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Playboy's TV Show Didn't Have a Centerfold

Hugh Hefner swings, Ella Fitzgerald sings, on the 1950s TV series "Playboy Penthouse." PEGI hide caption

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The Details

  • DVDs: Playboy After Dark
  • What It Is: Three-DVD set of the 1950s and '60s TV shows hosted by Hugh Hefner and featuring comics and musicians, from Lenny Bruce to Nat King Cole.
  • Price: $40
  • Read five more Ridley Reviews

Get the new-to-DVD Playboy After Dark, and you might figure you're in for a night of soft-core porn. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Oh, stop moaning in disappointment. This is gonna be good).

Playboy After Dark is a three-disc DVD set featuring select shows from the late 1950s TV series Playboy Penthouse and the early-to-late 1960s Playboy After Dark. Though both series were filmed on a soundstage, the idea was that Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner was throwing a swinging party on the top floor of the Playboy building in Chicago, and you've been invited to hang out.

What could have been just a parade of semi-clothed women turns out to be a eclectic mix of art and politics that mingles at the outer edges of social acceptability. In a show from 1959, one minute you've got Hef and "sick" comedian Lenny Bruce talking openly about integration, then the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald drops by to deliver an absolutely astounding set of jazz vocals.

In a show from ten years later, Mort Sahl does a routine on the disparate ideologies of men and women as compared to that of governmental politics of the era, a young Linda Ronstadt does a little rockabilly back when that was more unusual than a white guy rapping, and Joe Cocker comes by to lay a few down.

The truly incredible thing, while the rest of America was tiptoeing around race relations, Hef had mixed-race couples on the set digging on each other while getting down with the likes of Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ike and Tina Turner, Anthony Newley and Sonny and Cher. This isn't just a DVD for Kitschologists trying to excavate artifacts of a bygone era. This is an amazing look at how a man and a magazine were not just provocative but progressive.

Oh, and Barbi Benton's there, too, looking really, really hot. I told you not to moan in disappointment.

Author and screenwriter John Ridley will publish American Way, a graphic novel about U.S. history, in early 2007.

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