Haresh Shah

Lonely And Lost On The Road

sadplane3

I have just flown in from Mexico City. I’m sitting at the bar having a beer at United terminal of Los Angeles International Airport. I have almost an hour before the departure of my connecting flight to Santa Barbara. I’m probably scribbling some notes in my agenda while slowly savoring  my beer. Mine is one of the last flights to leave the terminal and there are only a few of us lingering at the bar, waiting. Among the people, I notice a middle aged woman at the other end of the bar. I feel her gaze pointed at me. Must be in her mid-fifties, longer than shoulder length frizzled hair and dull grey eyes, she looks haggard and somewhat drunk, twirling a glass filled with a yellowish liquor, probably some Scotch or a Bourbon based cocktail.  I get back to my scribbling and am absorbed in it when I feel a human shadow shuffling next to me.

‘Mind I sit next to you?’ Seeing me a bit confused, she doesn’t wait for my answer, instead she eases herself on the next bar stool, as unsteady as she is on her feet, and asks the bar tender for ‘one more of the same.’ I try to ignore her, but she is intent on making small talk.

‘So, where are you off too?’ she slurs her words.

‘Oh, not far. Just a quick hop to Santa Barbara.’

‘I’m going there too.’ I don’t respond to that.

‘My daughter goes to school there, you know, at UCSB.’

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

And The Tearing Of My Heart

buickII_b

Soon after her arrival in Munich, in order to make my beautiful Buick legit in her new habitat, I promptly present myself at the Kraftfahrzeugzulassungsstelle, (ugh! they are four words: krafts-fahrzeug-zulassungs-stelle – no  wonder Sanskrit is a dead language in India. But as the most expats and converts tend to do, German being one of the Indo-Germanic languages, still adheres to long and drawn out compound words, as do the Czechs, while the modern Indian languages have simplified the Sanskrit grammar and would have neatly broken them down into four distinct words) at TÜV, (equivalent to the Secretary of the State’s automobile registration center in the US,) on Eichstätter Strasse 5, in Munich. I have all ten required documents as listed on Hanlzettel, translated and properly notarized and attached to the application form and the fee of DM 30.- held firmly in the grip of my hand. I place them all on the counter and stand across from the clerk processing the registration. I am pleased at myself for being so ready and am imagining my Buick emblazoning the bold black and white letters on a square-ish license plates bearing the numbers along with the three designated letters, MüC to indicate that the vehicle is registered in Munich. I am also looking forward to slapping on the back of her, the standard oval shaped decal with the letters DE for Deutschland. But not so fast Haresh! I am being naïve to think that like back home in Chicago, the clerk would stamp a few things, write up a receipt for the payment and hand it to me along with a set of Munich license plates.

Wrong!

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

You Are What You Drive

buickcrash3

“That damn Buick of yours. As much as we have paid to transport it all over the world, the company should own the damn thing.” Exclaims my boss Lee Hall. So it should. The company could have even bought two of those damn things. But what was I supposed to do?

I had applied for a job at Playboy at the same time as I did Time. I have had a perfunctory interview with the production boss John Mastro. Nothing came out of it while Time offered me the job in Chicago. Now four years later when John does offer me the job, its over the phone – the one that would take me to Germany. And wouldn’t you know? He wants me yesterday.

Its Thursday October 26th 1972. This is how the conversation goes.

‘When can you start?’

‘As soon as I could.’

‘Can you leave in a couple of weeks?’

‘That might be a bit tight. I still have a job, I need to give them notice first,’

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Taking A Stab At Respectability

imperfectbound

When Celia – the young woman who so beautifully interprets and illustrates Playboy Stories week after week, returned the copy of my July 1988 issue of Playboy featuring Cindy Crawford on the cover, she had secured the pages with a little yellow and pink binder-clips. Apparently the pages of the issue had come apart at the perfect bound stiff spine, just like that of the cheap paperbacks from the Fifties. The issue was never before opened and was in mint condition. Quite unsettling for an avid fan and the collector of the magazine.

When the first issue of the perfect bound Playboy dated October 1985 landed on my desk, sometime around the first week of September, with the cover blurb proclaiming: COLLECTOR’S EDITION / THERE IS A BOLD NEW LOOK UNDER OUR COVER, I felt disoriented like never before. Devoid of the staples and lying there flat as the thick Dutch pancake, it felt akin to me returning to the little town of Schutterwald in Germany to visit my old landlady Frau Lipps – fully expecting, as in the past for her to have prepared my favorite Wiener Schnitzel with pommes frites and a small side of butter lettuce salad – instead to find a plate of a salmon filet with boiled potatoes and green beans. It threw me completely off balance.

