Playboy magazine launched in 1953, reaching its largest circulation in 1972 when it was distributed to 7.2 million readers. Today, it has over 1.5 million readers and over 5 million people visit playboy.com each month.
Owner Hugh Hefner has described Playboy magazine as a “handbook for the urban male.” Each issue contains articles on politics and culture, interviews with famous and influential people. And naked women.
“I only buy it for the articles.”
From the very beginning, each issue of Playboy also included work from the very best writers.
The literary organization PEN USA recently honored Hugh Hefner for “50 years of support for un-championed writers and of fighting censorship”(bbc.co.uk). According to Jamie Wolf, vice-president of PEN USA, Hugh Hefner “published an extraordinary range of writers, serious literary writers who you were not otherwise getting when you went into the grocery store.”
I was surprised to learn that so many of my favorite writers have had several short stories published in Playboy, while some had their books serialized or excerpted in the magazine.
Here is my personal top 10 list of writers who were published in Playboy:
Note: As a tribute to their connection to Playboy, I have selected the sexiest photographs I could dig up for each writer.
10. Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller (1923 – 1999) was an American writer and dramatist. Catch 22 is his most famous novel- considered by many to be one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century. The book “tells the story of Captain Joseph Yossarian, a member of a US bomber crew stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa. Yossarian is convinced that the military is trying to get him killed, and that those around him are insane, and he spends the book trying to get out of flying any more seemingly suicidal missions” (news.bbc.co.uk).
“What could you do with a man who looked you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die than be killed in combat…”
Heller’s short story Yossarian Survives was published in Playboy in 1987. Heller referred to it as a lost chapter of Catch-22: it describes the main character Yossarian’s training at Lowry Field Air Force base in Denver, Colorado. Catch 22 fans who would like to read this story, can catch it in Heller’s Catch as Catch Can (Collected Stories and Other Writings).
9. Roald Dahl
Described by some as the most successful children’s writer in the world, Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990) wrote 17 wonderfully wicked children’s books, including: James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
His only non-children’s novel, My Uncle Oswald, was based on a story he wrote for Playboy called The Visitor. In the book, he describes the main character Oswald as “the greatest fornicator of all time” (roalddahl.com). Another short story, A Fine Son (1959), was Dahl’s first original story for Playboy.
8. Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming not only created the influential and iconic character James Bond, but he also wrote one of my favorite children’s stories Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
James Bond is a perfect example of the quintessential Playboy reader, the “urban male” Hugh Hefner had in mind. Wearing a smoking jacket and holding a martini, there also seems to be many similarities between James Bond and Hugh Hefner.
If you’ve only watched the movies, I highly recommend the books. I hold them in such high esteem, I am ranking him above Heller and Dahl. My favorite (and, incidentally, Fleming’s least favorite) is The Spy Who Loved Me. I’m still hoping that a proper film version of this book will be made one day.
According to John Cork, founding member of the Ian Fleming Foundation, “by 1960 Ian Fleming, James Bond, and Playboy magazine became a nearly synonymous cultural force, truly united with Playboy‘s publication of [Fleming's story] The Hildebrand Rarity. The union of styles and tastes continued beyond Fleming’s death into the mid-1960′s” (klast.net).
Fleming’s 11th book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was published simultaneously as a hardcover in Britain and in Playboy in April 1963 (installments appeared in Playboy over 3 months from April to June) (news.scotsman.com, wikipedia.com).
7. Gabriel García Márquez
A writer and journalist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered a masterpiece of literature. He also written Love in the Time of Cholera, as well as 3 other novels, several novellas, collections of short stories, and numerous works of non-fiction.
Colombian-born (1927) Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982 because of the “unlimited, ingenious vitality” of his work.
Marquez’ short story The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World is about a very handsome corpse that washes up onto shore and enchants an entire village. It was published in Playboy in 1971.
6. Margaret Atwood
My favorite Atwood work is her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (published in 1985, made into a movie in 1990). I’m still working my way through the forty plus works of fiction she has had published.
Atwood has had several stories published in Playboy, at least these three: The Bog Man (1991), The Bad News (2006), and The Age of the Bottleneck (2008) (philsp.com). The Bog Man is about the discovery of a 2,000 year old man during a trip that “a naive Canadian student in love with her married archeology professor endures in order to be with her lover” (nytimes.com).
5. Haruki Murakami
Born in 1949 and Japan’s most popular author today, Haruki Murakami has been called one of the “world’s greatest living novelists” (The Guardian). If you are fan of detective lit, you should read his Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. If you love short stories, I would recommend Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
If this was a top 10 list of authors who have the best story titles, he would be ranked near the top with Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams, J.D. Salinger, and Robert A. Heinlein. Just a few examples of Murakami’s other titles: The Kangaroo Communique, Sputnik Sweetheart, Dance Dance Dance, and Super-Frog Saves Tokyo.
