Archives for posts with tag: Gary Cole

Haresh Shah

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak

train_3

As I roll off the QE II in my Buick from the port of  New York city, my plan is to drive cross-country with the destination of Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely, Mark and Ann’s (Stevens) farm house in Goleta, some twelve miles north of downtown Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw away from the carefree Isla Vista off UCSB campus. Awaiting me is the culture and the people so unlike the America I have known so far. Three years earlier, just before Playboy offered me the job, I had planned a long vacation to explore the California Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Instead, on the very day I was to fly west, I end up making a sharp hairpin turn to fly east over the Atlantic. I owe it to California to make up for my sudden turn.  But I am not in a hurry. And I am open to any other possibilities that may exist or arise.

Chicago awaits for me with its arms wide open. Lee (Hall) throws a staff lunch for me and am treated like a homecoming war hero. He has even arranged for me to meet with the Photography Director Gary Cole. Lee thinks very highly of me and feels I would make a good photo editor for Gary. Gary is congenial, but not so sure. He has probably agreed to speak with me more out of courtesy than to consider me for a position he didn’t have in the first place. As devastated as Lee is at having to let me go, this is his way of demonstrating that it wasn’t his decision or within his power to keep me.

Of all the people, the person most upset and concerned about my departure from Playboy is the production boss, John Mastro. Even when he hired me away from Time, he had his apprehensions. Not because he had any reservations about the job I would do, but to take me away from what in the industry was considered to be one of the best jobs around. Worrier that he is, it ended up being just what he must have feared in the beginning. What if things with the foreign editions of Playboy didn’t work out the way they had planned and envisioned?

After all, these were uncharted waters. They had not yet figured out the cost-benefit ratio of maintaining a staff abroad. So there were going to be all sorts of uncertainties and the growing pains to deal with. It was not the performance, but the cost cutting that caused my position to be eliminated.

John feels personally responsible for my well being. And he is intent and insistent on finding me a comparable, if not a better job once I returned back to the States. He himself doesn’t have anything to offer, but with his wide spread contacts and the influence within the printing industry, he is sure to find me a desirable position. Totally ignoring my protests and wish to take a little break after the nineteen years of squeezed together hectic life.

I am only thirty five years old, but I have spent nineteen of them going to school. Joined my uncle’s publishing company Wilco soon as I graduated from high school, while enrolling myself for college education. First majoring in Economics and Political Science and then taking a ninety degree turn and joining the printing school. For two years, I served apprenticeship at the Precision Printing – a small printing house to learn the ropes. That was between eight in the morning until the noon. Hurry home and have a lunch on the run and be at my desk at Wilco by one. Dart out of there at five and off to the evening courses at the Government School of Printing, which took me until nine or later. Come home and barf down the lukewarm dinner my mother had shelved – still an hour or two of homework and that day’s diary entry ahead of  me and make it to  bed around mid-night. My mornings would begin around the time when I heard the first clinking of the milk bottles being unloaded at the government owned milk kiosk down the street. My eyes still half closed, I would pick up family’s ration. Perhaps grab another hour’s sleep and be under the cold shower and gulp down a glass of hot milk before running out to start my apprenticeship.

But I never felt stressed. On the contrary. My back-to-back long active days invigorated me. After I graduated from the London School of Printing, I loved every minute of the several odd jobs I had to take on before the three post-school real jobs that stretched into nine years. I am  suddenly tired, exhausted even. I certainly need a break from the routine, and for now, all I want to do is write. I want to get off  the speeding train – side step the rat race and stop to smell the roses. What’s more, I have saved enough to live on for a couple of years, supplemented by the unemployment benefits I am entitled to collect.

But how do I explain this to the man to whom having a job rates on the top of his priorities? And how do I fend his genuine concern for my well being?

‘You have all your life ahead of you to rest and write and do whatever else you want to. But I have just the job for you. Go talk to them. What you’ve got to lose?’

John’s gentle but insistent prodding reminds me of how my mother and auntie Shukla had began to nudge me soon as I had turned barely eighteen. All they thought of was to hook me up with one girl or another at every opportunity they got.

‘Doesn’t cost you anything to see her. I bet you’ll fall in love with her. And she is from a family just like ours. Will fit right in. You’ll never find anyone as pretty and sweet. Longer you wait, the best ones will all be picked clean.’ And auntie Shukla, the poet as she is, would even recite a couplet or two to describe her beauty, as if she were a serious contender herself. Not to mention, how pretty she herself is.

