Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Job Made in Heaven: Playboy Enterprises, Part II

Paxton Quigley, Christie Hefner (seated), Stanley K. Sheinbaum (ACLU), and Hugh Hefner planning the first "Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards" luncheon at the Playboy Mansion, 1979.
by Paxton Quigley

Part II, con't. After those two road trips and interviewing Playmates, I told Christie that I thought she was wasting my time with Playmates. She agreed and told me that my next project would be quite different and challenging, because its subject was historical and dear to Hefner’s heart. It would be a travelling exhibit called “Freedom Of The Press: The Anglo-American Struggle, 1644-1837," introducing the First Amendment Freedoms Collection of the Chicago Public Library.

Cover of the booklet for the "Freedom of the Press" national traveling exhibition that was sponsored by The Playboy Foundation. The booklet describes with photos the original documents regarding the passage of the First Amendment. The documents are part of the Chicago Public Library"s Special Collections Department. 
I reported to Martin Cooper in the Los Angeles office, who was Senior Vice President of Marketing & Corporate Communications. The exhibition travelled to various cities for two years and in each location, it opened with a reception with local dignitaries in attendance and press coverage.

It would begin in Los Angeles with an opening reception with Hefner in attendance. At around that time, I was working to set up a women’s group called “Women in the Middle Of ...” with two women from Pasadena named Maggie Cherniss, the wife of Charles Cherniss, editor of the Pasadena Star News, and Marjorie Chandler, wife of Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Marjorie was hosting a Saturday afternoon luncheon to introduce our idea to a group of local women.

When the luncheon ended and people were leaving, Otis Chandler walked in. I introduced myself to him, and explained that part of our exhibit would be aimed at publicizing the exhibit to Chicago area schools and inviting school trips, so that children could learn more about the history of our country and the First Amendment. He liked the idea.  

“Is Hefner coming to the opening?” he asked.

“Yes, certainly.”

“I’ve always wanted to meet him. I admire the guy. I like him.”
Paxton Quigley introducing Hugh Hefner to Otis Chandler at a reception for the Freedom of Press exhibit, 1980. Los Angeles Times Photographs Collections.
Chandler agreed to co-sponsor the exhibit in the building’s public space, for two months.  He said he would host the opening of the exhibit.

My next big challenge was New York City. Thomas Orlando, Curator of Special Collections and Archivist at the Chicago Public Library, suggested I contact the Fraunces Tavern Museum (54 Pearl Street). The museum and tavern is the city’s oldest building in New York City and is where General George Washington bid farewell to his troops. It was the perfect historic site for the exhibit. At first the director was a bit concerned about Playboy’s involvement, but after talking with Thomas Orlando, it was a done deal.

Our last exhibition was held near the Atlantic City Playboy Casino and Hotel in the Seaward Gallery of the Atlantic City Art Center with a reception on August 14, 1981.     
Tom Bradley holds sign for Freedom of Press exhibit while at reception for the event with Otis Chandler and Hugh Hefner, 1980.

Christie came up with a brilliant idea regarding Playboy’s strong stand for America’s First Amendment rights. In 1979, in conjunction with the company’s 25th anniversary, she established an annual awards program to those who had dedicated their profession, and some their lives, to upholding and exercising their First Amendment rights in seven categories.

That first year the winners were decided by a group of “heavy-hitters” such as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley; playwright and social cartoonist Jules Feiffer; Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Fay Kanin; The Nation magazine editor Victor Navasky; and New York Times associate editor Tom Wicker. Christie named it The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards, which continues to this day. The event was held at the Playboy Mansion with Hefner in attendance.
Author Studs Terkel with Paxton Quigley at the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards, 1980.
One of our awardees was Sonia Johnson, a fifth generation Mormon living in Utah and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church.).  She co-founded with three other women “Mormons for ERA,” and in the late 1970s was publicly critical of the position of The Mormon Church that was against the Equal Rights Amendment. Sonia was ex-communicated from the church for her activities.

I called Sonia and told her of her award. She was reticent because it was coming from Hugh Hefner.  She said she would think about it for a few days and would call me back. Within three days, she called and said she was honored to receive the award, and would come to the awards luncheon. We made all the travel arrangements, including the hotel. Over the next two months, I periodically called her just to make sure she was on board. She was always positive.
“We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” — Sonia Johnson
Like many events, the awards luncheon was held outside in a gigantic tent with about 150 attending. There were a number of people from the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU, including its long-time president, Stanley K. Sheinbaum, who established the ACLU of Southern California, as well as some Hollywood celebrities, including Norman Lear.

Christie hosted, with Hefner sitting at one of the tables. Then came the moment, when Christie announced the award to Sonia Johnson who walked up to the podium.

She said: “Thank you for the award, but I cannot accept it because of Playboy magazine’s attitude of using women as sexual objects on the covers and inside the magazine.” And she walked off the stage.
From the Playboy scrapbooks: Hugh Hefner — Champion of Free Speech.
There was a collective gasp from the audience. We were stunned. I went over to Hefner and asked him what he wanted to do.

“Nothing…,” he said, adding, “She voiced her opinion and that’s what the First Amendment is all about. I’m sure the press will want to interview both her and me. Please, line them up.”

