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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Star Wars Car Wash


S sent me this picture which we just had to share.  Star Wars "Jabba the Hut slave girls guarded by a stromtrooper" car wash is genius! 

More of these instead of the grumpy looking Poles in plastic leather jackets or the dodgy looking Somalis we usually get around here would be worth quite a lot of extra money.  We'd need better weather though...

Christmas trees in October? No!

Just wrong!



Triple P was in the Tapas Bar again on Friday and was appalled to see a Christmas tree on the bar!  This is wrong!  It's not even Halloween yet, let alone bonfire night. No one wants to see a Christmas tree at this time of the year.  Christmas is still a sixth of the year away!   


Put it away for another month!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Playboy Club recreated for Mad Men

Lane Price (Jared Harris) admires a bunny


After yesterday's post about a proposed new Playboy Club for London my particular friend S has contacted me to say that Triple P's favourite TV programme, Mad Men, has featured a recreated version of the Manhattan Playboy Club. 

Mad Men's recreation of the New York Playboy Club


In the tenth episode of season four Lane Price takes his father and Don Draper there.  We haven't seen the episode in question; season four is on TV here at present but we will, as usual, wait for the DVDs.


Lane Price chats to a bunny played by Naturi Naughton.  Note the Playboy club lamp


Although the principal bunnies were played by actresses there were five real Playmates decorating the set in authentic period bunny costumes.


Mad Men stars Jared Harris and Jon Hamm on the Playboy Club set for Mad Men with Playmates (l to r): Heather Rene Smith (February 2007), Pilar Lastra (Augist 2004), Jennifer Pershing, (March 2009), Jaime Faith Edmondson, (January 2010), Stacey Marie Fuson, (February 1999)  


The award winning Mad Men production design team took their usual attention to detail on the set which recreated the distinctive Playboy lamps and they even had vintage Playboy matchbooks on the tables. 


Playboy Club lamps very much in evidence


What they couldn't do on the budget was recreate the famous spiral staircase and the size and split-level feeling of the place but it still looks like a very good effort indeed.


 
Opening of the Playboy Club New York December 8th 1962


 
The real New York club, staffed by 140 bunnies, opened in December 1962 at 5 East 59th Street, just a block from Madison Avenue (so a visit by the Mad Men team was always a possibility) and was the fifth Playboy Club to open (after a year of delays).  It closed in 1986.


Eight steps to heaven...or maybe the other place


Eight steps down from the lobby was the  Playmate Bar complete with backlit pictures of Playboy centrefolds. 


The Playmate Bar


One floor up was the "Living Room" complete with raised piano bar perched on a champagne coupe shaped glass pedestal.  It was this area that contained the famous $1.50 a time buffet. 


The Living Room


There was also  a Playboy gift shop where you could buy everything from Playmate Perfume (!) to cocktail glasses.  You couldn't buy a Bunny Girl, of course.  Well, not initially.  There was a strict no dating the club members policy initially although this was relaxed in the 1970s, partly due to pressure from the London Club where many of the Bunnies were being bought expensive gifts by Arab members in exchange for...


The Playboy gift bunny at the New York club


The next floor contained the VIP room, which only sat 50 people, where reservation at least two days in advance was required; no just turning up like the rest of the club. 


The VIP room in the New York Playboy Club


No buffet here but butlers and bilingual bunnies to wait at table "in a continental manner".   This restaurant was the only exception to the $1.50 for everything rule.  A meal here could set you back $12.50.


Showtime at the Playroom


The top two floors of the five floor club contained The Playroom and the Penthouse respectively which also served food and provided shows: largely comedians and singers.

The Penthouse

The Penthouse had a large mural depicting the Manhattan skyline.  Filet Mignon seemed to be the speciality of the restaurant.  In fact beef seemed to be a big staple of the all the Playboy restaurants.  That, and Chicken Kiev (alright, you got trout on Fridays) in what was an astonishingly limited menu.  After midnight you could get scrambled eggs and ham. We don't think that you went to a Playboy club for the dining experience.  But then what do you expect from a man who seems to live entirely on fried chicken and Pepsi. 


Nice tail!

It will be interesting to see how many of the original features (other than the bunnies) of the Playboy Clubs survive into the new ones planned for next year.  Retro-style is back in at present (Mad Men itself has had a significant effect on this) and updating, whilst keeping key features of the past,  is possible (the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach being a good example) so let's hope they don't ditch the Playboy Club heritage completely.  S has been to the Playboy Club at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and she says it is very well done so here is hoping.



