No-one ever really believed any man who used the old excuse for buying Playboy magazine – “for the articles”, as opposed to for the photos of nude women.
The nude women were the main attraction.
Yet the magazine does have a long and proud literary tradition, publishing stories by authors like John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Arthur C Clarke, Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who has died at the age of 91, once joked with a group of centrefolds at a magazine anniversary party: “Ladies, it’s been a wonderful 25 years, and I owe it all to you. Without you, I would have had nothing but a literary magazine.”
Former Playboy literary editor Amy Grace Loyd summed up the magazine’s formula in 2009: “You’ve got things drawing a man’s eye, then you’ve got things that are enriching his intellectual and spiritual life.”
Plenty of authors refused to write for Playboy “on principle or because of disapproving wives or daughters”, she said. But plenty agreed.
“We can reach so many more people than anybody else, and we’re also reaching people who don’t read fiction generally, or at least literary fiction,” she explained.
Playboy also gave authors an outlet for stories with uncensored, adult and controversial themes, and paid its writers well.
“We were willing to publish things that other people wouldn’t publish, and writers were very happy about that,” Hefner said. “And very quickly we had the largest circulation in the men’s field so we were able to pay more money.”
Here are 11 of the notable authors whose work appeared in the pages of Playboy.
The children’s author toyed with darker fantasies in four short stories published between 1965-74. They were tales of unscrupulous and ill-fated seduction, two of which featured an Uncle Oswald, “the greatest fornicator of all time”. They were compiled in a book, Switch Bitch, in 1974.
Two years after publishing his beat-generation classic On the Road in 1957, Kerouac penned a short prequel for Playboy titled Before the Road. The typed manuscript was the top seller when Playboy held an auction in 2003, fetching $71,700.
Although she’s a feminist icon, Atwood penned several stories for Playboy. They included The Bog Man, about an archaeology student who goes on a field trip to be with her married professor lover and discovers a preserved 2,000-year-old corpse.
Perhaps she drew on the magazine for inspiration when writing her poem Miss July Grows Older (NB not published in Playboy), in which a former pin-up realises she can no longer trade on her looks now she is getting older and “there are more of me” to take her place.
Ursula Le Guin
Another feminist author, Le Guin had Nine Lives, a sci-fi story of love, clones and extraterrestrial mining, printed in 1969. But it was under the byline UK Le Guin because a Playboy editor said “many of our readers are frightened by stories by women authors”.
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She later said it was the one and only time she encountered prejudice as a female writer, “but it is surprising to me to realise how thoughtlessly I went along with them”.
The James Bond creator wrote several stories for Playboy and his novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was serialised in the magazine in 1963. The film version of the same story, which came out six years later, featured a scene in which Bond actor George Lazenby read a copy of Playboy.
When Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, about a totalitarian world in which books are burned, was published in 1953, it wasn’t instantly recognised as a classic. In one of Hefner’s early literary coups, he reportedly paid $400 for the rights to serialise it the following year – taking it to a mass audience.
Arthur C Clarke
The science fiction master had a long association with Playboy, but perhaps his most influential story was 1964’s Dial F For Frankenstein, about an ever-more-interconnected telephone network that takes over the world. A young Tim Berners-Lee happened to be reading (for the articles, obviously), and has credited it as one of the inspirations for the world wide web.
The Lolita author published two complete novels in the pages of Playboy as well as a number of stories. In 2009, Playboy scored a coup when the magazine won the rights to his unfinished last novel The Original of Laura, and published a 5,000-word extract.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Colombian literary giant is among the Nobel laureates to have been in Playboy. His story The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World appeared in 1968 and told the story of a tiny South American fishing village that tries to solve the mystery of an enchanting corpse.
Playboy spent a six-figure sum to send one of the 20th Century’s journalistic pioneers to write about the legendary Rumble in the Jungle – the 1974 boxing bout between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The two-part article was later expanded into a book titled The Fight.
After writing her novel The Deal, about a young woman who agrees to sleep with an aged gambler for $1,000, Denham did what no other author did – she posed for Playboy to support herself.
Both the story and photos were published in 1956. But the magazine was said to have rejected two further stories, saying it didn’t intend to have any more women’s bylines.