Even though there were talks in the air for a while to switch to the perfect binding, deep down in my heart I still held out hopes that Hefner would never agree to such a move. But he did and now I was holding in my hands something I had thought would never come to pass.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Uncovering An Intimate Inheritance

secretstash2

I am in Bombay about a year after my Dad passed. Other than waiting for close friends and the family living within an hour or two’s distance, within the Indian tradition, the deceased is immediately cremated by the family members. So it wasn’t expected nor was it possible for me to be there for the cremation. There are some rituals that are performed within the first thirteen days of a person’s death, something akin to the wake, followed by a family feast to celebrate the person’s life. But the true tribute to honor my father’s memory was going to be Saptah. Saptah literally means a week, but it’s always understood as a weeklong reading of Shri Bhagwat by a scholar who most of the time is also an animated performer and the interpreter of the stories contained therein – the book by which the followers of Vaishnava faith are guided.

The reading happens all day long with appropriate breaks amidst a revolving crowd of attendees in an open house format. My brother Suresh and his wife Aruna are hosting the event and have set up a beautiful mandap in their backyard. It’s one of the most attended Saptahs, also because Shastriji, is not only a serious scholar and the interpreter of the holy book, but also because his crystal clear booming voice  makes all those stories come alive in your imagination. He is a very close family friend and for him our Saptah is more than the ones he is hired to do. My father had always been one of this biggest fans and sponsors.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Happiness Is A Piping Hot Croquette

automat

Art directors are a breed unto themselves. Crazy as they come. Crazy as in creative crazy, in positive sense. They are normally temperamental, egocentric and a proud clan. Starting with the Godfathers of them all, Art Paul and Tom Staebler of the U.S., Rainer Wörtmann of Germany, to Milan Hlaviček of Czech Republic and Andrzej Pągoski of Poland – these masters of the visual communication  are also the purveyors of good taste, dressed in their own individual style, be it the beat up pair of blue jeans, or wrinkled khakis and equally as wrinkled shirts and jackets. Or the designer suits and long fancy rain coats. The category in which, the first Dutch art director, Dirk de Moei falls.

Always impeccably dressed in his light crème suit and his longish off white trench coat, his trademark tortoise shell red framed glasses with inquisitive and confusing looking set of smoky green eyes peering through tinted lenses, Dirk is flamboyant, no taller that 5’9”(175 cms), his rusty brown hair isn’t too long, nor short, his round face makes him look no different than Mr. middle of the road from the planet earth.  The man of good taste in clothes and food and he carries the most expensive Smythson of Bond Street, thick as a paperback address book, he is the man about town. To the editor-in-chief Jan’s (Heemskerk’s) somber personality, he is the fleshy one of the duo that arrived in my Chicago office in early 1983, to learn the ropes.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

What’s There Not To Like?

barber3

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

The Strike Italian Style

airport3

I land in Milan for the very first time in November of 1972. This is my first week on the job. Having survived Munich and Essen, I spend a couple of days in Milan to meet up with Gerrit (Huig), Don Stewart and the people at Rizzoli – the Italian Playboy publishers – before returning to Chicago to wrap up my personal affairs. I have all of ten days to do what needs to be done, including several meetings in Chicago office and be ready for the moving van to pick up my possessions.

We have already landed at Linate. As we are about to deplane, we are told that we are to pick up our own checked-in baggage from the tarmac and carry it to the terminal. The ground crew is on strike, including the bus transfer from the plane to the terminal. I have with me my largest and the heaviest suitcase. They have not yet invented wheeled baggage. I somehow manage to drag it to the terminal, find a cab and check into the Grand Hotel. Dump my suitcase in my room and take another cab to the restaurant where Gerrit is waiting with his wife Barbara and Donald Stewart. Two days later, on Friday, I am at the airport waiting to board Amsterdam bound KLM flight which would connect me with its flight 611 to Chicago.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

Usurped By The Occupational Hazard

amoeba2

Pascual at the Hotel Ritz reception in Barcelona hands me my room key, and along with it a few folded telexes and messages from my mail slot. I walk a few steps to the elevator and as the tiny old timer cage rises, I unroll the letter size message. It says HAPPAY BIRTHDAY HARESH. Repeated umpteen times inside a white Playboy rabbit head computer graphic on the grey background. The margins are annotated and signed by everyone in my department. As slow as the elevator is, it’s still a short ride up to the fourth floor. Something about that electronically transmitted birthday card on a flimsy fax paper triggers an enormous emotional and physical outburst into me. My hands are shaking as I slide open the folding metal door of the elevator. I rush to my room, barely manage to open the door. Slam it shut and I have a total breakdown. I throw my weight in the middle of  the bed, and sink into the hollow of the sagging old mattress. First I start sobbing uncontrollably.  Then my whole body begins to shake violently and I feel cold sweat oozing out of every pour of my skin. And then I feel hot, like a pre-heated oven, ready for baking. I pull the blanket over, try to control my convulsions and break out into wailing sobs and a desperate cry.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Eat Your Heart Out!