Will they still feature photographs of centrefolds?  Latterly the Playboy brand has been rather ashamed of this aspect of itself.   The Playboy store in Oxford Street didn't have a naked girl in the whole shop.   The food will have to be a lot more varied, certainly in London which is an immensely foodie place these days. We suspect that the place will really be defined by the casino which will be the be all and end all of the place.  Casinos don't like people who visit and don't gamble, even if they do eat a lot of steak and drink expensive drinks.  We suspect that the club itself will operate like most gyms;  far more people will buy a membership than actually use it regularly.  The pricing will be interesting.  Will it be a membership club? 40,000 people bought membership in New York when the Manhattan club opened.  At the clubs height over a million members were paying $25 a year.  When the London Club opened it was a requirement for the gaming licence that it was a mebership club.  Will this still be the case? 


The lobby of the New York club


Sadly,  we suspect it will be just another nightclub designed for twenty somethings with thump thump thump music that makes conversation impossible. Nevertheless, Agent Triple P will track any developments with interest.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Playboy Club for London


Well, this news has perked up Agent Triple P on what has been a rather dreary post-trip week.  Hugh Hefner has announced that Playboy will be opening a series of clubs around the world next year including one in London.

The London Playboy Club at 45 Park Lane


The London Playboy club, of which Triple P's father was a charter member, opened in 1966 and. at the time was the most opulent of them all.

The Gaslight Club in Playboy November 1956

Hugh Hefner got the idea for the Playboy Club when he ran an article about the Chicago Gaslight Club in the November 1956 issue of Playboy.  The idea of key clubs, where members literally had to be in posession of a key to let themselves into the club (something that originated in the era of prohibition) wasn't peculiar to the Gaslight, or even Chicago but Playboy's article, which dwelt on the food, drinks, waitresses and exclusivity made it look like a very desirable concept indeed.  So desirable, that Playboy received over 3,000 letters asking how they could join the club.  Given that the then membership was around 3,800 Hefner realised that he was on to something.  This wasn't a quick, impulse decision, however; the first Playboy club didn't open until February 1960.

Bunnies on the stairs of the London Club

Eschewing the 1890's atmosphere of the Gaslight Hefner wanted something as contemporary as his magazine.  Just like the Gaslight, however, beautiful waitresses were a key to the concept.  Initially Hefner wanted his girls to be dressed in baby-doll nighties.  It was Victor Lownes who pointed out the impracticality of this and came up with the prototype bunny costume (which his mother ran up on her sewing machine). 


Bunnies on the phone in London 1966

Hefner marketed the club by direct mail shots to potential customers.  A long questionnaire had to be satisfactorily completed before membership was approved.  Hefner himself admitted that the membership and the readership of the magazine only overlapped to the tune of 15% to 20% with the club members being an average ten years older and earning twice as much as the average reader of the magazine.  Food was a key part of the package that Hefner created with a one price per drink and food item although the range was rather limited and wasn't exactly haute cuisine, even by the standards of the day.


"Is there anything here you fancy, sir?" 
"I'm tempted to say yes immediately but maybe I should look at the menu first."
A customer attempts to concentrate on the London club menu

The real attraction, of course, were the bunnies.  An advertisement in the Chicago Tribune on January 4th 1960 called for "the most beautiful girls in Chicagoland...To serve our exclusive clientele and decorate the club we are looking for  thirty single girls between 18 and 25.  Experience is not necessary.  Just be beautiful, charming and refined."  Earnings of $250 a week were promised. 


Bunnies discuss the menu in London


It was Victor Lownes who thought that Playboy should take its clubs to Europe. Arriving in the middle of Swinging London at the end of 1963 he also discovered that not only was London where it was happening but, with the passing of the Betting and Gaming Act in 1960, Casinos were spreading like wildfire. Lownes realised that these were making huge amounts of money in London and so thought up the idea of making the London club a casino as well, something that previous Playboy clubs in the US hadn't even contemplated.

The London Playboy Club

A new, Walter Gropius designed, seven storey building came onto the market at the junction of Park Lane and Curzon street right between the Hilton and the Dorchester.  Lownes acquired the lease for 83 years at a cost of £80,000  a year. 


