The Sexy Girl Next Door in the 1970s
Hefner’s Playmates were groundbreaking in their appearance; with their seductive, girl-next-door looks they created cultural conversations around female sexuality that challenged the postwar belief that women must limit themselves solely to monogamous marriages.
Playboy was once an incredible bestseller, selling an estimated 7.2 million copies per issue and featuring interviews with such luminaries as Alex Haley and George Lincoln Rockwell.
Early Life and Education
Hefner founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and expanded it into an empire that encompassed TV shows, movie production, clothing lines and resorts. Playboy received praise from feminist activists who felt its permissive sexual content encouraged sexual liberation at a time when society still held women back, according to an article by Loyola University history professor Elizabeth Fraterrigo published in 2010 by Washington Post.
Fraterrigo states that many young girls submitted photos hoping to become Playmates before being old enough legally pose nude, sending pictures even before turning 18. She notes that Secrets of Playboy showed four Tennessee women — Victoria Cunningham, Stephanie Glasson, Wendy Kaye and Gail Stanton – regularly appeared as Playmates during various episodes.
Elizabeth Ann Roberts posed in January 1958 at age 16. Gloria Steinem also went undercover for a two-part Playboy article, in order to expose sexism, sexual harassment and labor abuses in this field.
Playboy magazine has provided the springboard for many centerfold models to find success outside its pages, such as Carmen Electra’s acting career that began with her Playboy appearance in 1997; Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt became stars on TV show Girls Next Door while Dorothy Stratten became known for nude spreads.
Others, however, have left more complicated legacies, including Betty Page who died at 36 and tragic stories like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith. Holly Madison stands out among these former Playmates by having spoken extensively about their time at Hefner’s mansion as well as claiming that he gave her Stockholm Syndrome.
Achievement and Honors
Playboy Playmate of the Month or Playmate of the Year recognition can be an extraordinary career highlight, yet for some models it comes at a heavy personal cost: Playboy has featured several women who died mysterious or violent deaths shortly after appearing on its centerfolds.
“Once a Playmate, Always a Playmate” features five former Playmates — Victoria Valentino from September 1963 is now 77; Candace Collins Jordan became Playmate #65 during December 1979; Brande Roderick became Playmate of the Year for Africa in 1990 — coming together for a series of photos that demonstrate that beauty can last through time and age.
Over the years, Playboy has featured women with various body types to represent diverse backgrounds. On average, their Playmates fall within a healthy BMI range according to WHO standards.
Playboy not only legitimised pornographic material, but it also encouraged women to seek careers outside traditional homemaking roles. Furthermore, Playboy promoted an idealized portrayal of an hourglass-shaped woman similar to Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield.
Many Playmates struggled with substance abuse and eating disorders; Hefner was in control of their lives; one former Playboy employee claimed Hefner would do whatever it took to get his way.
Playboy bunny Star Stowe had an underdog quality and dreamt of becoming both a dancer and rock musician. Her career took an upturn after appearing in Playboy magazine’s February 1977 centerfold; unfortunately she died decades later from drug and alcohol dependency in Florida, found dead inside her vehicle on March 15, 1997.
As Playboy became immensely successful during the 1970s, its girls started earning increasingly more. One mint-condition issue featuring Bo Derek sold at auction for $4,000. Nowadays, Playmates can expect to earn as much as $25,000 from one photo shoot!
Hugh Hefner was reported to be worth an estimated $200 million and enjoyed entertaining guests at his Playboy Mansion as well as having trysts with many of the Playmates featured in his magazine.
Sondra Theodore is an American model who rose to fame after she was featured as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month for July 1977 issue. Since then she has also appeared in movies such as Stingray, Skateboard and Barnaby Jones, while now hosting Secrets of Playboy TV show.