Archives for category: Uncategorized

Haresh Shah

What’s There Not To Like?

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When I was just a kid, I remember the family barber stopping by on the fifth floor of Jagjivan Mansion – built by my grandpa and his three brothers – park himself in the corner by the stairs at the end of the long corridor, at the foot of the custom built telephone booth. He carried a black shoulder bag made of rugged leather, containing multiple pockets to accommodate his long and shiny sharp bladed knives, several pairs of scissors, manual trimmers with handles, a mixing bowl for soap and the water, a soft lather brush and a long leather strap about three inches wide on which he sharpened his long blades while waiting for one of the older males sitting down on the floor in front of him and submit himself to the barber’s ministrations with his head bent down while the barber squatted over, trims the hair, shaves the day old growth on their chins and then oils their scalps with his palms pummeling their heads with quick jerking and frequent slapping motions. As rough as it looked and sounded and at times even hurt, once he was done, your head felt light as a feather – all the worries slipped away and be ready to face the world all over again. Professional barber’s pride and joy was the boast that he would be the only person in front of whom even the king had to bow his head.

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Haresh Shah

Glamour And Glitter,Trials,Turbulence,Tears And Joy

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If anyone, it had to be Albert Cheng – our dynamic publisher in Hong Kong – to pull it off as swiftly and smoothly, the Herculean task of the first and the only Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant within a little over a year of launching Playboy’s first Chinese language edition  on this city state of the fragrant harbor.

It all began over an elaborate lunch with Hong Kong’s TVB executives, Bernard Cheung and Sophia Chan. The thing I remember the most about that lunch now twenty six years later is the table-side preparation of the tiger shrimps tossed live in the hot frying pan and them shooting up above our heads, some even higher,  before landing back into the sizzling hot pan to meet with their instant demise and immediately turning into the most delicious dish sautéed in the restaurant’s exquisite sauce. I must confess that as tasty as they turned out, I found it hard to swallow them. It certainly gave a new meaning to the culinary tradition of from farm to the table. Thanks to the excellent Chablis pairing that helped washing them down while hiding my apparent discomfort from showing on my face in front of my most gracious hosts.  Albert and I had met them to discuss the possibility and the logistics of staging the beauty contest in which the contestants would come from then existing fourteen international editions of Playboy.

Albert has done his part of conceiving and selling the idea. TVB executives had done their numbers, and now it was upon me to agree and get excited about and have all the editions enthusiastic and then have my superiors back in Chicago buy into it. TVB would bankroll the project and will do their part in producing and broadcasting it live as one of their prime time  pre-Christmas offerings.  Albert and his staff would take care of the logistics and the organizations in Hong Kong. And I would have to be the one to  deliver the fourteen most beautiful women hand picked by the editorial teams of each one of our editions.

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Haresh Shah

Not Following In The Boss’ Footsteps

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‘No one aspires to Hef’s (Hugh M.Hefner) lifestyle anymore.’

Talking to us at our 1982 International Publishing’s Annual Conference is the US Playboy’s Editorial Director, Arthur Kretchmer. After having them  held  all over the world including at Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, we have brought the group of about sixty to the home turf in Chicago. Seamlessly connected to Playboy’s 919 North Michigan Avenue offices by a passageway is Playboy Towers, right next door at what used to be the landmark Chicago hotel,  The Knickerbocker, now renamed Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel. We are breathing nothing but Playboy, practically day in and day out for four days and four nights.

Arthur is not the man of many words. But when you get him to say something, nobody can say it better than he could. Even though Hugh M. Hefner crowns the magazine’s masthead, being his eyes and ears, it’s Arthur who builds the magazine with his editorial team, nut and bolts, brick by brick. What he just said must have been obvious to most everyone present in the room, but coming from Arthur’s mouth makes it official – confirmed beyond doubt.

I for one had frequently felt that I was actually living the Playboy lifestyle in the real world, traveling first class around the globe, picked up and brought back home by stretched limos, staying at the best hotels in Paris, Munich, Milan and wherever else my assignments took me, eating in the best restaurants and having animated conversations with the crème de la crème of the publishing world, having a time of my life, while by then  Hefner himself had slid into the surreal fantasy world of his own.

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Haresh Shah

How Do An Indian Grandma And Her American Grand Daughter View Playboy?

