Archives for posts with tag: Melissa Morrill

Haresh Shah

How Did I Get Myself Suckered Into Having A Television?


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.
Of all the characters in them, Perry Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake remained fresh in my memory. So it was natural that I would be attracted to its visual version. And I always loved music and never missed India’s most popular countdown, Binaca Geetmala every Wednesday night on Radio Ceylon, moderated by silky smooth voice of Ameen Sayani.  Another natural draw for me was England’s weekly hit parade,  Top of the Pops. I still remember Petula Clark belting out Downtown and bare feet Sandy Shaw performing  her Eurovision hit Puppet on a string. And I watched occasional current affair broadcasts like Harold Wilson’s Labor Party winning the election, Winston Churchill’s funeral and Queen Elizabeth’s opening of the parliament parade.

When I was brought back years later to live and work for Playboy in Chicago, and my very pregnant partner Carolyn and I merged our combined household possessions in our newly acquired condo in Hyde Park,  she too came without what was then often referred to as an “idiot box”.  But it was when we bought a house in Evanston and our daughter Anjuli was about to start her school, did Carolyn feel that we needed to buy a TV for her to at least watch popular kid’s programs, such as Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and other shows, of which  Reading Rainbow was her all time favorite, so that she would be able to make informed conversation with other kids in the school.  We went out and bought her a smallest screen TV we could find, and put it into her room.  Even so, she was allowed maximum of an hour to watch it. As it turned out, it was fine with her. She took the TV with her to the college and when it died, bought another one equally as small and non-visible as the first one – to be tucked away in an obscure corner. Because other than some of her favorite programs, and renting of video cassettes to watch movies, she too never got into watching television in any significant way.

Without going into psychoanalysis of why I never got into watching the boob tube, an honest answer is: Television has never appealed to me. It wasn’t  something  even on my lowest priority list. I did have a television in each of my two Prague apartments.  But they came furnished, and I ever barely turned them on.  Ironically, I was editor-in-chief of Serial, the magazine devoted entirely to television shows. I did then have a television set installed in my office which beamed as many as 500 channels from around the world. That too, I barely watched.  Zapped was more like it.  Once I got the gist of a new series and a feeling of what the show was all about, enough knowledge to be able to discuss it coherently with my editors was all I needed to know. They would tell me the rest. I must confess though, that when I was invited by the PR department of  The Bold and the Beautiful, to spend a couple of days on its set and given access to interview any and all of its stars of the time, I did watch the show in its entirety for a couple of weeks prior to landing in Los Angeles. In those episodes, not much happened on the day-to-day basis. But I could see how easy it would be to get hooked to something like that.

But still!

So the day the light blinked on my ringing desk phone in my office, I wasn’t too thrilled at the news it brought. On the other line was Millie Gunn, former wife of Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh M. Hefner and the mother of his two oldest children, David and Christie Hefner.

‘Congratulations on your fifteen years with the company.’  She said in her usual cheery and friendly as can be voice, which was for real. Millie worked for the company as its Employee Relations Person. Not to confuse with the Human Resources. She had a certain congenial and very warm way about her. Platinum blonde, dignified and still extremely good looking, she must have been pretty as a Playmate when young. Her effervescence and enviously upbeat demeanor had made her darling of everybody in Playboy’s Chicago office.

‘As a token of our appreciation, the company would like to send to your house a state of the art big screen Sony television set.’  I heard her saying.

‘Television set?’ Probably wondering why I wasn’t jumping with joy and screaming exclamations the way they do on radio shows when one or the other listener is called and told he/she had won a vacuum cleaner or a couple of tickets to a concert.  Instead, sensing my voice dropping, she offers: ‘I get it. You’ve  already got a nice set of your own. Your other option is a VCR.’ Still not getting any rise out of me, she throws at me the next option; ‘How about a camcorder then? Its top of the line. Also a Sony.’

Finally I had to interrupt her.

‘Millie, I don’t have a television, so what would I do with a VCR or a camcorder?’

‘That makes it easy. Then TV it is.’

‘No, no, no. I hate television. How about good old cash?’

‘That we can’t do. Against the company policy.’

So a TV set it had to be. I put it into the most remote corner of my rambling three storied, seven bedroom house.  Bought an old but a classic decorative Radio Gram console from my next door neighbor, Mr. White, who was black! Propped the television on the top of it diagonally opposite from my slat-top desk and the computer. That’s where it remained for years – occasionally watched by house guests. I watched on it O.J. Simpson’s white SUV chase, funerals of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. And that was about it. But it mostly remained unwatched, unwelcomed and unloved by me.

Before making my big long term move to Prague and putting up my house on the market, instead of holding a traditional “garage sale”, I decided to give away all of my furniture and other material possessions I no longer wanted to keep, to whoever would take them. Anjuli and Carolyn got the first picks. Before choosing television, Carolyn looked at me with a knowing smile: I suppose you won’t be too heart broken if I took the television!!

