VCR (updated 12/11/18)