The first six british Bunnies.  The pneumatic Miss Read is on the far left.  The others are Doreen Allen, Kathleen Bascombe, Joan Findlay, Catherine MacDonald and Magie Adam

Lownes decided he needed to recruit the first British bunnies personally (often the interviews were very personal) and in the autumn of 1965 the first six girls recruited were flown, with great publicity to Chicago for training, where they were met by bunnies from the Chicago club holding placards saying "welcome bunnies from Britain" 

Off to the Windy City in 1965
 
 
An enthusiastic welcome in Chicago with Dolly in the lead

One of these was a pneumatic former beauty queen and actress who had held the most appropriate title of "Miss Bristol Teenager"; Dolly Read.  During her training session in Chicago she was spotted by staff photographer Pompeo Posar as potential Playmate material.  Two reasons we should imagine.


Dolly tests the engineering on her bunny costume.  No chocolate for you, dear

She would later become the Playboy Playmate of the month for May 1966. Dolly would later settle in America and would win the lead in the Russ Meyer film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls where she would display her 37-24-37 figure to good effect.  She eventually married comedian Dick Martin of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In fame (a programme we remember from our childhood with great affection)

Hefner arrives at Heathrow.  The striking bunny in the Union Flag costume is none other than Generation Game hostess and future Mrs Bruce Forsythe, Anthea Redfern

In June 1966 Hefner, on only his second visit to Europe, arrived to open the London club with a black tie party of 1,500 guests held on June 28th. Guests at the opening included Ringo Starr, Rudolf Nureyev, Ursula Andress and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Hefner in London

He had been greeted at Heathrow Airport by 32 bunnies waving American flags. An event which sparked a protest from the US ambassador who felt that the flag was being waved "in circumstances not befitting the dignity due to it".

Bunny auditions in London for some of the 95 places available


Twenty thousand members paid the five guinea subscription to join the London club in the first few months.  After a slow start the club cleared a $1 million profit in the first year.  By 1977, when the Arab invasion of London was in full swing, the London club was making £23,000,000 gross profit and, effectively, subsidising the rest of the organisation. 


The London Playboy Club Casino in 1969


However, a nasty feud developed between Ladbrokes and the Playboy Casino in London.  Ladbrokes had been accused of dirty tricks relating to their string of casinos in a (well researched) article in Private Eye.  lownes, attempting to seem whiter than white supported the removal of Ladbrokes gaming licence.  Ladbrokes retaliated by compiling a dossier on irregularities in the conduct of the Playboy Casino.  When Ladbrokes went down they took the Playboy London Casino with them.  Without the revenue from gaming the club was no longer viable and closed in 1981.

So, can a Playboy club work in London again?  We are somewhat sceptical.  Will the proposed two floor establishment in Mayfair live up to the glory days of the original?  Aimed, no doubt, at the Middle-Eastern, Asian and Russian market there are plenty of other casinos in London.  The lure of a bunny girl is not likely to be enough for most visitors when they can go to Stringfellows or Spearmint Rhino.  Even Hefner, years ago, admitted that the bunnies were a rather old fashioned concept. How will Playboy recruit Bunnies, given UK sex equality legislation?  We can't wait for the first man or hijab wearing Muslim girl to claim discrimination when turned down for a job there. At its best, it will be full of footballers, Russian oligarchs and Japanese businessmen serviced (so to speak) by droves of Eastern European bunnies.  Is the this the sort of place that Agent Triple P would want to be seen in?  There is only one way to find out...  Our cheque is in the post, Mr Hefner,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione (December 17, 1930 – October 20, 2010)



After a long battle with cancer Bob Guccione founder of Penthouse has died in Texas at the age of 79.  We have covered much of his early life and inspiration for creating Penthouse magazine in our series of posts on The Pubic Wars on our other site: Venus Observations.   Starting and finishing his career as a painter Guccione had a vision of a men's magazine for the common man in London in the mid 1960s to counter Playboy. 


The first issue of Penthouse: September 1965


Launching in London in 1965 on the back of a storm of (welcome) publicity and questions in parliament he eventually took his magazine to the US and a battle with Playboy in 1969.


Margueite Cordier by Bob Guccione

 


A talented photographer (as even Playboy had to admit) he took many of the photographs for Penthouse (initially because he couldn't afford to employ a photographer); especially in the first twenty years of the magazine.  Using his painter's eye for colour and composition he developed a soft-focus, impressionist approach to his photographs of naked women which enabled him to portray them in an increasingly explicit manner without, at least initially, crossing the boundaries of bad taste.  While The Pubic Wars with Playboy and, later, Hustler eventually led to the genitally focussed photographs that dominate pornography today initially he was trying to create an atmosphere of genuine sensuality and eroticism in his pictorials.  His greatest contribution to the photography of naked women being the idea that the model was being observed unawares rather than presenting herself to the viewer, a la Playboy.

