Friday, March 18, 2011
Playboy After Dark
All week long I've been watching and enjoying clips of Hugh Heffner's late 60s program, Playboy After Dark. Yes, quite a while before the Playboy cable channel launched, Hefner's notorious magazine spun off into television twice. The first time was in October 1959 with a program called Playboy's Penthouse. It was filmed in a Chicago studio and syndicated to select American stations. Believe it or not, it was smut-free and actually quite groundbreaking for its time. The set was made to look like a hip bachelor pad with a perpetual party going on in the background. Many African American entertainers such as Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Belafonte were invited as guests, making it the first time blacks and whites appeared in such a setting on a national program. Beat poets and musicians were regulars; even folk hero Pete Seeger appeared on the program with a banjo to discuss the roots of popular music with Hef.
Playboy's Penthouse ran for two seasons, and it was during this time that Hefner opened up the first Playboy Club in Chicago and moved into the Playboy Mansion.
However, the more interesting program in my opinion is Playboy After Dark, which debuted in January 1969 and ran for 26 episodes. Now the swinging 60s were at their peak, the show was in color, and Hefner's original cocktail dress wearing guests were now replaced by a cast of regulars - some of which were Playboy Bunnies - who looked like extras from an Austin Powers movie. The opening titles may have oozed coolness and elegance but this was the time of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and Hefner responded by hosting several awesome musical acts on the program including Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Ike and Tina Turner, The Grateful Dead, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, Canned Heat, James Brown and many more. I've also found a clip of Hefner interviewing Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate which says it's from the series; however, as Tate was murdered in 1968 that can't be correct unless the interview was previously taped and later aired in 1969.
Apparently, at the beginning of each episode, Hef (with a girl or two on his arm and his iconic pipe in hand) would welcome the viewer to his swinging party. Guests would mix and mingle with Hef conducting one-on-one interviews in between musical acts.
A funky band called The Checkmates appeared four times on the show; in this clip they're joined onstage by a grooving Sammy Davis, Jr. Check it out!
Although the set makes it appear as if the show was actually filmed at the Playboy mansion, sources say it was taped on a set meant to mimic the famous house.
This clip below is EPIC - a must see for any sixties fan! It's Iron Butterfly performing their psychedelic classic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (albeit a much shorter version) as dancers including Barbie Benton, Hefner's old flame, totally get down. As my friend who showed me the link put it, the way it's done, you feel like you're stepping back in time! I'm digging the tall dude's red jacket and white go-go boots and I just want to join right in with the dancing.
From there I found an awesome segment of Deep Purple performing their hit Hush on the show. I cracked up when the band member said that the house the group lived in was haunted; you can tell Hefner wasn't so sure that some sort of substance wasn't involved!
Finally, I give you Ike and Tina Turner's appearance on the show, which includes smoldering renditions of I Wanna Take You Higher, Proud Mary, and Come Together.
With all of these musical acts, it's kind of a shame that the show only lasted two seasons. Although ratings were high, only 23 cities aired it, which wasn't enough to continue its lifespan. Many stations also shied away from it, concerned that the Playboy name would scare way older, conservative audiences. Still, watching some of these clips warms the nostalgic heart in a way that's anything but R-rated.
You can find most episodes of Playboy After Dark on DVD.