The first-ever oral history of the influential entertainment empire launched by Playboy
For anyone interested in the good old days of jazz, rye old-fashioneds and life after dark, this book brings back the music, rough glamour and excitement of the Playboy clubs in all their exhilarating, ground-breaking glory. It's well-researched, breezily written, incredibly informative, and a lot of fun." —Rex Reed
Anyone who hears the word Playboy probably thinks immediately of a scantily clad co-ed reclining across the staples of one of the most successful magazines of all time. But Playboy is more than a magazine or even a corporate empire; since its start in Hugh Hefner’s apartment in 1953, it has become one of the world’s best-known brands and an entire lifestyle unto itself.
When Hefner opened the first Playboy Club in downtown Chicago
in 1960, he quite literally gave regular guys the key to participate in his own personal dream. The original Chicago club was quickly followed by venues in Miami, New Orleans, and New York, and eventually all over the United States and the world. And right from the start, world-class entertainment was as much a part of his groundbreaking formula for success as pretty girls or sirloin steaks.
Each club was designed as a veritable showbiz multiplex, including a variety of bars and dining rooms as well as several stages on which veterans and up-and-coming entertainers performed. Although Hefner was primarily a jazz fan, the range of acts presented in the club was, by any standards, amazingly diverse. There were all manner of singers, from traditional headliners like Tony Bennett and world-class superstars like Liza Minnelli. Diahann Carroll and Ann-Margaret to nascent pop and rock stars including Sonny & Cher and Ike and Tina Turner. Jazz artists and instrumental superstars abounded as well. And the comedians... was there anyone who didn’t play the Clubs?
At the height of their popularity in the mid 1960s and early 1970s, the Playboy Clubs were, collectively, the largest employers of talent in the United States. As such, they exerted a powerful influence on the culture—and on politics, too. As the pioneering African-American humorist Dick Gregory recalls, Hefner and his staff were not only colorblind in their hiring of talent, but used the clubs, no less than the magazine, as a means of furthering an agenda of civil rights and gender equality.
While many books have been written about the Playboy Empire, the Bunny experience, and the ultimate Playboy himself—Hugh Hefner—until now, no book has covered Playboy’s impact on popular entertainment and the fabulous cadre of performers who took to the stages of the mythic Playboy Clubs. Playboy on Stage
tells this story from myriad points of view, in the words of dozens of artists—musicians, singers, and comedians—as well as those involved behind the scenes.
The book begins as the magazine was born, moving through the 1959 jazz festival and on to the opening of club after club. Throughout its pages are unforgettable reminiscences, anecdotes, and commentary from:
Trini Lopez, Lily Tomlin, David Brenner, Jerry Van Dyke, Shecky Greene, Mitzi Gaynor, Steve Rossi, Ramsey Lewis
, Mimi Hines, Joan Rivers, Sonny Rollins
, Al Jarreau
, David Benoit
, Dick Gregory, Prof. Irwin Corey, Bobby Rydell, Rich Little, Lainie Kazan, Dick Capri and many, many others...
When three buddies in the late ‘50s decided, almost as a lark, to get into the night club business, little did they realize the empire they’d build—and in the process, the number of important artists they’d introduce to rapt audiences. Playboy on Stage
is an enduring, page-turning record of what it felt like under the spotlight, backstage, and in the audience at the world’s best-loved “key clubs.”
Patty Farmer is author of The Persian Room Presents: An Oral History of New York’s Most Magical Night Spots
(Vantage Press, 2012)