“We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” (Hugh Hefner, Playboy, 1953)
The inaugural issue of Playboy was published by Hugh Hefner in December 1953. The first issue is not dated. Hefner was unsure there would be second. He outlined in his introduction: “If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, PLAYBOY is meant for you… We want to make clear from the very start, we aren’t a family magazine.”
50,000 copies immediately sold (for the price of 50¢ each) and Playboy was born. Hefner attributed the success of the first issue to the inclusion of a single photograph.
“First time | in any magazine | FULL COLOR | the famous | MARILYN | MONROE | NUDE”
In the year preceding publication, Monroe had starred in three blockbuster hits, confirmed her status as Hollywood’s leading lady and created the persona and image that captivated the nation. For $500 Hefner acquired the exclusive right to a nude photograph of Monroe. The photographs, taken four years prior, were known to have existed but remained largely unseen by the public. Monroe sits on a cloth and background of red velvet. Playboy writes, “More than either face or body, it is what little Norma Jean has learned to do with both. Caruso, they say, could break a wine glass with his voice. Marilyn shatters whole rows of beer steins with a single, seductive look.” The cover cemented her role as the most popular sex symbol of the decade.
Hefner placed his unseen nude at the centre, another image of Monroe on the cover, and declared her “Sweetheart of the Month” (the precursor to Playmate). The accompanying article reads: “She is natural sex personified. It is there in every look and movement. That’s what makes her the most natural choice in the world for our very first Playboy Sweetheart.” Monroe was paid the standard $50 modelling fee for the ‘red velvet’ series. When the issue was published, the actress had to buy her own copy to see the centrefold.
Playboy would go on to insert itself into the dialogue surrounding the sexual, social and cultural revolution of the next two decades. It published a wide range of important writers and interviews, and courted controversy and criticism at every turn. In this important 1953 first issue, the aims of the magazine are simple: “We don’t expect to solve any world problems or prove any great moral truths. If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age, we’ll feel we’ve justified our existence.”
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