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:
- The average Playmate measures 36-23-35, weighs 115 pounds and stands 5-foot-6.
- Since the 1960s, the average has gotten an inch smaller in the bust, an inch larger in the waist, one pound heavier and two inches taller.
- The total Playmate measures 1,540 feet at the bust, 1,009 feet at the waist and 1,509 feet at the hips, weighs 30 tons and stands 2,857 feet tall.
- At least three Playmates dated Elvis.
- The most common Playmate names are Susan and Victoria.
- Three quarters of the Playmates are not blondes with blue eyes.
- The books most often cited as Playmate favorites were "The Prophet" and "Gone With the Wind."
- The girl who played Elliot's girlfriend in "E.T." (Erika Eleniak) later became a Playmate.
- Fifty Playmates have been photographed in the bath or shower, and 10 using a garden hose.
Fascinating, eh? I just hope knowing this stuff makes the world a better place.