His short story The Second Bakery Attack was first published in Playboy in 1992. It was later published in a collection of his short stories called The Elephant Vanishes:
We got into my old Corolla and started drifting around the streets of Tokyo at 2:30 a.m., looking for a bakery. There we were, me clutching the steering wheel, she in the navigator’s seat, the two of us scanning the street like hungry eagles in search of prey. Stretched out on the backseat, long and stiff as a dead fish, was a Remington automatic shotgun. Its shells rustled dryly in the pocket of my wife’s windbreaker. We had two black ski masks in the glove compartment. Why my wife owned a shotgun, I had no idea. Or ski masks. Neither of us had ever skied. But she didn’t explain and I didn’t ask. Married life is weird, I felt.
4. Norman Mailer
An American writer (among other things- film director, biographer, political activist), Norman Mailer was born in New Jersey in 1923 and died in a hospital in Manhattan in 2007. During his lifetime he wrote a dozen novels, married 6 times, had 9 children, and even ran for Mayor of New York City. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer’s most famous and best-selling novel The Naked and The Dead was published in 1948.
“No career in [American] literature has been at once so brilliant, varied, controversial, public, prolific and misunderstood” (“A Brief History of Norman Mailer, J. Michael Lennon, pbs.org).
Mailer’s story Trial of the Warlock appeared in the December 1976 issue of Playboy, the same issue contained an interview with O.J. Simpson about his movie stardom and a profile of David Bowie (vintageplayboymags.co.uk).
3. Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s writing spans several genres, including: science fiction, mystery, fantasy, and horror. His most famous work is the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (published in 1953 and also a terrific 1966 film). As a little girl, his Martian Chronicles (1950) turned me on to science fiction. To be honest, TV’s hunky Gil Gerard, who played Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (s-w-o-o-o-o-o-n), probably got me in the library’s doors – but Ray Bradbury kept me there. As an adult, his weird and wonderful Death is a Lonely Business is one of my all-time favorite books. I have read it more times than I’ve read The Big Sleep and Jane Eyre combined and that is saying a lot. If a combination of the movie Sunset Boulevard and the movie (better yet, Michael Chabon’s book) The Wonder Boys sounds good to you, then you should read Death is a Lonely Business.
In 1954, Playboy published a serialized version of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury’s first original story for Playboy, The First Night of Lent, appeared in 1956 when the magazine was only three years old (http://www.bradburymedia.co.uk). At first, Playboy could only afford to reprint stories, so Ray Bradbury may have been one of the first writers that they picked once they had the budget for new material.
2. Jack Kerouac
Canadian-American novelist Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) is best known for his book On The Road, a “stream-of-consciousness tale of jazz, sex, and fast, aimless driving on an open road” (npr.org). One of the founding daddy-o’s of the Beat Generation (in excellent company, with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs), Jack Kerouac actually invented the term (he also came up with the name of Burroughs’ most famous novel, The Naked Lunch).
He was a reluctant overnight success when On the Road was eventually published in 1957 (several years after he wrote it). He did not want to play the role of counter-culture beat icon that everyone seemed to expect (beatmuseum.org). One of my very favorite writers – reading On The Road was a life changing experience for me. Sadly, just when he was inspiring young adults to hit the road with a backpack, Kerouac was in fact on the road to a life as a reclusive alcoholic- living with his mom.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”
Playboy published a short story prequel to Kerouac’s most famous novel, called Before the Road in 1959. Another short story, Good Blonde, appeared in 1965- four years before he passed away from complications related to his heavy drinking.
1. Kurt Vonnegut
Like many other writers on this list – Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007) is considered to be an important and influential writer- “considered one of the most influential American novelists of the twentieth century” (biography.com). Of course, in my opinion, he is the best of the best (thus, the #1 position). All of his work is fantastic: his most famous book is Slaughterhouse 5, my personal favorites are Dead-Eye Dick, Breakfast of Champions, and Mother Night.
In 2008, Playboy published an excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect, the first collection of Vonnegut’s work to be published after his death. Playboy published several interviews with Vonnegut over the years as well, from as early as 1973.
James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Chuck Palahniuk, James Jones, Michael Crichton, P.G. Wodehouse, Arthur C Clarke, John Irving, Doris Lessing and many other great writers have been published in Playboy. You can check out some of the writers listed in this article and their stories in two anthologies: Playboy Stories: The Best of Forty Years of Short Fiction and the Playboy Book of Science Fiction (both edited by Alice K. Turner).