He smiled at me and I returned his smile. That evening, I called my mother who lived in Chicago and told her about the day’s events. “Mom, I have a job made in heaven,” and I meant it.
Paxton with Charles H. Joffe, who was an American film producer and comedy talent manager.   Joffe won the 1977 Academy Award for Best Picture producer of Woody Allen's Annie Hall, as well the Writer's Guild Best Picture Award, the Director's Guild Best Picture Award, and the Golden Globe's Best Picture Award. 
Paxton at the Mansion for its annual New Year's Eve party, 1980. Photo: Larry Logan

In 1980, there was a conference of one thousand Hispanic feminists in San Jose. I attended to speak about the Playboy Foundation’s philanthropic contributions to the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as other women’s rights groups. Walking up to the stage to address the group, the women booed and yelled all sorts of onerous names at me. The chairwoman tried to stop the heckling, but they kept on, and I literally was forced to leave the stage.

I didn’t expect that kind of  “welcome.” As I walked out, Connie Skipitares, a staff writer for the San Jose Mercury newspaper, grabbed me and said, “Come with me. I want to do a story on Playboy.” She wrote a positive article about Playboy and extensively quoted me. She ended the article with the following: “Basically, we are a grass-roots foundation,” said Ms. Quigley. “There are a lot of organizations out there working in the area of controversial issues like abortion rights, marijuana legalization, gay rights and they cannot get funds from establishment foundations. We give those groups money where nobody else will.”

Another project that required my attention was the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as on the KCET Public TV event where Hefner gave a donation to rebuild the small theater at the station. KCET renamed the theater The Hugh M. Hefner Theater. Two years later I noticed that the station had taken down the Hefner plaque. I didn’t have the guts to tell anyone at Playboy.
From the Playboy scrapbooks: Hefner with his vinyl collection, many of them swing and jazz . Inset: 1982 Playboy Jazz Festival program.
Paxton with Martin Cooper, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications at a KCET Fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, 1980.  
Another year-long project was the LeRoy Neiman/Andy Warhol: An Exhibition of Sports Paintings in November, 1982 at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art on Robertson Boulevard.

The Institute was located off the beaten track in LA, at 2020 S. Robertson Blvd. It opened its doors in 1974 by its director Robert Smith. The Institute’s primary mission was to support local contemporary artists in the community.

Because of decreased public spending to the arts, the Institute fell on hard times by 1980 and needed additional funding. One day, I received a call from Smith asking if we could meet. He had an idea that he thought Hefner would like bringing Neiman and Warhol together for an exhibition of the artists’ sports paintings that would include an opening night party ($125 per person) where both artists would be present.

I asked him to put together a proposal and I gave it to Martin Cooper, who presented it to Hefner, who liked it because he had close business relationships with both Neiman and Warhol.
"LeRoy Neiman/Andy Warhol: An Exhibition of Sports Paintings," 1982.
LeRoy Neiman and Hugh Hefner met in the early 1950s, when Neiman was doing women's high fashion drawings and Hefner was a copywriter at Carson Pirie Scott department store in downtown Chicago. When Hefner had the idea to start Playboy, he asked Neiman to do the original artwork, and the “Femlin” was born. From then on, every issue of Playboy had two black and white Femlins. She was usually on the jokes page behind the centerfold.
Neiman contributed two Femlins drawings for every monthly issue, for 50 years.
Neiman became a “popular” American artist, but was never considered a “good” artist. Nevertheless he ended up a multi-millionaire.

Andy Warhol was commissioned to do art for Playboy magazine multiple times for nearly 25 years. The most iconic of his works was the Rabbit Head Logo that appeared on the January 1986 cover of Playboy. It became one of the most widely known and valuable pieces in the Playboy Art Collection.
The exhibit’s catalogue was beautifully done with photos of the artworks, plus two articles by art historian Lynn Thorpe McAllister with illustrations by artist Jeff Perrone.

On opening night about 200 paying guests began arriving at 7:30 for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to see the 27 paintings of Warhol’s Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Willie Shoemaker, Dorothy Hamill, etc. and Neiman’s Joe Namath, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, etc. Many of those attending purchased posters of four different paintings and were waiting for them to be autographed.
From the Playboy scrapbooks: Neiman and Hefner.
From the Playboy scrapbooks: Ali visiting Hefner at the Mansion.
Finally, the stars arrived. Hefner came in with seven beautiful young women, followed by Neiman and Warhol. The photographers snapped their photos and people asked for autographs. Warhol never smiled and just stood there as if he were in a coma, while Neiman flitted around.

The entourage left at 9:30 and returned to the Playboy Mansion. I stayed awhile to discuss the evening with the Institute’s staff. Ultimately we hoped we would receive some good press reviews so people would come the exhibit. 
Painting by Leroy Neiman of famed American golfer, Jack Nicklaus and painting by Andy Warhol of world-famous boxer, Muhammed Ali. Both Paintings were exhibited at the LeRoy Neiman/Andy Warhol exhibition at  the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art funded by Playboy Enterprises.
A few weeks later, I had a meeting with two of the movie directors at Playboy Productions. We were throwing ideas around how we could do a documentary on the Playboy Foundation’s contributions.  I was there to give them an overview of all the work the foundation had done over the years.

There was a young man in the room who had recently been hired by the group. After much discussion, he turned to me and said, “You know, I have a friend you must meet.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Just call him. The two of you will really get along. Here’s his number,” he said as he scribbled a number on the back of his card. “His name is David.”

I called David the next day. We spoke on the phone for more than an hour as if we had known each other before. I’m happy to say that Playboy brought me together with David Patrick Columbia. We’ve been best friends ever since.

For Part I, click here.
Paxton Quigley is an author of four non-fiction books, including the best-selling book, “Armed & Female.” She is currently finishing a novel on the international sex trade market, Hollywood and Jihad.