 


Despite the sterling work of his third wife, Kathy Keeton, in building a good business foundation for the magazine a series of disastrous financial deals put paid to his Empire.  Penthouse, Guccione estimated, earned $4 billion over the years and his personal wealth amounted to over $400 million in the nineteen eighties.  The high watermark of the magazine was the September 1984 issue which featured (and brought down) the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams.  It sold 6 million copies and generated $14 million in revenue.  Incidentally, because that month's Pet of the Month, Traci Lords, turned out to be fifteen when her pictures were taken it is now almost impossible to buy a copy.  1984, however, perhaps appropriately, saw a huge change in the market for pornography with the increasing availability of cheap, pre-recorded video cassettes.  The advent of the internet, much of the compression technology  for which was driven by the porn industry, hit print magazines even further.

Guccione, wrongly, thought that the only way to compete was for the magazine to go hard-core in the mid nineties.  However, this limited the retail outlets the magazine was available from and when the company went bankrupt in 2003 the magazine was taken over in October 2004 and the hardcore content was removed.  Penthouse, unlike Playboy never made much revenue from advertising and the loss of retail outlets saw circulation drop by 33% from 1997 to 2001. Today it has a circulation of just 178,000 a month, down from its 1984 high of 6 million. 

Poorly performing investments, including a proposed casino in Atlantic City and huge amounts of money spent on fusion power research further eroded Guccione's fortune.  In the end he had to sell his 30 room new York City mansion for $49m to Wall Street financier Philip Falcone to pay his debts.  Oddly, although his 1979 film Caligula is often touted as a financial disaster it was actually the most successful independent film of all time.


Self portrait of the artist with Patricia Barrett in 1972


In decline since the death of Kathy Keeton in 1997 (he continued to list her on the masthead of the magazine until he lost control of it), Guccione spent his latter years painting once more.


Guccione and his last wife in 2008

Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Albert and the Tijuana brass



Here, from 1965, is one of the most recognisable LP covers of all time. It certainly helped push the sales of Herb Alpert's album to sales of over 6 million copies in the US alone.




Despite the name of the group, there was nothing Mexican about Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. Herbert Albert was born in Los Angeles of Russian and Romanian Jewish origins. He learned to play the trumpet at the age of eight and gradually developed a musical career involving both singing and songwriting. A visit to a bullfight in Tijuana in 1962 gave him the idea, having seen mariachi bands perform there, of trying to recreate something of the atmosphere of the occasion.




In his home studio, set up in his garage, he produced what was to become the first single of the fictional group Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; The Lonely Bull. Initially using Los Angeles session musicians by the time Whipped Cream... appeared as his fourth album the demand for live performances was such that he actually had to form a real band; none of whom were Mexican or even Latin, however. The year after Whipped Cream was released Albert had the never repeated feat of having five albums simultaneously on the Billboard pop albums chart.




Two of the many parodies of the cover


The much parodied cover, designed by maverick record cover designer Peter Whorf, features 28 year old model Dolores Erickson covered in what appears to be whipped cream but is actually shaving foam sprayed over a blanket (although it really is whipped cream on her head). She had to be cleverly photographed as she was three months pregnant at the time. Erickson was a friend of Alpert's and had been present in his garage studio when he recorded parts of the Lonely Bull album three years earlier.




Erickson appeared on a number of other record covers at the time; notably another sixties middle of the road classic and staple of the Agent Triple P lounge; Guantanamera by The Sandpipers. Erickson later went to art school and is now a painter living in Washington state.


Dolores today


The cover has been much imitated and when Albert did a remixed version of the album in 2006 it featured model Bree Condon dressed in far less "whipped cream" to far less effect.



Bree Condon in a "whipped cream" bikini


It's hard to credit now but the original cover was actually considered quite racy at the time.  Erickson remembers the cream slipping down her bust during the shoot and thinking that they would never be able to use the pictures.  People actually bought the album just for the cover and Alpert would tell audiences at concerts when playing tracks from the album "Sorry, we can't play the cover for you."


 An outatke from the photographic session


The fact is that Erickson looks magnificent in the pictures: pregnancy clearly agreeing with her and, as we can see from the black and white shot below, contributing to the most magnificent bust.




The album itself, loosely themed around tracks with titles relating to food, is not exactly a masterpiece but it does contain the classic A taste of honey.  It was perfect background music for Agent Triple P's pre-dinner drinks with his companion on the balcony of his hotel in Houston at the weekend.