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‘And I can no longer see Playboy calendar hanging in my home.’ I could see Gina was riled up about my last ditch attempt at saving our relationship by offering to sell my house and us together buying a condo. But it was too late to make any difference. We both knew it was over. And even though her  outburst was no longer meaningful, any more than a rubber bullet, nothing that would kill me, but boy did it sting!! And the irony is: there were never any Playboy calendars hanging in my house.  What she probably meant was all those monthly issues lying all around. Especially after I left the magazine. Because for months after my departure, my assistant Mary (Nastos) still kept sending me all the international editions, eighteen in all, every month. They were piling up and at some point could be found strewn all over my house.

Or most likely, the three nude studies by my artist friend Deven (Mehta) hanging in the guest washroom by the kitchen that had triggered her ire.  In any case, not until after she said it did I ever give any thought to the placement of Playboy in my house.  I had never seen any need to tuck them away some place out of sight. Gina’s disdainful words took me back to my Time & Life years, when we had a sort of an exchange program set up with messengers from various printing companies around Chicago area that printed a part or all of one of our publications and some also printed Playboy and Penthouse. We got them in exchange for our magazines.

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Haresh Shah

Playboy – The Declaration Of Independence?

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I have no hard luck story to tell about acquiring my Green Card. It was practically offered to me on a silver platter by the INS officer in Pittsburgh.  I had only one more day to go before my H3 visa expires. So I dump my stuff at the YMCA and rush to the immigration office. I am sitting across from a young immigration officer, a black gentleman who is scanning my application for the extension.

‘Everything looks fine.’ He says and picks up my passport to stamp the extension. Instead he puts the passport back down on his desk top and asks;

‘Why don’t you apply for Green Card?’

‘What’s Green Card?’ I answer. If he is astonished at my naiveté, he doesn’t show. After all he could see in my application that I have landed in this country for the first time just a week earlier. Practically gotten off the boat – so to say.

‘Its kind of permanent visa that allows you to live and work in this country indefinitely.’

‘But I don’t intend to live and work here.’

‘Maybe so, but you’ve got nothing to lose! You’ve got two college degrees, you will have further training here. You more than qualify for the third preference. Nothing in it says you have to stay here any longer than you want to. This way, should you change your mind or an opportunity knocks on you door… I mean, as long as  you are here.’

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Haresh Shah

A Fond Farewell From A Friend      
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On the afternoon of May 17, 2012 my friend Donna (Drapeau) and I were having our periodic lunch at our favorite via Carducci, and along with the catching up we normally did, for some reason, we found ourselves talking about how we often hesitate calling our older friends for the fear that he or she may no longer be around.  Ominous? Because soon as I returned home and turned on my computer, the front page news item in that day’s New York Times was the death of Donna Summer.

If not for her untimely passing,  I probably would not have thought of writing about her. It would have seemed superfluous name dropping. I had known her but for a very short period of time, when both of us lived in Munich and during the time she was briefly dating an acquaintance of mine – the Swiss psychiatrist Dieter Weeren.   Just like most everyone else at the time, I met Donna in my own apartment in Munich. She became one of the group for a short while, going out for dinners and dancing and just hanging out with us at my apartment.

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Haresh Shah

Leaving On A Jet Plane

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The captain has already announced for the crew to prepare for the departure. The aircraft door is already pulled in and slammed shut, when  I notice one of the flight attendants picking up the receiver from the wall phone and in turn calling the cockpit. The plane comes to a halt and then very slowly inches back to meet the jetway. The door opens and in comes trotting  a young woman, weighed down on her right by a fairly large and what seems like a heavy blue duffle bag. The flight attendant helps her with the bag. Looking frazzled and out of breath, she gives a feeling of being distraught and disoriented . She is tall and pretty, but looks a bit haggard with no visible makeup on her face and her unkempt, unwashed shoulder length blond locks. She has a chiseled angular face, a small but proportional nose and the dull grey eyes. She is dressed in a beat up pair of blue jeans and a long sleeved well fitting deep purple T-shirt, under black leather jacket. Her frame carries a shapely figure. She is being escorted to the empty seat next to mine. She throws her bulky purse under the seat in the front and plumps herself down next to me, hurriedly snapping together her seat belt.

