Often when I tell people that some of my research has focused on Playboy magazine and James Bond, the idea has a tendency to be treated with disbelief as an eyebrow-raising suggestion reminiscent of Roger Moore’s Bond. This is actually quite fitting in a way though because in the 1970s and 1980s Moore brought with him to the part an established screen persona of a rather too smooth playboy (having played stylish adventurer Simon Templar in the successful TV series The Saint from 1962 to 1969, and British gentleman and aristocrat Lord Brett Sinclair alongside Tony Curtis in the rather less successful series The Persuaders! in 1971), compared to the somewhat rougher edges of Sean Connery’s 1960s Bond. However, dressed up in a suit Connery’s Bond was no less appreciated as a stylish, sophisticated and sexually confident icon of masculinity. In fact I discuss in my forthcoming book that it’s actually Connery’s Bond who has been most idolised by Playboy. Not only was Connery interviewed for Playboy in November 1965, but his Bond is still held up for admiration by the magazine as the quintessential screen interpretation of the character. I draw parallels between Playboy’s admiration for Bond in the Connery era and the recent approach to Daniel Craig as Bond. Craig was also interviewed for the magazine in December 2008 and his performance as Bond is favoured by Playboy in part because it recalls Connery. The connections between Bond and Playboy had begun in March 1960 when the magazine published its first Bond story and reported that Fleming had pledged ‘“I’m sure James Bond, if he were an actual person, would be a registered reader of Playboy.”’
But I have digressed. For now let’s get back to the reason for that ironically raised eyebrow and my research project, which focused on the public relationship between Playboy magazine and James Bond in the wider context of the playboy lifestyle in popular culture. This obviously meant studying Playboy magazine for research purposes.
“I read it for the articles” is an old joke about Playboy magazine. But it’s certainly true in my case and for other researchers. Though there are nude pictorials to look at in relation to Bond, there are also essays, interviews, fiction, readers’ letters, and other sections in the magazine’s contents.
The joke about ‘reading’ Playboy magazine is something that the Bond films had also referenced. When I began researching Playboy in relationship to James Bond I already had at the forefront of my mind the magazine’s brief cameo appearance in the Gumbold office safecracking scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969). George Lazenby’s Bond finds the February 1969 Playboy issue hidden between the pages of a newspaper. Opening up the magazine to the centerfold, he ignores the articles and looks admiringly at the Playmate of the Month. When Bond leaves the office after successfully breaking into the safe with a gadget, he has kept the centerfold but discarded the rest of the magazine without reading it. (Incidentally, the other direct reference to Playboy that occurs in the Bond films is in Diamonds are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971), when Connery’s Bond is revealed to be a card carrying member of the Playboy Club and Casino.)
Unlike the screen Bond I wanted to do more than glance at Playboy, but in practice gaining access to the magazine turned out to be less than straightforward for me. As a UK-based researcher in the early 2000s one of the challenges when studying Playboy magazine was searching out old copies. Fortunately, the British Library was one of the select few libraries in Britain that held Playboy. However, it didn’t hold the complete run of the magazine from 1953 onwards. Some early issues of the magazine in particular were missing, though the library staff were always helpful trying to look for what I’d requested from the catalogue. To this day, the location information remains inscribed on my memory.
Anyone who has ever read Playboy will also recognise that like other magazines it can approached from a socio-historical perspective as a cultural artefact to be deconstructed. Over the years Playboy obviously has important connections to changing taking place in consumption, gender and sexual relations, and lifestyle. Of course I was especially interested in the magazine’s intertextual engagements with Bond as another cultural icon closely associated with the 1960s.
In recent years academic interest in Playboy has grown and access to the magazine has become much simpler. In 2011 Playboy launched the web-based subscription service iplayboy.com, giving complete and unlimited access to the publication. For the researcher this type of digital archive offers quick and easy access to resources that were once difficult to locate and time consuming to navigate. iplayboy.com boasts that users can “unlock access to the most comprehensive and exclusive collection. Every issue, article, story, and pictorial Playboy has ever published”. Users can search the digital archive and refine searches according to author or section – just in case you wondered a search for “James Bond” currently produces 1,068 results, with varying degrees of relevance. (In comparison searches for “Ian Fleming” and “Sean Connery” produce 222 results. Surprisingly a search for editor-publisher “Hefner” returns just 1,268 hits; there should be more, surely?). As far as my research goes the digital archive has provided detail that has enriched my earlier study of the magazine in hard copy – bringing to my attention some mentions that I hadn’t otherwise uncovered, such as Playboy’s April 1964 “On the Scene” introductory feature on Connery as an actor of note thanks to his breakthrough role, or the food article “From Russia with Love” in Playboy April 1965, which is about Russian cuisine but beyond the title strangely makes no direct reference to Bond. But a difficulty that comes with the ability to search the text is the possibility that each result might require scrutiny or that these elements may take over the bigger picture of the magazine in context. For this you still really need to spend time browsing through many issues, years, and decades. This may sound obvious, but in the digital age in particular there’s more than one kind of approach to reading Playboy.
Dr Claire Hines is Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Southampton Solent University. Her research and publications focus on sexuality, gender, fantasy, and James Bond in the contexts of American and British cultures. She is the editor of Fan Phenomena: James Bond (Intellect, 2015) and her book The playboy and James Bond is due to be published by Manchester University Press in 2018.