Hugh Hefner’s Other Magazine

The following is a true story. . I know because I was there.

When Hugh Hefner first opened up his New York advertising office on Madison Avenue, he wasn’t taken very seriously. Though Playboy, at the time, was a huge success on the newsstands, it was met with considerable opposition from the advertising community. Jokers left crude anonymous messages on the office telephones, i.e., like “tell the centerfolds to get dressed”. Sometimes, too, when an advertiser placed a schedule in Playboy, indignant moralists vigorously protested and the frightened advertiser soon dropped their advertising program.

Against this backdrop in 1961, Hugh Hefner must have wanted to be recognized as an even more serious publisher. As a very young man, I was among those hired in New York City to be a space salesman on the launching of his new, weekly magazine, SHOW BUSINESS ILLUSTRATED. The prospectus for the new magazine stated: “…America doesn’t have royalty as such, therefore, celebrity is the next best thing.” The editorial staffs of Time and Newsweek were raided by Hefner. Bureaus were set up in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and, of course, Chicago where Hugh Hefner was then headquartered Frank Gibney (the father of documentary producer and director, Alex Gibney), who clearly impressed crowds when he spoke, was made the Editor. Marvin Barrett, who later in life became known as the expert on broadcast journalism was the Executive Editor. Art Paul, who probably created the first split pictorial covers to ever appear on a national magazine, was the art director.

On September 5, 1961, a new glossy looking, slick stock, weekly magazine called SHOW BUSINESS ILLUSTRATED first appeared on the newsstands across America. Its premiere issue sold approximately 300,000 copies at 50 cents each – a big price for a magazine at that time. On its front cover were photos of celebrities: Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Marlon Brando and others. A cute looking wise old owl, the symbol of the publication, also appeared on the cover. The advertising community was impressed and some thought perhaps they should take a new look at Playboy again. They were amazed there was a complete absence of nudity in the new publication.

Unfortunately, as editorially outstanding as it appeared to be, it lasted for about a year. Within the Playboy organization there was great unhappiness with the financial drain the launching of this property cost the employees. The huge Christmas bonuses Hugh Hefner gave to his employees, for example, diminished greatly in size. Not having the resources that Time, Inc. had to sustain Sports Illustrated until it became profitable, the magazine folded.

Many years later, in LA, I spoke with Hugh Hefner at his book signing in Century City. I showed him a note he had given to me thanking me for ad space I had brought into SHOW BUSINESS ILLUSTRATED. We talked for a few minutes about his concept and he wistfully said, “Yes, I believed in it. Look, Time Warner utilized the same concept when they started Entertainment Weekly.” For all concerned, it was a sad ending for a magazine that could have become an American classic.

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