mundial2

Imagine this! Puerto Vallarta. Chicago is in deep of the winter of 1986. It’s bone chilling cold as the city has a reputation of being every February. And here we are, the sun is shining bright, the sky is blue as can be and the waves of Bahia de Banderas off the Pacific Ocean are rushing towards the shore breaking and splashing. Wandering around in our shorts and t-shirts and the girls frolicking au naturell most of the day, Pompeo (Posar), Jan (Heemskerk) and I  are conferring by the poolside, deciding on the next dramatic but a fun shot, with eight of the world’s most beautiful women lined up in the water by the edge of the pool, holding on to the railing and ready to lift their bare butts in action, their faces turned sideways to their left, bursting with laughters and their legs and feet elevated, kicking the surface of the water in a choreographed harmony of synchronized swimming.

Right now we are on the lunch break. We have just availed ourselves of the sumptuous buffet and are sipping on our chilled to perfection Pacifico beers while the girls have retracted under the shade of the arch separating the private pool and the villa made available to us by Hotel Krystal for our exclusive use. A little earlier, the girls have emerged out of the pool and while waiting for the next shot, have not bothered to dry themselves nor cover up. Instead they are sitting and standing around a low table swarming with exotic drinks. They are an animated bunch, gossiping and in general making a ruckus despite language barriers.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

A Touch Of Communism In The Capitalist Culture

tugowar2

In the fall of 1989 over the weekend of October, 6/8, Carolyn and I went to the Duneland Beach Inn in Michigan City, Indiana and returned with an agreement that the best course of action for us as individuals – to use the corporate cliché, going forward, was for us to go our own way. Not even a tiny blip on the world stage. That very weekend on October 7, Hungary becomes independent and on October 23rd, the acting President, Mátyás Szűrös declares the country a Republic in the public ceremony held in the same Kossuth Square where the first mass rally of the 1956 revolution was held.  The historic moment for which I happened to be in Budapest and along with the Hungarian  editors, would go to the square to hear the declaration proclaimed. We come back to the office and begin to put together the first issue of Playboy to come out a month later – the first of the three I would launch behind the iron curtain. On November 4, I turn 50 with a big fanfare and the nine liter Salamanzar  bottle of Lanson champagne, compliment of my boss and the friend Bill (Stokkan). The Berlin Wall falls on November 9th, the Velvet Revolution unfolds on Národní třída in Prague on November 17th, and in-between on the weekend of October 14/15, Playboy headquarters in Chicago move some three plus blocks south east  to 680 N. Lake Shore Drive from it’s imposing skyline presence at 919 N. Michigan Avenue. The Bunny Beacon that illuminated the Chicago skies for 23 years, is no longer and neither are the floor high letters PLAYBOY, lit bright.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

How I Came To  Like / No, Love Oysters?

oyster4

I have had a long day. Up at 4:30 in the morning, I take a quick shower and get into my Buick and zoom through the Mittlerer Ring and rush to Munich’s Riem International Airport. Catch the first flight to Düsseldorf. Pick up a rental car and race to Essen. Heinz (Nellissen) and I work through the day, do it non-stop  through the lunch and don’t even get around to grab their delicious Fricadel and Brötchen with mustard from the company canteen. I need to leave promptly at five and rush back to the airport and catch the last Paris bound flight. Hungry as I am, I skip the anemic looking cold cuts served onboard. We’re having dinner at La Coupole.

Brasserie La Coupole on boulevard du Montparnasse is a Paris landmark like no other. It is the quintessential symbol of Montparnasse’s history as well as the art of living and socializing in Paris. And is hailed as the temple of art deco. I have never been there before and am very much looking forward to this evening.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

 Haresh Shah

The Spookiness Of The Creative Mind

dreamer5

It’s It the Easter Monday in Italy. I am on an over crowded train going back to Milan from Pontremoli. Everybody is returning from the long holiday weekend and as squeezed together as we are, I have managed to find a “comfortable” corner of my own where I get to stand for all three hours of the train ride without being crushed.

This is the first time I am alone face to face with myself since the fateful late Monday night of the week before. I am reading Andy Warhol’s autobiographical excerpts, while the conflicting thoughts rush through my mind, they collide with each other to the rhythm of the oscillating motion of the train piercing  through  the still night of the Italian country side.

