The 10 Most Controversial Playb*y Covers of All Time

by 8 years ago

Today Playboy launched a new safe-for-work site: The new media venture comes at a business crossroads for the soft-core men’s lifestyle empire. After 39 years as a publicly traded company, Playboy’s iconic founder Hugh Hefner last week offered to buy back his company’s fledgling stock from shareholders and take the brand private again. Long-time rival Penthouse/FriendFinder upped the ante, offering to buy out Playboy at a price 13% higher than Hefner’s initial bid.


Meanwhile, across the pond, British tabloids are reporting that alleged Russian spy Anna Chapman will pose nekked in an upcoming issue. Yesterday was also the last day Arkansas jailer Jessie Lunderby, who was fired last month for posing in Playboy’s online Cyber Club, could file for an appeal to get her job back. Last month tempers flared when Playboy Portugal published its July issue with an image of Jesus holding a bare-breasted model. The cover was intended as an homage to the recently deceased writer and well-known atheist,  Jose Saramago. Yet, as the maxim goes, the highway to hell was paved with good intent. In lieu of the uproar, Playboy called the photo shoot “a breach of our standards” and opted to terminate the Portugal edition.


All of these separate, unrelated story lines are crocheted together with a common thread: Playboy is a brand with few qualms about stirring up the pot and ruffling feathers. Now, then, is as good of a time as ever to take a look at the 11 most controversial Playboy covers of all time. Check them all out after the jump.



July 2010

Last month churches around the world directed their wrath at Playboy Portugal for a controversial homage to the late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, the country’s only Nobel laureate. The company licensed to produce Playboy in Portugal decided to pay tribute to the atheist author of “O Evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo” (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) with a pictorial of three nekked models next to caricatures of Jesus Christ. After taking heat in the press, Playboy halted its licensing agreement with the company in charge of Playboy Portugal.



May 1980

Playboy first joined the mile-high club with flight attendant Ester Cordet. The Panamanian model was crowned Miss October in 1974. Her appearance in Playboy caused a stir with her employer, the now-defunct Pacific Southwest Airlines. According to reports, Cordet was relieved of her duties shortly after her debut.


Six years later, Cordet’s saga basically repeated itself when model Martha Elizabeth Thomsen posed for Playboy’s May 1980 issue in a sexy stewardess uniform. Delta stewardess Linda Jo Lehner and TWA stewardess Nancy Nachtigal were suspended by their airlines for also appearing in the spread.


[via The Bulletin, April 24, 1980]



August 1989

In it’s 57-year history, Playboy has only experimented with a “Women of Wall Street” feature twice: Twenty years ago in its August 1989 issue and most recently in October 2008, just a month after the housing bubble went kaput and the market free-fell into a frenzied, out-of-control tailspin. Brandi Brandt, the ex-wife of Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, appeared on the cover of Playboy’s maiden “Women of Wall Street” issue clutching a Wall Street Journal and a briefcase. Just like Gordon Gekko a few years earlier, the issue tapped into the public’s raw fascination with Wall Street’s hedonistic image of excess in the late ’80s.  


H.R. departments, however, were not humored. The real controversy surrounding “Women of Wall Street” unfolded in the financial service offices where the women who lent their assets to the pictorial were employed. Shortly after the issue hit newsstands, Time Magazine caught up with Playboy’s Wall Street ladies. The magazine discovered that seven of the nine workers featured in the cover story left their jobs. One of the three brokers in the issue went back to school. Things really didn’t work out so well for Robin Mormelo, an administrative assistant and mother of two from New Jersey. She told the USA Today: “I want to be a centerfold and make a lot of money” (a blurb in the USA Today notes Playboy centerfolds were paid $15,000 at the time). A few months later, Mormelo was denied raises by her firm and quit, reports Time.



September 1979


Playboy’s first coed college pictorial was a “Girls of the Big Ten” feature in 1977. Two years later, the magazine went to each campus in the Ivy League for a 30-photo “Women of the Ivies” spread. Needless to say, it didn’t sit well with campus feminists groups and administrations. According to a syndicated New York Times article, one feminist at Princeton was even quoted saying, “I don’t think Playboy should exist at all… I don’t think it should have been able to advertise to interview women for their pictorial, because their profits are built on the exploitation of women.”


The feature especially ticked-off Ellen Goodman, the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning col
nist whose laurels include c*m laude at Radcliffe College and a Shorenstein Fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Goodman scolded the coeds from elite, top-tier universities in her nationally syndicated column, bad-mouthing the girls for showing their birthday suits in Playboy. She wrote, “In the real world women who pose for Playboy do not grow up to work for the State Department or to be tenured professors. In the real world women seen nationally in beige satin undies are not taken seriously.”


In an interesting twist of fate, Goodman’s rant about a few semi-nekked pics jeopardizing Ivy League career prospects couldn’t have been more wrong. In 1995, The Yale Herald caught up with two women who represented Yale in the original 1979 issue. The reporter discovered that one model, Wendy Brewer, was now the vice president of a major international bank. Another continued on to Harvard Medical School after graduation. 