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Haresh Shah

Every Picture Tells A Story

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Its crispy cold December morning. The sun is shining bright outside and I am having my usual  Sunday breakfast of Shahmolette – so christened by Jan Heemskerk – our friend and at the time editor-in-chief of Playboy’s Dutch edition. Because in addition to mushrooms and onions, my recipe includes finely chopped, insanely hot Thai peppers and cilantro. Also our Sunday morning feast included freshly baked bagels from Skokie’s famous and the best in the world, Bagels & Bialys, and their home made cream cheese with chives. Carolyn is futzing around the kitchen when the phone rings. I hear her making a perfunctory but pleasant conversation with the caller. Not knowing or caring to know who she might be talking to, I flip the pages of that week’s Time.

‘Sure! He’s right here. Just a minute.’ She covers the mouthpiece of the receiver and mouths ‘Lee Hall.’

Lee Hall? That’s my boss. What is he doing calling me at home on a Sunday morning? It sure couldn’t be good news. I take the receiver and lean against the credenza by the phone.

‘Mr. Shah!’ I hear him say. Once in a while he would call me that endearingly. But still…

‘Sorry to bother you at home on Sunday morning – but as you know I’ve just returned from my far east trip and thought I fill you in on Hong Kong before things get crazy tomorrow morning at the office.’

A sigh of relief! ‘Sure. You want me to come over?’ I offer.

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Haresh Shah

Eres Tu, Eres Tu, Asi, Asi, Eres Tu…

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Premonition? Up until this very moment, I had never thought of it that way. But there are times when you can’t help but wonder and end up giving things the benefit of the doubt!  During the trip I took from Chicago to Mexico City, I met with Francisco Sadurni, the local attorney hired by Playboy to help me get a long term multiple  entry visa.  Knowing that I didn’t have any plans for the evening, he tagged me along to a party at his uncle’s house – also an attorney.

From the outside, the house looked quite unpretentious. Ordinary even. But what I encountered behind the closed street-side gate was nothing like anything I had seen inside a private home. It opened into a vast courtyard running into a spacious living room. The centerpiece about which the people milled around was a real fountain, like in a small garden of a Shinto shrine. There were ornate columns buttressing the slanted skylight roof. The palm, cactus and other tropical plants gave you a feeling of being in a rain forest. Five piece strolling Mariachi band  serenaded while the guests made trips back and forth between the individually canopied food and drink stands, set up  like in a traditional Mexican mercado. Bottles of French champagne popped open and emptied every few minutes. Men were all dressed like  lawyers in their dark pinstripe suites, which many of them probably were.  There were scores of beautiful young women dressed so provocatively and yet elegantly in their clingingly skin tight outfits with revealing tops. I felt like Alex in the wonderland.  What I had thought to be a party  containing of about twenty people, turned out to be a hundred or more guests.

Francisco takes me by the hand and introduces me to many of the guests with his good humored effervescent Mexican manner with an abrazo here, a back slapping there.. As everywhere else, the name Playboy evokes an awe as people shake hands with me and make small talk.

Seeing that I am eyeing the approaching morena in her dark and shiny burgundy-on-burgundy striped satin jumpsuit, he stops her in her tracks.

‘Let me introduce you to my cousin Luis’ daughter Patricia.

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Haresh Shah

Corazon de Melon, de Melon, de Melon….

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Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles had more of a feeling of a traveling agency then that of a diplomatic mission. Of the posters on display there with enticing graphics of the country’s top tourist destinations, the one that I remember the most, said in the large type face: Mexico. So Close And Yet So Different.  On my second visit, I said to myself, they might as well add: And So Outrageously Difficult To Get Into. So close in fact, that you can get in your car, have a nice lunch in Tijuana and come back on the same day. Or if you lived in the border town of San Ysidro, south of San Diego, you can simply walk across the border, pick up some cheap Mexican grocery and medication, come back and go as often as you want.  And from the places farther away, like Chicago, you can hop the plane and on impulse take off for Puerto Vallarta for a weekend.