I have just spent a very pleasant and a relaxing weekend with Rainer (Wörtmann) and his wife Renate in their newly acquired  old mill in Italian country side. It’s a beauty, standing proudly in a little village called Mulazzo near Pontremoli. It stands forlorn in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a stream and rocks and a cluster of trees. The place is to serve as a retreat from their hectic lives in Munich. It also turns out to be a great and timely escape for me in the aftermath of the week before.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

Just One Last Time

brideescape3

I don’t remember anything at all of the wedding ceremony of Tina Chan – one of our freelance contributors at Playboy’s Chinese language edition in Hong Kong.  Or even if I or anyone else sitting at the table was invited to attuned. Whether it was a church wedding or a traditional Chinese affair. What I do remember is; about a dozen of us editors and executives are seated at the table of the noisy and crowded banquet hall of the Hotel Royal Garden in the heart of Kowloon, waiting for the bride and the groom and the wedding party to arrive for the celebrations to begin. When they make their grand entrance, Christina is dressed in the western bridal dress with the veil lifted and the train trailing. She is not particularly what I would call  pretty, but in her bridal finery, she looks as stunning, radiant and beautiful as a bride should. The happy smile on her face communicates the bliss she must feel. Her husband too is dressed as would a western groom – in a tuxedo, ruffled shirt with starched collar, shiny shoes and the bow tie.  The just married couple and the wedding party enter the hall with a roar of applause and the cheers from the family and friends, following which they together go from table to table, their faces bursting with smiles and laughters, welcoming each and every guest and then finally sitting down at the bridal table for the banquet to commence.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

The Fine Art Of Getting Away With Murder

murder

By the time I heard this story of excess and padding of expense account by one of Life magazine’s star photographers, it had already acquired legendary proportions. There is nothing Life wouldn’t do to cover the world events and be the first and the fastest to bring it back to their nine million readers in words and living colors. Spreads and spreads of images – known among us at Time as fast edits. We were practically an assembly line of  experts from the reporters to the photographers to the writers to the editors and the art directors and at the tail end – us the production people. We would stand by days and nights, weekdays or weekends – and jump in so the magazine would be on its way to its loyal readers on time, week after week.

So it was no wonder that people at the front end of the making of Life were the most pampered, nurtured and spoiled rotten. The darlings among them were the photographers. The story I am told of is that of one of Life’s photographers most notorious for padding his expenses and constantly getting away with it to everyone else’s envy and chagrin. Padding itself was not too difficult, considering that we were not required to submit any receipts for the expenses under $25.00. If you happen to be on the road for several days, how much you can get away with writing off depended entirely on your own creative audacity.  No one ever questioned things you put down on your expense sheet – if for nothing else, not to sound cheap or earning a reputation of being a grouch.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

In The Journey Of Life One Meets Only To Part

strangerplane2

When I first  notice her, she is standing next to me in the check-in line, fidgeting and shifting her weight from one foot to another. Her face looks pretty in profile. With Milan’s Linate International Airport fogged-in, we are bussed to their standby Malpensa, which is in a big mess as ever. Despite the throngs of crowds and the chaos that normally prevails, and amidst the multiple delays, things somehow work out at this remote airport.

I check in, go through the immigration and the security check and on to the other side of the security wing. Pick up some duty free booze, look around for a while and with the first call make it to the gate # 7. And there she is again. All wrapped up in her leopard skin coat and her knee-high black boots. Her pretty face floats in the air propelled by her swan like long and delicate neck. On the second call, we move closer towards the gate to get on the bus.

I notice her staring at me. I stare back. They have called the flight for the third time and the bus still isn’t anywhere in sight. Us just standing there, waiting, our eyes discreetly catching a fleeting gaze of the other.  I want to strike up a conversation, probably so does she. But we maintain our demeanor. The fourth call and the bus still hasn’t arrived. She looks at me and lets a slight smile cross her lips. I smile back.  Neither of us says anything. We continue to steal glances at each other every few moments.

A few more minutes have elapsed and the bus still hasn’t arrived. Everyone is getting antsy,  with the possible exception of us two. We are enjoying our little charade. I watch her fiddle with her pink boarding card. The lady is traveling in first class. She sort of looks rich all over, from her head to her toe. It is sweetly awkward just waiting and stealing glances at a stranger. She has moved sideways, bringing her a couple of steps closer to me. I want to move even closer and talk to her. But don’t know how to break the ice. The way we are taking each other in is discomforting.  And yet, there seems to be an unspoken insinuation between us that its alright.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

The Rituals Of Wine And Women And All That Jazz

boysnightoutcolor2

Imagine this: If you have ever been to Tokyo and cruised Ginza after hours – the people, the traffic, the shuffle crossing at multiple cross roads where the traffic comes stand-still at every street corner and hoards of shoppers and revelers crossing streets this way and that in each every direction, and the crowds of salarymen making ruckus, drunk out of their minds, some carried by the group up above their heads like a soccer player having just scored the winning goal, and the roaring loud cacophony of it all. It’s a different world, nothing you have experienced anywhere else on the planet. Otherwise straight-laced and well behaved like poor little lambs, after-hours the Japanese let themselves loose. No one you would recognize the next morning when you walk into the office for your long drawn out meetings.