Once it became clear that I was going to go abroad for further studies, they begin in earnest their campaign to convince me to at least get engaged before I left for London. Their crafty underlying logic being, once committed, I would have to come back and not be lost forever to the West as did most others. And the horror or all horrors, what if I were to succumb to the wicked charms of a gori – a white woman? But I was steadfast and so it came to pass. And then when fifteen years later I came home, indeed not only with a gori in tow, but also nine months old Anjuli perched atop my shoulders in a back pack, they couldn’t have been happier.

But John turns out to be more persistent than my mother and the aunt were. So I relent. As much time and energy he has put into finding me another job, I don’t have a heart to tell him with any more emphasis that I really wanted to take bit of a break for some months, give my first passion at least a chance and then decide if I want to go back being the color guy.  Not to mention that long ago, I had decided I didn’t want to work for a printing company in the same position as I would for publishers. Because I would rather be in a position to give shit than having to take it. Never mind, John has arranged an interview for me with the World Color in Louisville, Kentucky. As much to please him as with the thought, what have I got to lose? An airplane ride and bit of a diversion would do me good. Now it’s been six months since I had been on a plane last, something that had become practically a part of my daily routine, so to say. And I am beginning to miss it. It feels good to get on a jet and fly to Louisville.

First I meet with the production boss Grover Plaschke, who sounding serious, talks to me at length about the organizational details of the World Color and how the company is growing by leaps and bounds and how they are proud of their ultra modern equipment and the talented professionals who help them grow. Hopefully I could add to their pool of talents. I can tell I have positively impressed him. He enthusiastically turns me over to his press supervisor Bob Saxer. I like Bob. He is soft spoken and easy going no nonsense kind of a production guy like Ben Wendt  of Regensteiner. My would be boss if I took the job. I get a good feeling about him and I am sure, we would get along well. I spend a whole day walking the huge World Color plant and I am indeed impressed by their streamlined operation, the cleanliness and the efficiency of the plant and the quality of the signatures rolling off web presses. I make appropriate comments and compliment him on how impressed I was with the plant and the people. And doing so, I can see that I have impressed him too without really trying.

‘I am sure we could use someone like you. I am very positively impressed by your resume and your experience of the last few years at Time and Playboy. So is Mr. Plaschke.’ Bob concludes.

To which I thank and tell him how I too would be proud of being a part of his team. But lacking from my voice is the excitement and the enthusiasm that of a man really wanting the job. I am struggling with how best to tell him what I am thinking. But he is more perceptive than I give him credit for. He doesn’t say anything, that is: until late in the afternoon when we are having lunch at a local bar and the grill. He lifts his beer mug, says cheers and while putting down the mug, looks at me point blank: You aren’t really looking for a job, are you?

So I square with him and tell him the truth. The only reason I was there was to please John, that I wanted to take a break first and give my desire to write a chance. At least give it a try, while I am able.

‘Fair enough. But when and if you ever want to come back into the work force, give us a call first.’

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

SISTER SITE

http://www.downdivision.com

You May Also Like

WELCOME TO AMERICA

DEVIL IN THE PARADISE

HE’S A SON OF A BITCH

SAILING THE QUEEN

Next Friday, November 14, 2014

UNLOVED IN THE LANDS OF L’AMOUR

A Recent Lufthansa ad goes: Seduced by Paris. Inspired by Rome. Shelves are filled with dozens of books raving about wonderful and romantic experiences of the people who have been to Italy and France. I can’t even count how many times I must have been to Paris and Rome and Milan. And yet!!!

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.

On the Playbill  page the editors wrote: As you know by now PLAYBOY is a tremendously well put-together magazine. And for the past 381 issues, the thing that has held it together, through thick and thin, through Marilyn Monroe and through Venice Kong, had been a humble underappreciated yet respectably old-fashioned staple. What you have in your hands right now is the first spanking-new tough spined staple-free PLAYBOY. So much for the tough spine.

Playboy began and remained saddle stitched for more than thirty years – the standard magazine binding format used by the majority of large circulation consumer magazines around the world. It’s flexible, it’s reader friendly and cheaper than perfect bound magazines, such as National Geographic, Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair and now Playboy – the stiff unbending coffee table books.

First and foremost, Playboy’s identity has always been its centerfolds, so much so that Hefner himself  has famously said at one of the Playmates reunions that without you, I would be a literary magazine. The centerfolds were defined by the young women who occupied the specially printed three page gatefold, inserted and stapled near the naval of the Playmate of that month. And because of the way the magazine was bound, it was easy to find her with your finger tips even with your eyes shut. Open your eyes and find her there with her enticing eyes staring at you and the rest of her laid out bare in all her glory. Not to mention how easy it was to lay it flat when open and feel its soft and smooth bulge and the curvaceous spine. You could fold it, you could bend it, toss and turn while lying down on your sofa and reading thousands of words of its interviews and in-depth articles comfortably without having to keep forcing those pages open.