Not so simple if you were a holder of passport from one of the “third world” countries. Up until 1980, I traveled with my Indian passport. This meant,  I needed a visa to go anywhere beyond the defined borders and the time frame.  Several years earlier, when I took my first ever trip from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, George, the young account executive at the printing plant fixed me up with a friend of his girlfriend and we three went out on the town on a double date. During the course of the evening, I got to see yet another wonder of the world – the Niagara Falls. So breath-taking. ‘Its even better from the other side,’ they told me. But I wasn’t allowed to cross the border into Canada without a visa, so we remained where we were. While living in Chicago, I used to often joke about how some day I might even need a visa to go see Wisconsin Dells! You wouldn’t think getting one for Mexico would be all that difficult. Especially considering that I was a legal resident of the United States and the possessor of the mighty green card.  No importa. It was my Indian passport that had the consuls in Los Angeles and Chicago humiliate me before carrying out their bureaucratic function of issuing me a visa.

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 Haresh Shah

My Close Encounter With The (Angry) Master of Magical Realism

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It’s October 29, 1982.  The master of magical realism – Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has just won the Nobel PrizePlayboy magazine has in its inventory a recently concluded interview with him, conducted by the veteran journalist, Claudia Dreifus.  The interview has been transcribed from hours and hours of time Ms. Dreifus spent talking with García Márquez in his Paris apartment.  It has been edited and ready to go – almostPlayboy has promised García Márquez that it would show him the edited version, mainly to check facts and to point out inaccuracies.  As a matter of policy and editorial integrity, the magazine does not give the interview subjects right of approval.  Normally, Playboy closes most of its issues three to four months in advance.  García Márquez would make the trip to Stockholm in December to accept the Prize.  The interview must appear as close to the Nobel ceremony as possible.  This means, the scheduled February interview had to be pulled and be replaced by García Márquez interview.  The problem is; the elusive Nobel laureate is nowhere to be found. Several frenetic phone calls from Playboy editors to his house in Mexico City are answered again and again by his maid.  He has gone away on a month long vacation, leaving behind strict instructions that he didn’t wish to be reached.

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Haresh Shah

Without Makeup And With Their Clothes On

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Even though I would go on to produce and organize a whole bunch of Playmates and other pictorials for Playboy’s International Editions, of the women I’ve had privilege to work with, the two that have remained in my memory and my thoughts are the first ones from Germany, Barbara Corser and Dagmar Puttkammer.  I got to know both of them up front and close and we were able to strike up a certain personal rapport that went beyond the usual superfluous bonding that results at being thrown together while working on a project.    

Dagmar appeared on Playboy Germany’s March 1975 cover with her upside down naked image as seen through the ground glass at back of the camera. Shot by Tassilo Trost, another one of Germany’s illustrious photographers.  The cover blurb said: Klar steh ich kopf, ich bin der erste Playmate. (Of course I am standing on my head, I am the first Playmate.)  Like the editors of the German edition, I too was in awe of what it took to produce a Playboy’s  Playmate. They wrote in Unter Uns – the  German version of Playbill – that to fill those ten pages, it took three photographers, 80 color and  20 black and white films, 36 exposures each, and 100 large format single plates – in all 3700 photos. This is not counting about a dozen rolls I used for the test shoot. A minor production by the standards of the mother edition in the U.S.

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Haresh Shah

How Did I Get Myself Suckered Into Having A Television?

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When I say to people that I have never owned a television in my whole life, their first reaction is that of a disbelief. The second, if they are sitting in my living room, their heads swivel around. ‘Uhm, you’re right, there is no TV!’ Big revelation!! They are confused because my living area is configured differently. The couch and the love seat are pulled forward away from the walls and nearer to the fireplace, with a large rectangle cocktail table in the bullpen. The corner where there should have been a huge flat screen, is the corner of the wall with paintings on the either walls. And there is empty galley space between the back of the couch and the sliding door opening on to the Juliette balcony. The very first week when I had moved in and my couch was just delivered, I asked my neighbor Paul’s opinion about what did he think of the placements of them in an L shape.

‘Let me call my wife, she is better at these things.’

Melissa not as much survey as points in the opposite corner.  ‘Let’s see. Well, that corner of the walls would be best for your flat screen television. So starting with that…’  My friend Hurley had the flat screen on the wall space above the fireplace, where I had planned to hang my Radha-Krishna painting by an anonymous Indian folk artist.

‘Wrong!’ I butt-in both times. ‘No television!’