Imagine then, that twelve of them having won Playboy Japan’s reader contest are transposed to the Lincoln Park Playboy Club in  Chicago, sitting around the tables pulled together side-by-side with the bustling Bunnies making fuss over them, serving drinks with their smooth seductive Bunny Dips, big sparkling smiles on their faces, being as sweet as they can be. They   know that these young men have won Playboy Japan Reader’s contest and that their role is also to play gracious hostesses to our guests from the faraway land. The young men are all around twenty five – self-conscious and shy and in awe of the VIP treatment they are afforded. Far from being their drunken and rambunctious selves in Ginza, they are extremely well behaved, amazed and feeling like kids in the candy store.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

The Real Man Eclipsed By His Image

hefshadow4

The questions I am asked often are:

Have you met Hefner?

Have  you been to Playboy mansion?

What is he like as a person?

The answers to the first two is YES. As for the third, I don’t know. But I do have a certain feelings about him. And I have personal opinions.

●●●

Soon after I was hired by John Mastro, I met with Lee Hall, the man who would be my real boss. At the end of our introductory meeting, he hands me a leather covered ring binder, which weighed a ton.  The rounded spine measured almost three inches (6.6 cm.) overflowing with typewritten pages inside.

‘For  you to read on the plane.’ It was Playboy Style Book.  The volume defined raison d’être of every single page of the magazine in the minute details from the typeface of the head, subhead, the body, the positioning of page numbers, the direction the Rabbit Head must always face (left), the positioning of the little Rabbit Head slug  to mark the end of features. The concepts and execution of the Playmate, all minutely explained. And as importantly, the concepts of each section from Playboy After Hours, to Dear Playboy to the Playboy Interview, the cropping of the photos, capturing and freezing of the most dramatic expressions on their faces,  the quotes that  appear right underneath them and the exact format defining the philosophy, the word counts and the positioning of the major and the minor features. Fiction and non-fiction.  Lead pictorial and back of the book pictorial.  It talked at length about  “the pacing” – the rhythm of how the text features, illustrations, photos should follow, the presentation of it all while continuously striving for  harmony in diversity. The surprise element and the elements that would challenge and provoke readers.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Painting Devils On The Wall

devilwall2

‘Do you think Playboy exploits women?’ Asks Jennifer. I have just entered the northbound Lake Shore Drive off Michigan Avenue ramp and we are driving home, instead of having stopped some place for a drink following the concert. The question hangs in the air exacerbating the silence that has dawned upon us.

‘I have an 8:30 meeting. Can’t stay out tonight.’ If not exactly distraught, it has put me in dark mood. It seemed too good to be true. I am thinking to myself. It had made me so happy when Jennifer sat in my living room a week earlier, flipping the pages of that week’s Evanston Review, while her two kids and Anjuli occupied elsewhere in the house. She casually mentioned that Carole King was going to be in town.

‘You wanna go?’ I ask.

‘Do you?’

Suddenly I had felt euphoric at the remote chance that after all, it wasn’t yet over between us two. Whereas I have given up all hopes, it was her who had initiated barbecuing and spending that beautiful spring day at my place with her kids and visiting Anjuli. My spirits lifted, I couldn’t have been happier.

And now this! As if she has found out for the first time that I happen to work for the magazine called Playboy and go all hostile feminist on me. I am chewing on her question like one would a piece of sugarcane wrung dry into a stringy pulp. The standard corporate answer and the one Hefner (Hugh) himself had given in one of his interviews : “Playboy exploits women the way Sports Illustrated exploits athletes” Ironically, when I worked for SI, no one ever accused us of exploiting athletes.  Instead this is what I say:

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Glamour And Glitter,Trials,Turbulence,Tears And Joy

junkbabes

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

Not Following In The Boss’ Footsteps

hughmow2

‘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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Tempting Eve To Tempt Adam

boa2

It’s the early spring weekend in 1989. I get a hurried phone call either from our German editor-in-chief Andreas Odenwald or most likely at his direction, from Christian Seidel, his PR person. German edition has just published the cover and the nude pictorial of Michael Jackson’s baby sister La Toya Jackson, originated in the US, (March 1989). Her rock video Stop the Madness is just released and she is making waves in the media for having posed for Playboy. The TV channel SAT 1 has approached our German editors, telling them that they have a slot available that weekend on their super popular Saturday night talk show, Nase vorn (literary Nose up Front/ Way up Front) hosted by Frank Elstner, and they would like to offer it to Playboy if they could get La Toya Jackson to appear on the show.

