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Tuesday November 2, 2010
By KEE HUA CHEE
The only Playboy Club in Asia is set to open on Nov 20 in Macao.
SOME men may well have fantasised about being buddies with Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, and getting the gilded key to the Playboy Club, once the world’s most prestigious and exciting bar, supper club, nightclub and entertainment centre rolled into one. To have been served by a Playboy Bunny, perennially smiling, good-natured, accommodating and generally blonde must have been a dream of all worthy, red-blooded men.
How times have changed. Playboy magazine’s success and the industry it spawned as well as competition from other sources have resulted in a precipitous plunge in the club’s prestige, pride and profit.
Today, 20-somethings have a vague inkling of Playboy magazine or most likely are clueless as the Internet has taken care of all earthly desires. As founder Hefner is all of 84 and on his last legs, he is also not the best walking advertisement for his products – not that walking is an activity associated with the brand.
There was a time when (in the foggy mists of the 1970s and 80s) a man could die happy the next morning should he be invited to one of Hefner’s legendary parties at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. This was home to at least half a dozen long-staying Playboy Bunnies who could guarantee a good time 24/7, at least to the house owner and select guests. A copy of Playboy “accidentally” dropped from your Samsonite briefcase was proof that you were not only a raging hetero but also possessed good taste as the magazine featured – apart from the Playmate of the Month – remarkably well-researched articles and literature by notable writers.
After being denied a US$5 raise at Esquire magazine, Hefner mortgaged everything he owned, including his furniture, to produce Playboy in December 1953. The first issue featured Marilyn Monroe from her 1949 nude calendar. It was a sensational success and sold 53,991 copies at 50 cents each.
Hefner wanted to name his bachelor magazine “Stag Party” but an unrelated, outdoor magazine called Stag threatened a lawsuit. Few know it was not Hefner but co-founder Eldon Sellers who suggested “Playboy” as his mother had worked for Playboy Automobile Company! The world-famous logo of a stylised rabbit with a tuxedo bow was originally intended as an endnote but ended up as the logo since Hefner liked the “humorous sexual connotation” of breeding like rabbits and the creature’s “frisky and playful” image.
He was not just synonymous with glorifying the joys of a hetero bachelorhood. In 1955, Hefner shook the establishment by publishing “The Crooked Man” in Playboy. This science fiction short story by Charles Beaumont was about straight men being persecuted in a homosexual-dominated world!
The 1970s were Playboy’s heyday. Its best-selling edition was the November 1972 edition which sold 7,161,561 copies – and one in four college undergrads bought Playboy. At its peak, Playboy Enterprise covered almost every category from casino to publishing to cuff links. It was worth US$1bil in 2000, a figure that collapsed to US$85mil by 2009 though its publishing arm was on sale for US$300mil.
Hefner’s daughter Christie became CEO in 1988 and stepped down this year. Playboy now has 10 issues per year as it battles to stay au courant and relevant to the 18-to-35 age group, wary of being seen reading their dad’s magazine.
The first Playboy Club opened in 1960 in Hefner’s hometown of Chicago and the last on American soil in Lansing, Michigan, which closed in 1988. Playboy Club Manila teetered until 1991 at Silahis Hotel.
At its peak, the Chicago club received 132,000 visitors in the last three months of 1961, making it the world’s busiest nightclub. In 1981, the Playboy Club’s London casino was the world’s most profitable but shuddered to a halt soon after when its licence was not renewed.
Apart from Bunnies, Playboy Clubs actually boasted a roll-call of famous entertainers, among them Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Hope, Jay Leno, Peggy Lee, Ann Margret, Steve Martin, Bette Midler and Ginger Rogers.
The recently opened Playboy Club at The Palms Casino Resort Las Vegas is the only Playboy Club in the world ... but not for long. On Nov 20, Playboy Club Macao will open at the Sands Macao Hotel (the first Las Vegas-style casino hotel in Macao when it started business in 2004).
Its 12,000sqft Playboy Club is designed to be the last word in luxury (some say it is also Playboy’s last chance at renewing its fortune) and will command spectacular views from its penthouse location, both indoors, outdoors and from its Bunnies. The club will flaunt private gaming areas, opulent lounges, high-tech media rooms, live entertainment, luxurious Playboy-type décor, costly artwork and “unique VIP arrival experience tailored for Asian customers” – whatever that means.
Investors are so convinced Playboy Club will be such a glorious success that it is now building the 30,000sqft Playboy Mansion which will open in 2012! This year, after all, is the 50th anniversary of Playboy Club since the first one opened at 116E Walton in downtown Chicago and corks should be flying.
On Oct 15, 15 shortlisted Playboy Club Bunnies from various countries, including Macau and Hong Kong, joined seasoned Las Vegas Playboy Club Bunny Denise Pernula at the first Bunny Hunt at Sands Macao. The event marked the start of the recruitment drive for the entertainment industry’s most coveted, glamorous and best-paid jobs. Winners will get to welcome VIP guests on opening night and thereafter pander to the whims of Playboy Club members and high-rollers.
The 15 finalists walked the walk and talked the talk, preening, posing and pirouetting prettily as they chatted with select guests, premium players, members of the media and judges. The judging panel included Playboy officials, Macao celebrities and experienced Playboy Club Bunnies from Palms Las Vegas.
At the rate they are going after the Chinese market, perhaps Playboy should be Playman(darin)!
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