Don’t ask me why. Not even when I had first left India back in 1964 and found myself sitting for the first time in my life in front of a television set in the student common room in London, my extent of watching tele contained of two regular shows a week: an episode of Perry Mason series, probably because at the time in India, the boys my age were all into reading Earle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie and Ellery Quinn mysteries. It didn’t hurt that uncle Tulsi’s company was the sole distributor of the American Pocket Books, which I was allowed to pluck from the revolving display in his showroom.

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Haresh Shah

From Only One Nipple To Pubic Wars And Back

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How ludicrous the censorship can be isn’t  even worth discussing. The books that once considered to be obscene and pornographic are now hailed  classics. Just to name three: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. And Nabokov even went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

That Playboy launched in December 1953 will face continuous hounding of censorship was a given.  Hugh Hefner did fight many battles and endured incessant harassment from the self-appointed moral guardians of America and the world.  Even so, it wasn’t up until January 1971 – full eighteen  years after Playboy was born that he dared show a partial patch of pubic hair on that month’s Playmate, Liv Lindeland. Nothing for a few months after, until October when one got a glimpse of a dark bit peeking through an out of focus foliage on Playmate Claire Rambeau. And suddenly the shroud was lifted. Also with the arrival of Penthouse on the American shores from its initial launch in the Great Britain, what Hefner termed to be the “pubic wars” broke out between the two publications.  It was no longer just pubic hair, but what came to be termed among the editors and the photographers as explicit “crotch shots” began to appear in both magazines in an effort to outdo each other. Until at some point, Hefner decided to scale back by saying something to the effect that its silly, we are not going to imitate the imitator.

While the US Playboy would never dare show the frontal nudity on its cover even today, not even  breasts, there was no such restriction in Germany back in 1972 when the German edition was launched. In its very second issue it had a Polaroid layer peeling off a photograph of the  sleeping beauty with her fully exposed breasts staring right at you.  For none of the Western European editions, “to be or not to be” of  breasts or even pubic hair has ever been an issue. They don’t deliberately go out of their way to run explicit covers, because it is universally believed  and accepted that nothing makes one want to pick up a magazine more so than a friendly face making an “eye contact” with the readers.

Enter Japan – the edition launched in July 1975. Even before its launch, it was possible to buy the US Playboy in the country.  But the local laws dictated that no magazine showing pubic hair could be distributed in Japan. How do you get around that? Simple. The customs hire a bunch of teenagers,  throw  them together in a cramped room, pile huge stacks of imported magazines in front of them, hand them fat tipped black magic markers and make them go through each photo and scratch a big blob of  wet black ink in the pubic region. Voila, now the Japanese youth would be  saved from their carnal temptations and the corruption of their innocent minds.

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Haresh Shah

That’s Just What I Needed To Be

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Between my hasty arrival in Munich and the hastier departure next day to Düsseldorf, there wasn‘t much time to think of or look for a permanent place for me to live in Munich, which is where I would be based. The most practical thing for me to do would have been to move into Gerrit Huig’s apartment  from which he had already moved out and established himself in Milan. I was his replacement in Germany with editorial based in Munich and production in Essen near Düsseldorf. Eventually I would have preferred  a pièd à terre in both cities, but having taken over Gerrit’s apartment gave me a temporary reprise and perhaps a permanent one if  I so wished.  But soon it became apparent to me that it wasn’t a right place for me for more reasons than one. Just within the first few weeks I was awoken by the loud and harsh ringing of the phone early in the morning. On the line was Frau Westerholz – my landlady – hysterically screaming at me. She had just received the telephone bill in the amount of a couple of hundred deautsch marks, listing frequent calls to Chicago and also to Milan and Paris.

At the time, if you rented a place anywhere in Europe, you made sure that it came with a telephone already installed.  It wasn’t easy to transfer it to your name and/or easily ordered and installed in a day or two like in the US.  When renting a place, you just agreed to reimburse your landlord the phone charges. Took me first to shake myself awake and then assuming a milder tone, I calmed down Frau Westerholz.  Telling her that soon as she handed me the bill, I would immediately transfer the funds to her account. But even otherwise, the apartment wasn’t something I aspired to. The neighbors were unfriendly, if not outright nasty. Parking was a big problem.

