17 May 2011
The Real Playboy: Victor Lownes
NBC announced yesterday a Mad Men like series this coming Fall called, The Playboy Club. Maybe it'll work. In the interview below actor Eddie Cibrian (Nick Dalton) tells us the series is about the Chicago Playboy Club, "...where life is magic. Where anyone can be anything they want to be."
Hugh Hefner was a great magazine editor but not so great in business. Little known, but far more interesting than Hef is a business man and the real Playboy behind Playboy, Victor Lownes. A marketing genius, Lownes loved telling friends the Playboy Club was for loser salesmen from Ohio.
Russell Miller's 1984, Bunny - 'The Real Story of Playboy' is the only book I've found which exposes Lownes and his critical involvement in the company. In short, Lownes is the erudite sophisticate while Hefner is the Midwest rube swilling Pepsi and eating fried chicken and ham sandwiches prepared by gourmet chefs. While reading the book I couldn't help but picture Hefner as Jethro Bodine working on a math problem.
Marilyn Cole 1972
Lownes was with Playboy 26 years before he was fired by Hefner (rare Lownes interview here). Most agree he was canned because centerfold Marilyn Cole preferred his company over Hef's. They married and are still together today. Once Lownes was out; Playboy took a dive. Lownes knew the casinos and clubs were subsiding the magazine. It's not clear whether Hefner knew or, I'm guessing, he would never have let Lownes go.
Victor Lownes 2010 (from Spitalfields Life)
Before being fired Lownes was called to Chicago from London to fix dropping club visitation. Standing in his office overlooking the Drake Hotel, Lownes looked down to the street and saw a commotion of reporters and TV news cameras covering the arrival of a VIP at the hotel. Lownes ran through the Playboy offices collecting women, put them in Bunny costumes and made protest signs, "HEF UNFAIR!" "BUNNYS DATE CUSTOMERS!" "WE WANT TO DATE!"
The Bunnys "picketed" in front of the Playboy building and without much persuasion the press at the Drake turned around and saw their news story. Playboy Bunnys protesting the unfair, "No dating customers" policy of the Playboy clubs. The demonstration hits the six o'clock news and Hefner makes a statement that night allowing Bunnys to date customers. Just in time for the 11 o'clock news. Club visitation soars. Sounds like something Don Draper would do.
And now for something painfully honest...