We are in luck, because just recently Jack Gordon, La Toya’s husband and the manager had stopped by in my office to talk with me about just such a possibility overseas. So I get on the line and call Jack. A series of frantic phone calls ensue across Chicago, New York and Munich. They want first class passage, adjoining executive suites in a five star hotel. Limousine pick up. The usual celebrity stuff. All arranged with the lightening speed by our German team. They are picked up by Christian in his BMW 735 and brought to the hotel in Saarbrücken, from where the show is broadcasted. The live transmission is to go on air within hours when La Toya drops the bomb. She had to have a live boa constrictor to accompany her on the show!!! An eleventh hour curve ball. But nothing our Playboy team in Germany couldn’t handle. A call to the Frankfurt Zoo, and voila.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

Bonding Over Beer And The Blue Eyed Bitch

 

rockshowcolor

Life is what happens to you when you’re too busy planning it.

John Lennon

Things happened at the lightening speed. Instead of a three week vacation in California, I am checking in at the Lufthansa counter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for their Frankfurt bound flight on my way to Munich. Everything seems to have fallen in place smoothly. My lifelong dream of working for Playboy has come true. Better yet. I will be working for them in Europe. I am elated.

I won’t bother you with details such as cancelled flights, delays, lost baggage and such. Their significance has long been lost. So is that of the icy reception upon my arrival in what would be my stomping grounds in Munich and Essen, West Germany.  But what is still significant in telling of this tale is that how swiftly my joy of having landed my dream job had vanished at the realization of being dropped off smack dab in the middle of the debris of the hostile war zone. That I was neither wanted nor welcomed in the job they had hired me to do.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

Let A Pencil Be The Judge

penciltest

‘How can you tell if someone has firm breasts?’ Asks Marie.

Just a couple of hours earlier we sat at the riverside Marina City Restaurant in the Marina Towers. During the course of the evening, I happen to mention to Marie how bummed I was that at the last minute my friend Jena  had backed out on me. At the time I was still working for Time & Life and getting into some serious photography, to an extent that I had not only bought myself the Pentax Spotmatic, and several lenses, flesh unit, filters, tripod and all, but had also set up the dark room of my own in the storage closet of my South Shore Drive apartment. I was better at doing close ups and headshots. I had natural aptitude for it. But now I had gotten into my head like most every artist and photographers that one of the things I would also like to do was to do some female nudes. Jena and I had been good friends  and she offered to pose for me, but had gotten cold feet at the last minute.  Even I didn’t realize how sad I must have looked as I was relating this to Marie – whom I had just started dating.

‘That wasn’t nice of her!’ says Marie in a tone of a little mother comforting her child. And we resume our dinner.

‘I’ll pose for you!’ I hear her say while we are waiting for our coffee and the deserts. I feel her gentle gaze fixed on me as she offers to be my model.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Yes, It Happens

bubbleblowing2

Don’t lie. I know you’ve been dying to ask me – no matter in what form and the words – but have been afraid to or are just being too smug or polite to ask. And I have been knowingly ignoring or just stringing you along, instead of just come out and get it over with. But the time has come for me to face up and come clear. The answer is: YES, in bold CAPITAL letters.

It is the New Year’s day in the year 2000. The first day of the new millennium. Jan (Heemskerk) and I are taking a walk in the woods of the Dutch countryside. Not too far from his home in Alkmaar. It’s wet and it’s muddy and it’s bone chilling cold. But we are bundled up and the crisp cold fresh air does us good. I don’t remember what lead him to ask, but out of a clear blue sky, I hear his words amble in the air.

‘Shah, have you ever regretted having slept with someone?’Almost in the exact words that I remember an author asking another in an article in The New Yorker – I think the question was directed at John Updike, but I am not sure.

‘Nope! But I certainly have regretted not having done so when I could have.’ I repeat pretty much what Updike or whoever it was had answered. My response puts us in reflective mode. We continue walking in silence. I don’t remember much being said about it. We probably drifted away talking about something else – or more likely picked up the thread of whatever conversation we were having.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

An Emotional Journey Of South Africa

gandhisteps

As long as apartheid ruled, Christie Hefner wouldn’t allow us even to think of doing business with South Africa. The management team totally respected her for her stand. But soon as Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, and when the South African President F.W. de Klerk repealed the remaining apartheid laws in 1991, I felt free to follow-up on a couple of leads that had landed on my desktop. I took my first exploratory trip to the country. Even so, something closer to home was nagging at me. Because if you are born of my generation in India, taking a trip to South Africa has to have some emotional undertones, for that’s where Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement first took roots.

