The Press: Sassy Newcomer

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The latest phenomenon in U.S. magazine publishing is Playboy, an oversexed young version of the 23-year-old Esquire. Last week, not yet three years old but selling 688,000 copies, the slick and sassy 50¢ monthly threatened to outstrip Esquire (circ. 778,000) in a circulation fight. Playboy has also spawned a litter of its own imitators, e.g., Playgirl (which it is suing for too close an imitation), Nugget, Rogue, U.S. Male.

Even Esquire has paid the ultimate compliment by shedding some of its latter-day respectability. But Esquire still cannot keep abreast. In its August number Playboy printed four pictures of Cinebabe Anita Ekberg in the nude, taking the edge off Esquire's September portfolio of Ekberg with a few clothes on.

Postal Troubles. Playboy has a professional sheen and a formula pitched at male adolescents of all ages, notably those on college campuses, where 25% of its copies are sold. There are breezy short stories, ribald classics, e.g., by Boccaccio, De Maupassant, articles on men's styles, bawdy cartoons, club-car jokes and limericks and a heaping helping of cheesecake, such as a full-color view of a "Playmate of the Month" (see MILESTONES), sometimes posed by its own staffers, e.g., Subscription Manager Janet Pilgrim, 21. The magazine whets readers' interest by first letting them see what each month's playmate looks like with her clothes on.

The U.S. Post Office also took an interest, denied the magazine second-class mail privileges, charging obscenity. But a federal district court overruled the Post Office last November. Said Playboy's editor-owner, 3O-year-old Hugh M. Hefner incredulously: "Some people think nudity is pornographic."

New Project. Esquire could have spared itself its new competition for only $5. From the age of 15, Chicagoan Hefner longed to work for the men's magazine, made the grade in its promotion department after he got out of the University of Illinois. But he quit when Esquire would not lift its $80-a-week offer for a Manhattan assignment to $85. From his own Near North Side apartment, on less than $11,000, almost all of it borrowed, he launched Playboy.

Though he recently hired Author A. C. (The Exurbanites) Spectorsky as his assistant, Hefner still works seven days a week. He is a nonsmoker, non-coffee-drinker whose major diversion is two dozen bottles of Pepsi-Cola a day. Hefner's office is still the living room of his apartment, across the street from Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral. But at the end of the month Playboy will begin moving from four different Chicago offices to a refurbished (for $500,000), five-story Playboy Building. That will give Hefner room for a new project. He has hired the whole staff of Mad, a short-lived satirical pulp, and out of Playboy's $750,000 profit (before taxes) in 1956, will launch a still unnamed new magazine this winter.