A Lake Chapala resident recalls her time with the embodiment of America’s puerile aspirations
The recent passing of Hugh Hefner, the silk clad Playboy magazine founder perpetually draped with blonde, big busted women - and a smirking lightning rod for the seething jealousy of men aspiring to the louche decadence made possible by fuck-you money - puts the Guadalajara Reporter in a mind to acknowledge his passing vis-a-vis a story told to us by Chapala’s own Rosemary Grayson about how she became Miss October 1964 - and the magazine’s first British playmate.
In 1963, Grayson, a fresh-faced journalism student at Exeter University in England, flew to New York, eager to explore the uncouth, un-bottoned colonies. After working as a cocktail waitress in Toronto for a time, she lit out for Chicago after hearing tell of a certain twinkly-eyed roue millionaire who resided there, whom she thought would make a fine subject for an article. She describes the circumstances leading to her first meeting with the man thus:
“I had just arrived in Chicago on a Greyhound bus, made a beeline for the nearest public phone, dialed, and managed to reach a woman on Playboy Magazine’s switchboard. Although she refused me Hugh Hefner’s phone number, she oddly enough had no problem giving me his home address on North State Parkway.”
To those who may be asking, “But, didn’t Hugh Hefner live in Los Angeles?”, let us enlighten you with the following biographical snippet: Playboy Magazine was started in Chicago by Hefner, a graduate in psychology from University of Illinois. In 1953, he managed to scrape together 8,000 in startup money from various investors, one of which was his own mother. He produced the first edition in his own kitchen, cribbing for its cover a photo from a 1949 Marilyn Monroe calendar shoot.
Ten years later and Hefner was living in a mansion staffed by a young black butler with a white wig and knocker on the front door which read, in Latin, “If you don’t swing, don’t ring.” It was though this entrance that Grayson was ushered by said butler.
“Charming Hef, smiling and smoking his pipe in silk pajamas, gave me a superb interview,” continued Grayson. “What a bull’s eye! Then, when I was ready to wrap things up and run like a rabbit, Hef gently sat me down and suggested that I might like to be their next centerfold.”
Although at first she turned him down, his lantern-jawed American persuasiveness eventually prevailed; after six months bumming around the United States, she decided to take Hefner up on his offer, arriving in Chicago from Miami for “topless and bikini-style test shots.”
“I was invited to join Hef in the big round bed,” remembered Grayson. “ We pored over the early prototypes for the magazine he still kept around. They were like appalling scrap books on brown sugar paper! Every badly shot black-and-white photo featured Hef with some dire-looking girl or other.”
After the photo shoot was over, Grayson became, for a time, part of the “Playboy family,” an experience she related to the Reporter without a trace of rancor.
“You’d think [the other Playboy bunnies] would be the type to scratch your eyes out, but no, they were all very nice,” stated Grayson.
However, she also noted that in the long term, it did nothing for the achievement of her career goals.
“I wasn’t in show-biz, I didn’t need the publicity,” explained Grayson.
However, since the 1967 photo shoot, she seems to have dodged around whatever potholes were put in her path by virtue of her brief career as a nude model; after working as a journalist for the British ITV news network, she moved to Manchester and opened the first branch of the now-international P.R. firm Edelman Worldwide. Then, in 1980, she became a magistrate, adjudicating criminal cases in the same North England metropolis. A photo taken during her judicial appointment captures Grayson in flagrant professional deadpan, albeit with a more revealing, 70s-style décolletage than would likely be permissible today.
In addition to keeping in touch with Hefner during the decades that followed the 1964 photo shoot, Grayson also maintained a friendship with Hefner’s longtime friend and business partner Victor Lownes until his death earlier this January. She remembers one particular conversation they had, during which she asked the man what exactly defines a “playboy."
“Somebody who’s having more sex than you are,” he replied.
In other words, America’s most famous skin mag performed the same function as, say, Cigar Aficionado or Better Homes and Garden: a way for the average American to torture himself ogling covetously a lifestyle just out of reach and experience vicariously a tantalizing soupçon of the lives of those citizens who, by virtue of moxy and the maintenance of a puritan work ethic handed down the generations from Plymouth Rock, had achieved the ephemeral grail of American life, “success.”
To view the article in the Guadalajara Reporter website, click here.