Hearing of my frustrations, Rainer’s wife Renate kindly offered to help find a new apartment. In Chicago I had lived in a brand new lake front apartment on the south side. A spacious one bedroom place with the glass walls and wonderful panoramic view of the South Shore Country Club and the Lake Shore Drive. It came with a swimming pool, the penthouse party room and  underground garage.

‘There are many new buildings, I am sure we can find something as good for  you.’ Renate assured. She made up a classified ad for me, something to the effect that  a young American professional  just having moved to Munich was looking for a specious two bedroom apartment.  She placed the ad in Süddeautsche Zeitung, and the phone on my desk began to ring incessantly and insistently.

I must have spoken to at least half a dozen potential landlords. The rent most of them quoted was not a problem, in fact they were lower than DM 1000.- I was paying for Gerrit’s apartment.  But in the end, none of them wanted to rent me their places. The composite conversation went something like this.

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Haresh Shah

Playmates, Playmates, Playmates. Überall

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Barbara was a good sport. If she was disappointed, she didn’t let on. We laughed at her ghost images and I even stack loaded the slides and projected them on the wall. However faint the images, we learned from them what poses worked and what didn’t.  As relaxed as she was, there were still traces of a certain stiffness in those poses that reflected the initial discomfort and nervousness that both of us must have felt in front of the camera and behind.

We stuck to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass LP and played over and over again My Sweet Lord and Wah-Wah – the track that followed. Those tunes carried her moods and the movements.  We repeated the session of the week before. Now more relaxed and really getting into the swing of it, we continued the routine over the next couple of weekends. Those sessions resulted into some naturally beautiful shots of Barbara’s youthful energy, exuberance and her flirtatious and teasing smiles.  We went outdoors and did a series of headshots to capture her achingly natural good  looks.

Barbara was a natural model.  Not only was she comfortable in her nudity, she was almost unaware of it as she danced to the music and flirted with the lens,  as if it were the man she most desired and was determined to lure into her orbit. Just like those songs and dances in Bollywood movies. Those weekends, not only yielded us some wonderful photos, but they also began to morph into what would turn out to be a lifelong friendship. A year and a half  later, coincidentally we both found ourselves living in southern California. Me in Santa Barbara, and her a hundred and fifty miles south in San Clemente. In the interim, she had married Scott and had moved to the US and I found myself “cost cut” from Playboy.  Feeling absolutely free after nineteen long years of schooling and working, I accepted on impulse my friends Mark and Ann’s invitation and returned to the US and settled close to them in California.  Barbara and I having found ourselves within driving distance and so far away from home, we saw each other frequently, worked on some serious photographic projects, of which though nothing came out, but we did have lots of fun and  laughs in the roles of  the photographer and his muse.   Now 38 years later, we’re still in touch and try to see each other whenever we can.  If not as frequently as we would like, but  when we do, its back to being transposed back to those weekends and those days in California.

Getting back to the beginning; what I loved the most about Barbara was that she was in no hurry to become a Playmate and was willing and ready to shoot as many sessions as it took to be able to present the best the two of us had to offer as a team.

When I finally showed a small selection of what we had shot, and handed them her four page-long Playmate Data Sheet, both Rainer and Freddy loved how naturally beautiful and how German she looked.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we had stumbled upon the best possible Playmate candidate to be called the First.  Twenty-one years old, she weighed 54 kg. (120 lbs.) and was 173 centimeter (5’.7”) tall. Her vital statistics measured 93x63x93 (36.5” x25”36.5” ). She came from an old Bavarian family in which “everyone loved to drink.”  While her father’s ancestors transported salt across the country, the ancestors on her mother’s side were brewers; “hence the enormous thirst in the family.”  And having born and grown up in the city of the legendary Oktoberfest made for a perfect storyline. Ironically, she is only a moderate drinker.

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Haresh Shah

Some Call It Smut – Others Read It For The Interviews – And You?
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Why I felt the need to write to my parents to justify my taking a job at Playboy, I don’t know. But just in case if they had similar misconceptions about Playboy as do most of the people who had actually  never even read it. I wrote a long letter telling my parents  how happy I was to have had an opportunity to work for one of the best magazines in the world. Of the four magazines I consider to be the standard bearers are: Time, The New Yorker, New York and Playboy.  The letter was basically me refuting the people who expressed their opinions with a smirk: yeah right! You read it for its interviews.