These kind of decisions are not taken lightly. To change even a layout of a single page in a well established magazine requires very serious considerations. Because more than anything else, even the slightest deviation from the standard format can disorient the loyal readers.

As I am writing this in October 2013, The New Yorker has changed radically its front of the book section Goings On About Town to the point where it’s totally unrecognizable from its classic, albeit stale version. Even though I think that the new design is more contemporary with lot of white spaces, new elegant type face and all, now several weeks later, I still feel lost and disoriented and can’t seem to navigate my way around those pages. But I am sure, I’ll get used to it and even forget the old design. Alas, no such luck with Playboy’s perfect binding even after twenty eight years.

●●●

When I worked for Time, the editors decided after forty years of retaining the same look with which the magazine had debuted back in 1923, time had now come to give it a fresh new look. Change the design, change the typeface. Change the philosophy of the covers. That’s a giant step, especially within Time Inc. family. It was Life that glowed with flashes of colors inside its snappier articles – sort of prelude to the video clips with narrative text. But Time magazine remained black and white for the longest with its mini-newspaper look and the format, wrapped inside its red bordered covers framing some of the most alluring illustrations.  It wasn’t up until in the Seventies that the first photographs began to appear within those red borders. When Time introduced color photos inside its editorial pages, they were sparse and limited to a four or eight page signature printed on higher quality coated paper. Even discounting that the color pages cost more to reproduce and print, that wasn’t why they hung onto its black and white origin. The biggest concern in their hanging onto the original mono color format as long as they did was the shock of switching to the color would give its readers. I am not a hundred percent sure now, but I faintly remember their instituting minor design changes in the late Sixties – I believe with the help of one of the most celebrated and creative designers, Milton Glaser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All true. And yet, something kept gnawing at me. In my mind, I still remembered that tiny scribble at the top of the memo, initialed AK. Since I left Playboy at the end of 1993, I had seen Arthur Kretchmer only once. I wasn’t exactly comfortable approaching him, but that’s what I had to do. I shot out an e-mail to Arthur. He was most gracious and forthcoming.

“As for perfect binding. I remember the meeting with Hefner very well. It was not an editorial meeting. It was a business meeting. After the full business presentation was made — and it was made mostly from an advertising sales point of view — Hef said, “The reasoning sounds all right, but you’re asking me to re-invent the wheel. This is a gamble that I’m very reluctant to take.”

“He asked my opinion, and I said something along these lines: I thought that getting rid of the staple would move the magazine into the category of classy mainstream magazines — a psychological shift that I thought the magazine was ready for.

“He considered that. There was more conversation. I’m not sure that he went on to approve  the change in that meeting, but I think he did. I think he said yes before that meeting was over.

“In the name of complete honesty, sometime after we made the change, I thought we’d made a mistake. Not right away, but certainly within the year. All the business people were happy. Even the newsstand guys liked the way the magazine stacked. But I became uncomfortable.  Obviously we never seriously considered going back.

“I don’t remember the circulating memos that you describe, but your telling of the story rings true. You have chosen the right words with ‘upscale look.’ I think once Hefner saw that as part of the conversation, he became a convert.”

I got my answer with that gnawing feeling now subsided.

© Haresh Shah

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

SISTER SITE

http://www.downdivision.com

You May Also Like

THE COMPANY POLICY

PLAYBOY ON THE COFFEE TABLE

THE STORY OF MY TUXEDO

ALL ABOUT THE WILD PARTIES AT PLAYBOY

The Site

ABOUT

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Next Friday, November 1, 2013

IN PRAISE OF MY BUICK

As of now, I’ve had seven cars. The first one, a Chevy Nova practically killed me many times over. But I missed her so when sold it to a couple of neighborhood kids. The second, an Oldsmobile Cutlass was stolen, requiring me to buy my first brand new set of wheels, a Buick Skylark. It went with me from Chicago to Munich to Santa Barbara and back to Chicago and many other exciting places in-between and had become as much a part of me during those ten most dynamic years of my life. It was loyal, it was reliable and it never let me down. The least I can do is to pay a little tribute to her

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.

La Toya makes her dramatic entrance bursting out from behind the oversized split Playboy cover featuring her close up, holding in her hands the giant reptile snuggly stretched out under her ample bosom. She is seated across from the host Elstner at a small round café table with the bubbles in the champagne flutes rising and the Boa resting peacefully across her lap all through the interview, like a baby at its best behavior . The show goes on without a hitch. Post show, she poses with the guests, the Olympic Gold Medalist Figure Skater,  Katarina Witt and the rock star Udo Lindberg and Oscar Lafontaine – the Minister President of the state of Saarland and the Playboy editor Ulrike Blass. Everyone endures the presence of her bosom buddy. But from what I heard from the German editors on Monday morning, that even so, the crew and the host were all in awe of their disquieting guest. If a  bit scared, they managed a brave face and safe distance from it – just in case. The show went on the records as being one of the most watched with 19.5   million viewers. Ulrike said later that for an international celebrity such as La Toya, she didn’t put out any airs and before parting, she told her that she had really enjoyed her trip and the experience and asked politely if she might be invited again sometime in the future.

