But it wasn’t up until 1977 that the magazine was completely redesigned by the legendary Walter Bernard.  And not until well into the Eighties that more and more color pages began to crop up in Time. But not before discussing endlessly the pros and the cons of introducing photographs on the covers and changing their inside look from staid mini-newspaper like black and white pages to its current contemporary, bold and colorful layouts.

The second most popular feature in Playboy has always been its interviews. Even though the magazine was launched in December 1953, it wasn’t up until September 1962 that Playboy interview made its debut with Miles Davis talking to the journalist Alex Haley. Since then Playboy interviews have become the standards against which all other interviews are measured. And its simple three columns, three iconic black and white photos format has become an immediately recognizable graphic identity. So much so that to this date, it remains unchanged, though as of  February 2009 issue it has replaced the black and white with the color photos. And yet to an old aficionado like me, those color photos seem more pasted than they look natural. Some international editions tried out different formats including full page photographs or illustrated profiles of the personalities, but at the end of the day, the only image that conjures up in one’s mind at the mention of Playboy interviews is that of the three head shots with the quotes underneath them.

Then why you would think Playboy eventually succumbed to such a radical physical makeover as switching from its loyal tried and tested saddle stitch binding to the pretentious perfect binding? This much I know:

Back in January 1983, Playboy Italy changed hands from Rizzoli to Mondadori. In an effort to transpose the edition’s perceived readership from the truck drivers to the sleek and sophisticated, Mondadori approached my boss Lee Hall, asking for the permission for them to go perfect bound. We had internal meeting and concluded swiftly; that would no longer be Playboy. Even so, Lee in his practical wisdom, sent out a memo, I think to the US edition publisher Nat Lehrman, Editorial Director Arthur Kretchmer and the President Christie Hefner, requesting their input. It was probably circulated among other top executives. The response from the most was NO. Except a scribble at the top of the first page from Arthur, which said something to the effect, are we sure we want to say no?  From what I understood, the logic behind his question was that let one of our editions try it out and then see what happens. What I also understood was that some were in favor, probably the advertising bunch. In the end, Hefner must have been sold the idea of the advantages of giving his baby an “upscale” look.  But I or even Lee weren’t privy to any of that information. So I decided to ask Gary Cole – now the retired Photography Director, who has been a friend and with whom I have remained in touch. Here is what he had to say:

“The push to switch the magazine to perfect binding came almost exclusively from the Ad Department. Most magazines were already perfect bound. Ads had to be created just a little differently for a saddle stitched magazine. You realize that the outer pages of a saddle stitched magazine has to be wider to be able to wrap all the way around the inner pages. So the Ad Dept. convinced Hef.

“As you know, Hef was very, very resistant to change. One of his favorite axioms was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Another was “Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?” He didn’t like perfect binding. He liked the more open look that saddle stitch gave him. And he was very married to the idea of the centerfold being in the center of the magazine. Everything was built around that. Of course, when ad sales began to falter, when money became tighter, when he continued to hear from the Ad people that they could sell more ads if the magazine switched to perfect bind, he finally relented.  I honestly don’t believe that it gained us one page of advertising. The reluctance of advertisers was based on the growing sensitivity in the business community to the subject of nudity. As long as Playboy had nudes in it, there were lots of advertisers who were afraid to come near us regardless of how we were bound.”

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