At first, the idea of a three-hundred page cultural history of dirty magazines seems quaint, like somebody writing a book-length ode to the telegram. After all, it's been a long time since Playboy stood for anything other than bad reality TV, and you couldn't purchase a Penthouse right now if you tried. Not that you would, of course. At least not if you've got a few free minutes and a decent wireless connection.
But if somebody were to come up with a biography of the dirty magazine industry, it wouldn't hurt if s/he had once upon a time contributed to a few of those magazines himself. Say a big mainstream glossy like Hustler and then, for street cred, an indie weekly like Screw. Toss in authorship of a couple dozen pornographic novels and a few Penthouse bylines, and you've got the perfect candidate. Add a stint as publisher of outsider hobbyist mag High Times -- famous for publishing marijuana leaf "centerfolds" -- and you've got Mike Edison, author of Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! Of Playboys, Pigs and Penthouse Paupers: An American Tale of Sex and Wonder, who's appearing at The Last Bookstore to sign his book on Nov. 17.
Dirty! opens with an apologia for nudie mags peppered with tropes like, "A lot of women don't understand pornography." (It's 2011, guys. Time for that lie to die.) Fortunately, Edison is a fast enough talker to move the reader quickly into what turns out to be a well-crafted history of censorship and sex. He's also an obsessive geek, the kid determined to explain the history and provenance of every stamp in his collection -- only instead of stamps, he's holding up life-sized pull-outs of Playboy centerfolds.
If boobs aren't your thing, Dirty is also replete with weird facts you never knew, and probably never really wanted to know, about Hugh Hefner's sexual fetishes. Here's a quickie rundown of some of our favorite surprises. Edison's take on things is decidedly slanted, so take these with a grain of salt, and maybe a squeeze of lime:
After leaving a job at the Esquire subscription offices, Hefner worked in newsstand promotions at this publication, famous for headlines like "Jennie Lee the Bazoom Girl" and "How Those Stag Films Get Made." He took the magazine's populist angle and ran with it, tossing in a few glasses of red wine, fondue recipes and some startlingly good fiction. Voilà, Playboy.
4.Vogue Editrix Anna Wintour once worked for a women's pornographic magazine run by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione's wife.
The magazine was called Viva and apparently, Anna never talks about it. Somehow, this bit of biography didn't wind up in The September Issue.
3.Hugh Hefner is both a rabid misogynist and a Civil Rights pioneer.
Not that the two necessarily have anything to do with each other. But you gotta admit, it's strange to think a guy forward-thinking enough to feature black actors dancing with white girls on TV in the '50s -- as Hef did with Playboy's Penthouse -- was the same person who said this in 2010: "The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects...That's why women wear lipstick and short skirts."
2. Jimmy Carter features way more heavily into the history of porn than you probably expected.
It's not his fault. He just kept happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1976, he ran for President against Hustler founder Larry Flynt. He also became the first presidential candidate to admit to Playboy that he fantasized about ladies on the street. Then there's his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, who brought Flynt to Jesus briefly which is a very long story, and well worth the price of this book.
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1. Hugh Hefner can't get it up.
You knew that already, but if you're interested in the details, check out Edison's recap of model Jill Ann Spaulding's account of her Playboy Mansion sleepover. Or don't, and save yourself from terrible nightmares.
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