[via the Lakeland Ledger, August 16, 1979]



March 2006


Jessica Alba caused a hubbub in 2006 after being voted the sexiest star of the year in an online Playboy poll. A letter posted on the Smoking Gun alleged Playboy’s magazine staff used “outrageous, unethical behavior” to obtain the cover photograph of Jessica Alba without her consent. Alba blasted the magazine in a statement, claiming “Playboy has violated my personal rights and blatantly misled the public who might think I had given them permission to put me on their cover when I didn’t.”


The dispute was another legal and PR headache for Hugh Hefner. Although the magazine was already on newsstands, her legal team at Columbia Pictures demanded Playboy immediately cease distribution of the magazine and offer a “monetary settlement” for hinting she might be nekked in the issue (she wasn’t), reports People magazine. Her lawyers claimed that Playboy received the photo “fraudulently” from Sony Pictures. According to The Brand, the rift between Alba and Playboy was patched a month later when she received a personal written apology from Hugh Hefner, and a financial donation to two of her favorite charities.


August 1994

New York City police officer Carol Shaya was caught in the flashing lights of an NYPD conduct controversy and media frenzy after appearing on the cover of the August 1994 issue of Playboy. Her arresting pictorial, dubiously titled “NYPD Nude: One of New York’s Finest Steps Out of Uniform,” brought to life many a citizen’s naughty cop fantasy. Her superiors in City Hall, however, were far from captivated by the 24 year old’s nudie layout with handcuffs and a nightstick, which earned Shaya a cool $100,000. After only three years in the force, Shaya was reassigned from her beat in the Bronx to a desk job shortly before the issue hit newsstands. Eventually, a misconduct case was opened for misuse of her uniform and the police department logo. According to the New York Times, she was stripped of her badge a few months later. In a statement, Police Commissioner William Bratton wrote, “The reputation of the New York City Police Department is not for sale, and there is no room in our organization for anyone who would attempt to do so.”


The now-ex-cop grabbed headlines two years later with a $10,000,000 law suit against the NYPD on the grounds of discrimination. Shaya’s suit was overturned, as was her appeal to be reinstated to the police department. In 2004, the New York Times followed up with the cop-turned-cover model, discovering she was working as a real estate agent in Queens.


Shaya’s saga wasn’t the first time a cop was in the hot seat for posing in Playboy. Twelve years earlier, Barbara Schantz, a police officer in Springfield, Ohio, caught national attention for posing nekked in the May 1982 issue of Playboy. She was suspended without pay and ordeal was adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1983


[via The Milwaukee Journal, March 7, 1995]



April 2006


In April 2006, Playboy moved into stormy, uncharted international waters by licensing and launching an edition in Indonesia. Unfortunately, just like an edition in Turkey in the mid-1990s, Playboy’s progressive attitude on sexuality and characteristic photos of scantly clad women were a dud. Although the April 2006 issue included no nud*ty, Playboy’s expansion into the Pacific Rim was protested and scorned by the country’s Muslim majority. Despite only featuring photos that looked like bra ads for J.C. Pennys, threats of violence forced the magazine to move its office to nearby Bali. According to the Times, two models appearing in the issue, Andhara Early and Kartika Gunawan, were questioned by police. The Playboy Indonesia’s editor-in-chief was charged by local officials for “violating the indecency provisions of the criminal code,” reports the Times. After 11 total issues between 2006 to 2008, Playboy Indonesia was phased out.


November 1980

Just a few days before Ronald Regan was elected in the 1980 Presidential election, Playboy celebrated the nation’s patriotic fervor with a special 10-page “Women of the U.S. Government” issue. The issue raised eyebrows both inside and outside of the Beltway, including those of syndicated Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald. The late columnist was especially weary of the magazine’s political motives and that “the rest of the country might get the impression that all Washington women look like the
women.” All kidding aside, two D.C.-based Naval enlistees were court martial-ed for posing in the spread. A Navy spokesperson condoned the actions of Yeoman Darlene and Aubrey Rein, who both posed semi-nekked in the issue, saying “The Navy considers it inappropriate for its personnel to pose in the nekked or semi-nekked.” Both women were honorably discharged from the service.



December 2008

In late 2008, the editorial staff at Playboy Mexico received a lump of coal and public criticism for Christmas after publishing a December issue with model Maria Florencia Onori looking awfully similar to depictions of the Virgin Mary. According to the New York Daily News, Playboy apologized for the controversial photo, which was captioned by the words “We Love You, Maria” in Spanish. The issue landed on newsstands just days before Mexico’s annual Virgin of Guadalupe festival in early December. 

November 1975

In the early ’70s, Playboy was feeling pressure from Bob Guccione’s Penthouse magazine and Hustler, Larry Flynt’s adult entertainmentographic spank rag that launched just a year earlier in July 1974. Hustler and Penthouse were quickly creeping on Playboy’s dominant market-share of male readership for “one-handed magazines,” to quote a term coined by Tom Wolfe. By November 1975, all three competitors were actively engaged in an editorial “Pubic War” that pushed the limits of how much pubic hair could be displayed on the cover models of each respectable magazine. 


Playboy’s November 1975 cover with Patricia Margot Mcclain visibly touching her genitalia was the high water mark of Playboy’s engagement in the so-called “Pubic Wars.” It’s arguably the most risque photo every published on a Playboy cover. At the risk of losing readers, advertising dollars, and taking on the character of a smut magazine, Hefner committed to keeping Playboy a classy publication shortly after the November issue went to press. 

[via Ottawa Citizen, Dec 9, 1975]

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