To my astonishment, my father’s response was: so what’s the big deal? Haven’t  you  ever read Rasa Manjari? Right!! But my dad read Rasa Manjari? Uhm! Not only had I paged through Rasa Manjari, but also had to study two Sanskrit classics: Shakuntla by Kalidasa and Swapna Vasvadatta (Vision of Vasvadatta)  by Bhása. Their microscopic descriptions of the female anatomy in all their graphic details would make even Madonna blush. Not to speak of Kama Sutra, which I hadn’t read.  And what about all those multi-dimensional  carvings of Khajuraho and other Indian temples depicting every conceivable positions in blatant fornication? They all prove the point made by the late Bollywood legend, Dev Anand,  in his opinion column that appeared decades earlier in  I  believe either Indian Express or Free Press Journal.  Accordingly, what we now proudly call the Indian culture was sadly brought upon us by the culmination of several hundred years of  rule by the Moguls and the English. Along with the breath-taking Mogul monuments such as Taj Mahal and the British building of the country-wide network of railroads, what we also inherited from them were their prudish socio-sexual values and morality. India before them was the country of the gender equality and the ultimate socio-sexual freedom. It was a country in which the court dancers occupied honored positions in royal advisory councils.

Breathing a sigh of relief, when a year later I boarded the Bombay bound Swissair flight, squeezed in-between my clothes and gifts were several copies of Playboy. The magazine long banned in India. I wanted to show my family and friends the love of my labor. How would I get it through the ever so vigilant customs of the country was something I had to play by ear.

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Haresh Shah

 Why Even Go As Far As The Next Door?

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‘So how’s your search for Playmates coming along?’ Asks Freddy as we run into each other in the hallway of the executive floor. Freddy is wearing his characteristic  grin which gives his natural dimples a couple of extra wrinkles.

‘Its coming along. I may soon have a couple of candidates to show you.’

Still grinning, he goes; ‘come on, don’t kill yourself. Just because you had to open your big fucking  mouth in front of your big American bosses!’

I grin back.

‘I tell you what! If you do find some, just have fun, fuck them and forget this Playmate business. You know, Chicago would never approve a German chick.’

At that, we both flash our cryptic smirks and go on to wherever we were headed. Me thinking that perhaps Freddy is still hoping that I was just trying to show off, trying to earn a few brownie points,  and nothing of substance would come out of it.  Soon that conversation at Neuer Simpl will be forgotten and he won’t have to worry about what must have seemed to him an enormous burden on his budget, let alone having to  undertake such an iconic photo shoot and then fail.

But little did he know, not only was I fired up but so was Rainer. This wunderkind had extra wheels turning into his already hyper creative head.  He had immediately briefed his photo editor Susi Pletz that we were looking for Playmate candidates.  All it took for them and for me, was to put out the word.

In Munich I had cultivated a sizeable circle of friends in a short span of months.  Among them, Britt Walker. The only one who frequented the night spots more than I did. This was also because he lived in the very heart of the  trendy Schwabing in the newly built and the most “in” dwelling complex, Fuchsbau.

Britt was an incredible magnet to women. I don’t know what his secret was, but he always showed up with a pretty young thing at least half his age, hanging on his arms, clinging and seemed to have madly fallen in love with him. Someone he would have introduced to us as Cersti, Gabriella, Karen, Amy, Marion and others — ones he had met the night before at Domicile, Tangente, Why Not or Yellow Submarine. Most of the girls he brought to my apartment were either already photo models,

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Haresh Shah

 How I Managed To Put My Foot In My Mouth

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About a year in my job, my bosses Bob Gutwilig and Lee Hall come down to Munich. Other than the three of us, sitting around the dining table are Franz Spelman, our local editorial consultant, Heinz van Nouhuys, editorial director of Playboy’s German edition and Fred Baumgärtel – the man really in charge of it all. And not to forget Rainer Wörtmann, the art director wunderkind. Of the group, Rainer is the  youngest and I am the second youngest.

Playboy Germany in it’s over a year of publication had taken off like a rocket. The time had come to look back and look forward instead of resting on the laurels of success. Among other editorial matters,  the subject of the Playmates came up again. The basic concept of the young woman who would adorn the centerfold as defined by Hefner was that she couldn’t be a professional model, an actress or a celebrity. She had to be the girl next door. Playmate is not just another pretty face with near perfect vital statistics. She has certain personality traits. She is smart, she is articulate, she is confident and she is gracious.  At the same time, she is down home wholesome and unpretentious.  The kind of girl the readers can relate to and not be intimidated by  in the way most attractive women could be.

