Archives for posts with tag: Haresh Shah

Haresh Shah

My Close Encounter With An Angry Nobel Laureate

The Original Unabridged Version Of FACE TO FACE WITH GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ MARQUEZ

It’s October 29, 1982.  The master of magical realism – Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has just won the Nobel Prize.  Playboy 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.   On the day following  the announcement and during the following day, he is met by the press at his home in Mexico City.  Several frenetic phone calls from Playboy editors to his house are answered again and again by his Mexican maid.  He has gone away on a month long vacation, leaving behind strict instructions that he didn’t wish to be reached.

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Haresh Shah

How Does One Get A Job At Playboy?

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The question I’ve been asked time and again is: How does one get a job at Playboy?  Or more precisely: How did you get to work for them?

My answer always is: Like any other job. You apply for it. You have an interview and then you get hired. If that sounds too simplistic, how about this? You happen to be at the right place at the right time with right set of skills and qualifications. And the pure dumb luck doesn’t hurt either!

Not good enough still? Okay. Here’s how it happened. But me telling this story requires me to take you back in time. Back to the London College of Printing. Shashi (Patravali), my roommate and also the fellow alumni of LCP, are sitting in the college canteen. We’re at the end of our two year long diploma curriculum and would soon have to face the reality called life. Shashi is clear about his future. Soon as we’re done, he wants to spend a couple of months traveling the European Continent. Return back to India and manage a printing plant somewhere in the South.

‘How about you?’ He asks.

‘I want to go to America. Spend a year getting practical training at the GATF (Graphic Arts Technical Foundation) in Pittsburgh. And then work for Time & Life and for Playboy.

Shashi doesn’t say anything to that, but in his characteristic manner smirks at me, probably  thinking, “yeah right!”

●●●

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Haresh Shah

Of Pinot Noir And The Burlaping in Boonville

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The year is 1995 and talking of California wines to the Europeans is somewhat of a joke like the early transistor radios made in Japan were to everyone. Never mind that almost twenty years earlier on the day of America’s Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, the world’s wine experts were asked in a blind tasting to compare six California Cabernets and Chardonnays along with as many of Bordeaux and Burgundies and to everyone’s horror and American wine makers’  delight, California’s best stood shoulder to shoulder with the French on everyone’s scorecards, putting them instantly on the world map.

While the wine professionals of  Europe took a note of it, the wine consumers of the Continent remained oblivious to even their existence. Frustrated, California’s vintners decided, the time had come to make the world aware of the lush Napa Valley and its wines that were growing by leaps and bounds off the northern California Coast.

As a part of the broader push, California Wine Institute has invited the Dutch edition of Playboy to experience California’s wine country in all its glory, including its rapidly emerging cuisine and enjoy their steadily growing warm hospitality industry, in hopes that Playboy would take the message to its upscale demographics in Holland.

The editor-in-chief Jan Heemskerk himself takes upon the project and picks me to accompany him and assigns me to write a major piece for his edition. Not because by any dint of imagination I am a connoisseur or even an expert of wines, but because he thinks of me as someone who knows his wines, especially the ones from California.

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Haresh Shah

Lonely And Lost On The Road

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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.’

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Haresh Shah

The Strike Italian Style

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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.

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Haresh Shah

Eat Your Heart Out!

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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.

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Haresh Shah

A Touch Of Communism In The Capitalist Culture

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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.

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Haresh Shah

The Fine Art Of Getting Away With Murder

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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.

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Haresh Shah

Yes, It Happens

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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.

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Haresh Shah

An Emotional Journey Of South Africa

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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.

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Haresh Shah

The Beauty That Only Mothers Can See

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‘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.’

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Haresh Shah

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

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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?

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As The Time Goes By

Haresh Shah

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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.’

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Haresh Shah

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

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

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

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Haresh Shah

Playboy – The Declaration Of Independence?

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

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

‘Why don’t you apply for Green Card?’

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

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

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

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

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Haresh Shah

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

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

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