The reason I was full of apprehensions on the night I boarded the Johannesburg bound Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. I wasn’t quite sure of the kind of welcome that awaited me.  As usual, I had read up on the country and was a fan of J.M. Coetzee fiction, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003.  And had just finished reading one of the most disturbing books about the country,  My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malana former crime reporter who fled his country after witnessing unimaginable atrocities, returns in search of the truth behind apartheid. He finds the answers – not in the way black and white South Africans live, but in the way they die at one another’s hands.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

If Only I Could See Through The Depth Of Those Eyes

datsun_finger2

Not knowing what it is I want for lunch, I walk over to Briennerplatz and my feet automatically take me down the steps to Ristorante Positano. Just a few blocks away from Playboy offices in Munich.  It’s a little before two. The place looks deserted. Thinking perhaps they have already closed for the afternoon, I am about to turn around and leave when I hear some shuffling in back of the wardrobe room. A young woman emerges from the dark.

‘I’ll be just two minutes.’ She says, holding up her hand with three middle fingers raised. While I am mulling over why exactly “two minutes”, I notice her open palm. Didn’t she say two? Confused only for a flash, she turns her palm around, looks at it and slowly retracts one of the fingers.  A self-conscious smile breaks out on her face. From what I can tell, she looks Eurasian, with her narrow fish eyes, her smooth round face, and her silky smooth pitch black hair. I see something mysterious hidden behind the depth of those eyes, further intensified by the ambience of that dark corner of the restaurant. This is the image that has remained with me all these years later.

I stop to talk on my way out.

‘Where are  you from?’ I ask. California.’ She answers. This strikes me a bit odd, as if California were an independent  nation. Might as well have been because I have never been there and all that I have heard about it so far tells me that it must be a place like no other.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

The Beauty That Only Mothers Can See

momknows3

‘How about Terry?’  Bill asks. The question is directed more to his wife Irene than to me. And then looking at me, he adds: ‘You’ve got to see Irene’s daughter Terry. She is such a knockout!’

‘Bill!!!’ Goes Irene.

‘What? I think Terry is beautiful, don’t you think?’

‘Yes, she is, but…?

‘But what? I think she would make a perfect Playmate! She is just what Haresh just described. An all American pretty girl next door. What could be more American than a girl from Park Forest?’ He adds and smiles at his own clever connection – certainly a proud resident of southern suburb of Chicago.

‘She probably would, but…!

‘But what? Come on Irene. You’re just being modest. Let our friend Haresh here decide!’ Irene gives me a help me look.

‘Do you have a problem with that?’ Now excited, Bill continues.

‘Not really.’

So it went for a while between husband and wife.

Irene looks intrigued and seems comfortable with her daughter posing for Playboy.

‘Let me talk it over with Terry first.’ She says finally.

Encouraged, I put in my bit: ‘If Irene doesn’t mind and if Terry would be comfortable posing for me, I will be happy to submit her photos to Playboy here in Chicago.’

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Lessons In Interactive “’Bout The Birds And The Bees”

japanlove6

My brain is still busy processing what I had just seen, when I see flailing hands of the several young men in the front row. Yastaka Sasaki explains to me that they are playing rock, paper, scissors. The winner would then get to climb up the stage and get to fuck the girl who has just concluded the “second act” of her striptease routine and is now waiting in front of the sparse post-lunch time crowd of young “salarymen”. Completely naked, she is squatted there on the stage floor on her knees, legs spread wide apart, the spotlight still focused on the exposed glistening inner layers of her vulva peeking through her dense and dark, artfully manicured patch of pubic hair. Her face wears a contemptuous frown with a forced smile on her lips. Staring intensely at the faces of the men in front of her, as if daring the one who would take her as a prize right there on the stage with everyone in the audience watching.  Having eliminated the rest, about six of them, the winner eagerly climbs up the stage, and honest to God, there they are, just a few feet away from our eyes – her lying down on her back, opening her legs wider, her knees pointing upward like a dead duck on a kitchen table waiting to be stuffed. Her hands resting on sides, as if preparing to lift her slight frame into a bridge position for a gym routine.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

The Bad Boy Of Holland And The “Future Husband” Of Jayne Mansfield

jan_jump4

For those of you who have no clue who is  the bad boy of Holland, here is essential Jan Cremer in his own words. I am the best painter, I am the best writer.  I am for sure the best journalist of the Dutch language, and  certainly one of the best writers in the world’. He said to the writer and ex Playboy Holland editor, Guus Luijters for his book, Jan Cremer in Beeld.

He once famously said: ‘Rembrandt? I never heard of him. I’m not interested in sport.’

You have to be brilliant to utter such arrogant and provocative words. Sounds more like something coming out of the big mouth of  Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali, who said in his October 1964 Playboy interview: ‘I’m the greatest, I’m so pretty. People can’t stand a blowhard, but they’ll always listen to them,’, than from the mouth of a gentle Dutch writer and artist.  Jan Cremer too must have realized the shock value of his utterances spewed out in sound bites the way before there was a sound bites. Or could it be that he was just reading off  the script laid out by Cassius Clay?