Now with three European editions of Playboy dotting the western Europe, that included Italy and France, it was becoming imperative to expand the scope of their local editorial contents.  Even though a lot of editorial material such as Playboy After Dark, Playboy Interviews, Playboy Advisor as well as most of the non-fiction and fiction pieces covering the local scene were already produced by the respective editions,  missing glaringly from their pages were the local Playmates.  By now I too had become a true Münchener and as many pretty things as I saw walking Stachus, Schwabing and the pedestrian zone of Marienplatz, I  could well imagine one or more of those home-grown beauties becoming the girl next door to grace the German centerfold.

Technically, I was “just” their production manager with the primary function of overseeing the printing quality and shouldn’t even be included in that night’s dinner at the trendy Neuer Simpl,  breaking bread with the top brass. I was invited perhaps because I was a part of the very small American team of three in Munich, perhaps because after the initial coolness and apprehension,  I had succeeded in endearing the Germans to my presence among them. So after they were done talking text and illustrations, Bob once again brought up, something we had already touched upon during their visit a couple of months earlier.

‘When are you going to start producing your own Playmates?’

‘I don’t think we are ready to take that step yet. I am quite content with the American Playmates. Besides, to produce our own Playmates would be prohibitively expensive. I would rather use my budget in trying to get good authors at this time than put the money into Playmates,’ responded Freddy.

‘Yes, but that’s not the same,’ said Bob.

‘And they aren’t exactly girls next door for the German readers,’ I quipped.

‘How do  you mean it?’

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Haresh Shah

Every Life Untold Is A Pandora’s Box

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The reason I decided to write Playboy Stories is: However I try not to talk about me having worked at the magazine for twenty one years, it always comes up. Like the afternoon when I was visiting my childhood friend Deven at his brother Madhu’s house in Elgin. I also met for the first time Madhu’s son Mehul and his wife Priti. We’ve had a leisurely late afternoon lunch and were just trying to catch up when out of a clear blue sky, Deven comes out and says to Priti that I worked for Playboy. No wonder you’re so cool! She exclaimed. Whatever that meant. As I began to answer some of her questions and mentioned I was thinking of starting a blog about my years at Playboy, suddenly her husband Mehul’s antenna popped up. Up until then, he hadn’t said a word other than the initial hello, beyond that his nose remained buried into the screen of his I-Pad.

About a month earlier, I had invited for dinner my two young neighbors, Alex and Evan with their  girlfriends Jessica and Tara. When Alex happened  to mention my Playboy connection, that answered the girls’ curiosity regarding why half of my wall in the guest room is filled with every single issue of the last fifty years of the US Playboy, as well as the landmark issues of the international editions of which I was editorial director. The girls had questions. Tara 22 and Jessica 23. What was it like to work for Playboy? Had I ever met Hefner? Had I been to his mansion? Was I ever present at photo shoots? What are those girls like? They can’t all be that perfect. And so on, is when Alex said good humouredly, Don’t ask many questions. Its like opening up Pandora’s Box. A week later, when I ended up sharing a steak dinner with Alex and Jessica, I couldn’t help but think how pretty she was, and how unpretentious, down home simple. Just like, yes, the girl next door. I said out loud, that she could be a Playmate.

‘No, I can’t. With my height, and…’ She didn’t finish the sentence, but I presumed, she didn’t think her breasts were ample enough.

‘No Jessica, not all Playmates are tall and buxom. For example…what’s her name?’ As it often happens to me, even though I could clearly picture Jenny McCarthy standing next to me, fitting snuggly under my arm – a whole head shorter than me. And I am only five-five (1.65m). After they left, I rummaged through one of my many shoe boxes of photographic prints waiting to be included in an album I may make someday or never get around to ever doing it. But our brief conversation inspired me to do just that – to throw together all the stray photos depicting bits and pieces of my life at Playboy in a scrapbook  ostentatiously titled,  La Vie Playboy – Das Leben und Zeiten von Haresh Shah – 1972-1993.

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