Archives for posts with tag: Hugh Hefner

Butting Heads With Experts

Haresh Shah

whattime_revised

My ex-girlfriend Susan (Serpe) was a successful management consultant. And yet, I never quite understood what it was exactly that she did. Once in a self-deprecating mood, she told me a story of three consultants, which has probably been told and re-told or perhaps not.

A large international corporation in need of a consultant invites proposals from some of the top professionals in the industry. From the huge pile of applicants, they have boiled down the list to the TOP three that seem most likely to fulfill their needs. They are to be interviewed by the CEO himself. He seats them down around the conference table in his office.

‘Good morning to you all. And congratulations for making it to the top three. That’s quite an achievement, considering that we had received more than a hundred offers. You guys are the crème de la crème and it would be an honor for our company to work with any one of you. Unfortunately, all we have is only one position open, so here goes it – the final round. I do not wish to take up much of your valuable time, so without much a do, I’ll come right to to the point. Before we decide, I only have one simple question to ask of you, which is: Can you please tell me, what time is it?  Confused only momentarily, the three realize it’s one of those trick questions. Everyone could see clearly on the wall clock in the CEO’s office that its 2:30 in the afternoon. The first of them clears his throat.

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Haresh Shah

The Rituals Of Wine And Women And All That Jazz

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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.

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Haresh Shah

The Real Man Eclipsed By His Image

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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.

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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.

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Haresh Shah

Painting Devils On The Wall

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‘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:

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Haresh Shah

Not Following In The Boss’ Footsteps

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

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

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

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

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Haresh Shah

 How I Managed To Put My Foot In My Mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘How do  you mean it?’

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