Pages: 1 2 3 4

As The Time Goes By

Haresh Shah

myvalentinev2

Exactly thirty six years ago today on April 5th. 1977, in Santa Barbara, California, it was another fucking beautiful day, as my neighbor Greg Ketchum and I had began to refer to our forever such gorgeous weather, whenever we both found ourselves out on our respective balconies, overlooking the awesome Santa Ynez Mountain Range.  I was done with my writing for the day and was sitting around in my living room with Mike and Guusje, drinking beer, when the phone rings.

Without any pleasantries, the female voice on the other line dives right into it.

‘I understand you are auditioning young ladies for Playboy.’

‘Not quite.’ I respond with trepidation, trying hard to think who it might be. Sensing confused silence on my end of the line, the voice breaks out in a hearty laugh.

‘This is Carolyn,’ it says.’ It still doesn’t ring the bell.

‘I was just passing through. I am on my way down south to see Gwen in LA.’ And then I knew.

‘Where are you?’

‘I am here. In Santa Barbara.’

‘You are? Why don’t you come on over?’

‘Okay.’

Pages: 1 2 3 4

What Good Is A Teacher If His Pupil Can’t One Up Him?

Haresh Shah

bowtie3b

I am talking to Ivan (Chocholouš) on the kitchen phone, looking out at the first tulips that have popped up in the flower bed in the backyard of my house in Evanston. It’s Wednesday the April 17th, in the year 1991. It’s been hectic as can be. I have taken off half a day to stay home and work on the final details of the launch in Czechoslovakia – only eight days away, Based on what Ivan reports from Prague, everything seems to be going smoothly with organizing of the launch events. The press conference, welcoming of the  European editors, catering, transportation. And the most importantly, now that I have signed off on every single page, the first issue is now ready to roll off the presses.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

From Sleazy Sex Show To The Celebration Of Suave Saxophonist’s 50th

sax_coaster3b

When I was based in Munich, it wasn’t unusual for me to start my day with breakfast in Munich, have lunch in Essen and land in Paris just in time for dinner and the next evening have dinner in Milan. Georg Kührer of the printing house Girardet once observed: you hop on and off the plane more often than I do a bus. Amazing. But true. Even so, the eleven days I remember the most about my relentlessly on the go happened years later when I was living in Chicago. What to me is mind-boggling still, is the intensity of those days, being in constant motion and deprived of sleep. And I don’t even drink coffee, let alone take any other stimulants. I thrived on the natural adrenaline and the high I got from interacting with people.

I began my journey in Chicago on the afternoon of Thursday, October 15,1992, arriving in Budapest the next morning.  I loved the way the airlines wine and dine you in the front of the plane on their intercontinental flights. No phones ringing, nowhere you can escape. I am not for watching movies or doing any real work on planes. Reading yes. But mostly what I love the most is to really let my hair down, enjoy the treats, perhaps snooze a little bit and arrive at my destination, if not well slept, quite relaxed.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

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

kidandnannyd

‘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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Playboy – The Declaration Of Independence?

statue

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.’

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

A Fond Farewell From A Friend      
donnasummers3b
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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Leaving On A Jet Plane

amsterdamwindowcafe2

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Haresh Shah

Every Picture Tells A Story

bythetrunkb

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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

Eres Tu, Eres Tu, Asi, Asi, Eres Tu…

between_the_fountain

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Corazon de Melon, de Melon, de Melon….

passportbook_sketches_v2

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.

Pages: 1 2 3

 Haresh Shah

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

Gabrielgarciamarquez_001webgreenweb

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.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Haresh Shah

Without Makeup And With Their Clothes On

upsidedown_woman3b

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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

How Did I Get Myself Suckered Into Having A Television?

haresh_in_tv_p

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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

From Only One Nipple To Pubic Wars And Back

censorshipboys_p
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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

That’s Just What I Needed To Be

phoneillustration_p2

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.

Pages: 1 2 3

Haresh Shah

Playmates, Playmates, Playmates. Überall

girlonrecord3b

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.

Pages: 1 2

Haresh Shah

Some Call It Smut – Others Read It For The Interviews – And You?
smugglingsmut_4b

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.

Pages: 1 2

Haresh Shah

 Why Even Go As Far As The Next Door?

pentaxLady2publish

‘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,

Pages: 1 2

Haresh Shah

 How I Managed To Put My Foot In My Mouth

girlnextdoorD

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?’

Pages: 1 2

Haresh Shah

Every Life Untold Is A Pandora’s Box

001_illustraionhareshonbridge_fromphoto_BW

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.

Pages: 1 2