I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying a little light reading of Playboy magazine was one of my formative sexual experiences. My Dad had a pile on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in his basement office. He said the subscription was a "gift." Must have been from a pretty generous friend – the issues just kept on coming, through many years of my late childhood/early adolescence!
I learned a lot from the magazine and in fact I should probably thank my Dad because beyond the stash of Playboy he was pretty much mum on matters sexual. In other words, I definitely wasn’t reading the articles. Instead I checked out the photo spreads and also poured over the handwritten profiles by the centerfolds, whose pursuits seemed as glamorous and foreign as the illustrations of sleek interiors and ads for high-end stereo equipment.
But I especially liked the drawings and cartoons, whose humor was well suited to young readers - juvenile and very broad in taste. To my eyes Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny and Leroy Neiman’s Femlins looked like more explicit, if slightly less sophisticated variations on the anarchic graphics in Mad Magazine. The latter are almost kissing cousins to Sergio Aragonés Spy vs. Spy, Mad Marginals and Drawn-out Dramas. And the two artists also apparently shared a love for Dali-style moustaches!
LeRoy Neiman, who died this week, was of course discovered by Hugh Hefner in Chicago, after studying and teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and working as a freelance illustrator. It was thanks to Hefner that Neiman got to travel the world, capturing the glamour and action of the jet setting scene, including sports figures and other celebrities.
Neiman went on to great fame and fortune, but as a pop figure, not a critical darling. Both his style, which involved quick sketches of people in motion, and his aesthetic, which favored surfaces over substance, blend seamlessly with the profile of the corporate artist. But through the mid 1970s Neiman moved in a world of celebrities that was largely surface – or at least inaccessible - to most folks. Bruce Jenner is now known as kind of a bumbling sidekick on a reality TV show. But in 1976, when Neiman drew him, he was that rare figure: an American decathlete, draped in gold. Neiman’s images, as tossed off as they are, still retain a hint of that remote star power.
Beyond athletes, Neiman drew a lot of jazz musicians, including Bird and Diz (1973), a sketch of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, which now belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago. According to this rather in-depth profile from Cigar Aficionado (fitting, since many seem to remember Neiman more for his lifestyle than his art), his first job with Playboy was illustrating a story about a jazz musician, an image that “won Playboy its first art prize from the Chicago Art Directors Club Show.”
That’s not the only reason I’ve got jazz on the brain – Jason Adasiewicz and his trio Sun Rooms are playing two nights at Chicago’s Green Mill, which even in these jaded days is a pretty glamorous and hard-to-get gig.
The rest of Weekender’s picks are below. Get out there, and enjoy!
Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 9 p.m.
The rising vibraphone star brings his jazz trio to the Mill!
4802 N. Broadway Ave.
Friday - Sunday
More than a half century on, the country star shows she's still got chops, in a three-night stand.
Oakbrook Terrace, IL
Click here to subscribe to the Weekender podcast.