Note: Originally published as Television, VCR, Camcorder & Me

 © Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford


Next Friday, January 18th, 2013


You have already met Barbara and Dagmar in the process of  their becoming the first two German Playmates.  I was privileged to get to know them beyond the glare of the photo studio and without makeup. Mini profiles through personal reflections.

Haresh Shah

From Only One Nipple To Pubic Wars And Back

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.

But for the locally produced Japanese edition of Playboy, we would have to come up with a selection of photos that didn’t contain even a tiny wisp of hair. Since Playboy shoots thousands of photos for about a dozen they end up using, this normally wasn’t a big problem for someone to sit down and select fotos sin pelo pubico.  Even so, sometimes it was difficult to find enough usable photos  with right expressions on the girl’s face.  It was initially my job to go through those thousands of photos and do an edit for the Japanese.  Frustrated, sometimes I would accost the photographers and remind them that we needed ample non-pubic photos.  At times it was difficult for them – having just been freed from the shackles and having to go backward must have been psychologically daunting for them. So much so that when in 1987 we were producing a multi-girls pictorial, to complement the Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant  broadcast live from Hong Kong’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium, when the Turkish candidate Arzum Cibir, showed up in the studio with her pubic region clean-shaved, the photographer Byron Newman and his wife/stylist Brigitte  were horrified.  A minor crisis ensued in the air. Of the solutions discussed and bounced around was also the possibility of giving Arzum an artificial patch of pubes, in the form of a custom-made, how can I say it – a pussy wig? In the end, the silliness discounted and sanity prevailed.  We decided that they would pose her in a way that would not require her to shoot full frontal.  There were thirteen more girls in the group. So…

But for the legal requirement of the countries, there was not much the photographers could do, because now we needed them not only for Japan but also for Brazil (launched in August 1976), and Mexico (November 1976), later added to the list would be Turkey (January 1986) and Taiwan (April 1990).

In the cases of Mexico and Brazil, we couldn’t even call the magazines Playboy, until years later. In Brazil it was called Homem (Man) and in Mexico Caballero, con Lo Mejor de Playboy (Gentleman, with the best of Playboy).  In Brazil, every nude layout that went into the magazine, had to be presented to the censor board and approved by the authorities before they could be put into the magazine. They required not only no-pubic, but also we were restricted to show only a single nipple in an image. And this is in the country of Samba and the wildest Carnival and the skimpiest dental floss bikinis running around Copacabana beach!

The most absurd thing to happen was in Mexico. One fine morning Eduardo Gongorra, the General Manager of the Mexican edition was called in by the authorities and told that their license to publish Caballero was suspended. Not only they couldn’t call the magazine Playboy under any circumstances, but the new law dictated that no publication can use a noun as its proper name. They couldn’t change it to Señor either, because Señor too was a noun. How about Signore? It meant the same, but in Italian and not in Spanish. Since they couldn’t come up with an immediate retort to that, after several harried phone calls between Chicago and Mexico City, it was collectively agreed to change the name immediately and continue publishing while we would appeal and fight the battle to eventually be allowed to call the magazine by its rightful name, Playboy.

Coming back to Japan, there were times when the Japanese editors in their creative frenzy would  want to include in their layout one of the photos published in the US edition. No matter a blob of curls plainly in sight. What do they do? Have it airbrushed out. They knew I would scream murder when the issue hit my desk a few days later. Then it would be too late to do anything about it. I would hear from other executives of the company – including once directly from Christie Hefner,  how horrible and unnatural airbrushed pussies looked?  I know! I know!! I would slap hands of the Japanese. They would apologize with a promise to never do it again – that is until they would some months later. Hoping that Shah-san won’t notice. But notice I did.  Dismayed, as I often sat at my desk staring at those bald as an eagle-head patches so expertly smoothed out and blended into rest of the skin, like them I too hoped that no one else would notice – Christie most of all.

Fast forward to 2007. After nine years sojourn in Prague and after fourteen years since I left Playboy, I have returned to Chicago to live. I am sitting in my guest room on a chair next to my floor to ceiling bookcases filled with the issues of more than forty-five years of Playboy.  Sitting across from me on the edge of the bed are my neighbor Melissa and her younger sister Andrea. They want to see the issues of the months  and the years they were born. I hand Melissa the bound volume containing the first four issues of 1974. She quickly flips through and zeros in on February Playmate Francine Park’s pictorial. The opening spread doesn’t get her attention as much, but as she turns the page, at the bottom of the next page is a shot of reclining Francine with her eyes dreamily closed, her torso lifted slightly by the pillow underneath and rest of her body seductively sloping downward. Her right hand reaches up above framing her head, the left hand resting down by her thigh. And staring right at Melissa is her ample tuft, dark and dense, bushier than a bird’s nest. And I see Melissa pointing at it and then hear her screaming exclamation:   Oh my God! Those girls had pubic hair!!!.

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford


Next Friday: January 11, 2013


I have been incessantly and relentlessly pelted by e-mail, mail orders and even over the telephone, companies offering me package deals for satellite/cable services. When I tell them, I own no television to start with, they are left with a speechless Oh!