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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Topics: Entertainment News
there’s something about Playmates that fascinates people. First, they’re naked. Second, the centerfold has been a symbol of America’s sexual appetites and curiosities from Playboy’s first issue in 1953. When I started working at Playboy, I didn’t know much about the pin-ups except the deep impression they made on me as a teenager. I’ve since learned that you can never know too much about Playmates, sociologically speaking.
Did I mention that they’re all naked?
For the past three years, I’ve been interviewing Playmates and writing the overlooked but extremely clever text and captions that accompanies their pictorials. The challenge of interviewing Playmates is that all you really know about them is (1) they’re gorgeous and (2) they were recently nude.
Oddly enough, I discovered that Playboy had never assembled everything it knows about the Playmates — including hundreds of questionnaires the women fill out — in one place. And so when Hugh Hefner mentioned he wanted a chapter of trivia in “The Playmate Book,” a coffee-table volume that includes photographs and updates about each of the first 517 centerfolds, I jumped at the chance to process this enormous accumulation of raw data.
In a lonely cabinet in the magazine’s temperature-controlled photo vault, I discovered a gold mine: a file drawer filled with more than 500 handwritten Playmate questionnaires dating back to September 1959. And then I was off.
Even with the data sheets at hand, I knew that assembling a database would be a huge undertaking. With the help of an intern, I fed our computers each Playmate’s measurements, height, weight, turn-ons, birth dates, birthplaces, hair color, eye color, turn-offs, ambitions, favorite books, favorite movies, hobbies and other interests. I also studied each of the magazine’s centerfolds and gleaned whatever trivia I could. The first few 10-hour shifts flipping through pictorials left me sort of hot and bothered, but by the end of the week I had grown bored looking at nude women. Shaken, I took a few days off.
After a month of typing in figures and turn-ons, a tech-support guy and I began the process of objectifying the Playmates. We crunched the numbers every which way looking for trends and averages. Some of what we found wasn’t that surprising: An overwhelming number of Playmates hoped their appearance would lead to roles in television or movies, or more modeling gigs. Most mentioned their desire to have a family (that didn’t change over the years). Music and animals were the most common turn-ons; egotists and liars the most common turn-offs.
There were also historical markers that told me I was moving forward. For instance, a few Playmates from the early 1960s listed the Beatles as a turn-off (too loud), but within two years just as many listed the band as a huge turn-on. Sewing and horseback riding seemed to be on every Playmate’s list of favorite activities throughout the ’60s, but slowly made way for working out and windsurfing. Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Marilyn Monroe topped the list of favorite performers, largely because the question was dropped from the data sheet in the 1970s.
When you’re studying hundreds of data sheets, the figures tend to blend together. But a few Playmates broke the mold, especially with their turn-ons and turn-offs. Many said they enjoyed walking on the beach and sunsets — hey, who doesn’t? — but others listed things like UFOs, Nintendo, Christianity, “getting high,” cowboys in tight jeans, banjo players, ear kissing and hidden tattoos.
The turn-offs were equally diverse. The top 10 included pollution, judgmental people and getting up early. But here and there, a Playmate mentioned something a little more off-center: Lyndon Johnson, math, bras with seven snaps in the back, credit limits, lima beans, wet socks, guys in Speedos who should be wearing boxers, the sound of people chewing their food, people who keep time to music when no music is playing.
As the project progressed, I began to take more detailed notes. Eighteen Playmates doodled on their data sheets, everything from happy faces to a martini glass. Here was a Playmate born the 19th of 20 children. A Playmate who had nightmares of waking up bald. A Playmate who had been trapped when her Volkswagen fell off the jack (she joked that her breasts had saved her, prompting an editor to title her pictorial “Two For the Road”). A Playmate shown firing a .357 Magnum and being kissed on the cheek by George Burns. A Playmate employed as a U.S. Forest Service officer. A Playmate posing in clown make-up. A Playmate whose father had been in the Temptations, and a Playmate whose dad was a motocross champ.
I also uncovered a few gems among the long-forgotten Playmate texts. “What I really want out of life is love,” said Sharon Citron (May 1963). “Money is nice, of course, but it can’t hold hands.” Michelle Drake (May 1979) explained that “sexual hang-ups are for the birds.” And Saskia Linssen (June 1991) argued that Men Are Exactly Like Horses. “I ask both to wear saddles and obey,” she complained, “but neither wants to.”
The tech guy found that all mildly interesting, but he wanted to see some hard numbers. So we generated reports until we had an inch-thick pile of data and trivia:
Fascinating, eh? I just hope knowing this stuff makes the world a better place.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)