Her pictorial contained a full page shot of her with her holding the boa, his body squeezed between her legs and his head winding down and resting on her hip. She is holding him with both of her hands, her eyes closed, lips slightly parted as if having an orgasm. The caption accompanying that shot said: I love snakes. I had hoped to do a shot all covered with snakes; I was kind of disappointed there was only one.  

Two and a half years later, (November 1991), she poses again for Playboy to coincide with her memoire La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family. This time around, the pictorial includes two page spread of boa constrictor, one slithering all over her body, between her legs, winding its way up to skirt her breasts and raise its head between them. Reminiscent of the famous Nastassja Kinski billboard, shot in 1981 by America’s master photographer, Richard Avedon. In another one, she is sticking out her tongue at him almost licking him on the mouth with teasingly playful expressions on her face.

That reminded me of the time some years earlier when my secretary Teresa (Velázquez), all wound-up, reported that they had brought in a couple of boa constrictors to the Playboy studio, waiting to be photographed with the Playmate Ruth Guerri (July 1983) as a part of an erotic fantasy pictorial.  It was an eerie feeling to think that slithering around merely two floors above were deadly, slinking and sliding, coiling and un-coiling creatures. As it turns out, there was only one of them. But still. This is how the photography director  Gary Cole remembers the shoot: Steve Wayda did the shot for a photographer’s erotic portfolio pictorial. I was in the studio and I can tell you that Ruth really got into the shoot, so much that both Steve and I were scratching our heads. I don’t think it was a coincidence that God chose a snake to tempt Eve .Upon further inquiry, Gary elaborates: There was only one snake and yes, it was boa constrictor. I kept it in my pants. (Only joking.) The snake owner brought it in a ventilated box. It had been fed just to discourage any idea it might have about taking a bite out of Ruthie. I believe the snake enjoyed the shoot as much as Ruth did. I believe Steve had similar experience with La Toya and the snake. Naked women and snakes seem to get along. I guess so. And about the snake being fed, the first time around posing with one, the question La Toya asked was: when it had been last fed? Once they told her that a couple of days earlier, so I wasn’t worried. Boas aren’t dangerous unless they’re hungry.

And then comes Britney Spears with her 2001 MTV performance of I’m A Slave 4 U with the snake, perched atop her neck and dangling form her extended arms. And considering that there are whole slew of other women and models enamored with snakes of all kinds and shapes, I can’t  help but wonder – what’s it with the beautiful women stretched out naked in all their glory and frolicking with the slithering beasts that scare me even to look at  and even when they are doing their swarming and swishing behind the safe glass walls in an aquarium. The simple answer comes from Dr. Freud himself – the phallic symbol.

But there’s got to be more to it.  This is Gary’s Biblical explanation: According to Christian scripture, the forbidden apple was God’s way of testing Adam, to insure that he would be obedient to God’s commands. The snake was the incarnate devil, the ultimate symbol of evil. And he worked his magic through a woman…since we all know that women are the ultimate downfall of men. The phallic implication  is too strong to ignore.

And still it nags at me. Why did God choose a snake? I mean he could have sent a cuddly rabbit or a little kitty cat, even a sad faced puppy to make Eve go gaga over it and still do her magic. Like among other things; femme fatal in India is often called Nagin – the she cobra. Within Indian mythology, when God found himself in the similar predicament, he would send down from heaven one of this top apsaras. Those celestial beauties are gorgeous, irresistibly sensual and  exceptionally talented in the art of seductive dancing.  And when they dance, their heads and their bodies sway in fluid and languid motion just like that of the cobra charmed by the snake charmer. Both of them in the process of mesmerize and be mesmerized.  A definite downfall of the mere mortal male of the species. And guaranteed to break the deepest samadhi of even the most devout Yogi. Why go through an intermediary?

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

SISTER SITE

http://www.downdivision.com

You May Also Like

I DANCED WITH DONNA SUMMER

BEAUTYAND THE BREASTS

Next Friday, June 28, 2013

ALL ABOUT THE WILD PARTIES AT PLAYBOY

You will hate me for shattering your image of the wild parties you have seen on the TV and featured on the pages of Playboy magazine. May even begin to see some virtue in the saying: the ignorance is indeed a bliss.

.