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Home: The Toast

Remember when Playboy was the kind of magazine that ran articles written by Gabriel García Márquez or Marshall McLuhan and – if you were of a certain age and persuasion – you’d be likely to find a slightly damp copy of it stashed in a stump in the woods? I mean, I don’t as I am of an age where nudity is basically everywhere and – as a Canadian and University of Toronto graduate – I am deathly tired of Marshall McLuhan, but hey, what an age that probably was, right? I mean, aside from all the horrible societal issues, but whatever, LET’S TALK ABOUT SOME NAKED LADIES.

Playboy was started in 1953 by Hugh (pronounced “huuuuuuhhhhhhh”, like you’re sighing loudly) Hefner as a way to showcase writers while also showcasing THEM BOOBIES. While most people know the mag as a place to peruse heavily photoshopped pictures of women with very little body hair, the early Playmate of the Month pictures were a bit more on the “smutty” side, rather than “sexy”. Pubic regions didn’t make it into the spreads [SLIGHTLY DAMP RIMSHOT] until the 1970s, so the lower half of the models ended up being covered by something, whether it be a skirt, underwear, mustard-coloured pants, or mounds of gauzy fabric (because nothing is sexier than those curtains that you find in mid-range hotel rooms). There’s a sweetness to the photos, in sort of a burlesque-y, soft core kind of way, but there’s also a weirdness to a number of them. Occasionally, it feels like the art director went, “That’s it! I’m tired of shooting photos of women casually spread across beds and coyly peeking out from behind doors! We’re going to EXPERIMENT! Here, take off your pants, hold this cactus, and stand by that tuba.”

This is a look at some of those instances and what was probably behind said behind the scenes: 

Barbara Cameron - November 1955

BARBARA CAMERON – POTM NOVEMBER 1955

“You know what’s sexy? A woman who is just getting out of the shower, all fresh and clean and well scrubbed. You know what else is sexy? Velvet. Not just velvet on clothing, but like, a velvet wall. Yeah, crushed velvet on a wall would be amazing, especially in a bathroom where the naked shower lady is. Except that we can’t have her actually getting out of the shower, because then her makeup would be running and her perm would be all fucked up, so what if she was in the bathroom, but totally dry? I think that works! Also, I just checked the set and there isn’t really a shower, more of a tub that exists in some sort of flattened, bizarro space where everything looks like a cardboard cutout. Oh, and there’s a showerhead, but it’s just kind of coming out of the ceiling like a chrome python. Also, we brought a towel, but for some reason there’s elastic in the middle of it, so it’ll just kind of hang off her waist like some sort of terrycloth tube. Make sure you get the garbage can in the photo as well. Oh man, this is going to be so hot.”

Betty Blue - November 1956

BETTY BLUE – POTM NOVEMBER 1956

“Look, Betty, I know you’re in the middle of that life drawing class where you have to pretend to be a classical Greek statue, but we’d really appreciate it if you just took up smoking, like, right this second.”

Marianne Gaba - September 1959

MARIANNE GABA – POTM SEPTEMBER 1959

“Look, just because we forgot the suitcase containing all the clothes, doesn’t mean we can’t just do the photo shoot anyway. I borrowed shirt this off the lady working in that Git n’ Go over there, so put it on and go stand by that tree.”

Jean Cannon - October 1961

JEAN CANNON – POTM OCTOBER 1961

“Jean, I think it would be great if you went and posed by a tree where there are a bunch of love notes all carved in it, I feel like it’ll be that nice play on the whole hard/soft thing, where you’re naked and all ‘come hither’ while the tree behind you is full of youthful declarations of everlasting love. I think there’s one just over he-… Shit, it’s way up in the tree. No, wait, don’t climb up there! Jean, our insurance doesn’t cover naked women falling out of trees! It barely covers dental! Jea-… goddamnit, get down from there! Seriously, I can barely climb a tree normally, never mind while totally frickin’ nude. The stylist hasn’t even done your hair yet! For fuck’s sake, ok, whatever, just get the camera. We’re just going to shoot this and then I’m going to go back to my apartment and get loaded.”

Roberta Lane - April 1962

ROBERTA LANE – POTM APRIL 1962

“Hello? Hey Diane, it’s me, Roberta. How’s it going? Oh, I’m good, I’m just hanging out in the basement near Bob’s hobby shop, going to be starting that Playboy photo shoot soon. Yeah, I know. I mean, I got my hair done today, but then I got hairspray all over it so now I’m just sitting in the basement shirtless. What? No, it’s not that cold. But I mean, I just had lunch so I’m feeling pretty bloated, let me just unzip my pants a bit… ahhh, there we go. Anyway, what are you up to today? Nah, I’m just going to kneel on the floor and drink ginger ale. I know the couch is behind me, I’m just going to kneel awkwardly. God, I am so bloated today, ugh.”

Carrie Enwright – July 1963

CARRIE ENWRIGHT – POTM JULY 1963

“My thoughts on this is that I’m on my way to a live-action game of Clue as Colonel Mustard. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late May and, as I’m walking to my friend’s place in my costume, I realize that (in my haste to leave) I totally forgot to put on a pair of shoes! So I turn around and start cutting back through a field because there was a tailgate party in my neighbourhood and a bunch of bros just smashed empty stubbies all over the sidewalk. Anyway, as I head through, I come across a guy dressed as Mr. Peacock, who is also heading to the same event. We start chatting, but then all of a sudden, the tailgating bros show up and start chucking bottles at us! We start running for safety through backyards, finally ditching them. I’m so warm and uncomfortable in my Mustard costume that I strip off the top and realize that I ripped off the top button on my pants while I was running.  My shirt is absolutely soaked in sweat because I didn’t wear my prescription-strength antiperspirant today, so I hang it on a tree. Mr Peacock is standing there, cobalt shirt partially open, salt and pepper hair mussed. I give him a look and say, ‘Mr. Peacock, with his pipe wrench, in me.’ I feel like that’s how we should approach this photo, frankly.”

Mercy Rooney - December 1972

MERCY ROONEY – DECEMBER 1972

“I got the brief here and it just says, ‘Lady on the top, labradoodle on the bottom’.”

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Alex Nursall is a writer and illustrator living in Toronto. Aside from makeup, she is also into the Nashville Predators, Liverpool FC, and moody CanLit.

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