April's rather glum cover-girl, Kristine de Bell, reflects the atmosphere at Playboy at the time
April 1976 was a miserable month for Hugh Hefner. Firstly, he had to sell his pride and joy; the Big Bunny; the Douglas DC-9 he had bought as his personal jet in 1967 for $4.5 million. He had spent another $1 million on having the intererior equipped with a bar, disco, TVs, a galley which could feed thirty people and his own private quarters which featured a six foot by eight foot elliptical bed. Tasteful!
To pander to his every whim he employed black leather clad "jet bunnies" including several Playmates, such as Miss June 1971, Leiko English who, as a bunny in her pre-Playmate days, had been one of the first girls to flash her fur in the magazine.
When Hefner had split his time between his Playboy Mansions in Los Angeles and Chicago the Big Bunny almost made sense, as he commuted between his two main women er, houses, at the time. Now that he hardly ever left Los Angeles the huge aircraft sat on the tarmac most of the time but still cost over $1 million a year to run. Not a good strategy when the entire Playboy empire's profits in 1975 had been a paltry $2 million. In the end it was sold for $4.2 million dollars (to be fair, above book price) to a Venezuelan airline. "Playboy gives up its biggest Bunny", trumpeted the Chicago Tribune on April 3rd that year.
The Big Bunny, just painted in its new colours and about to leave Wilmington Ohio for Venezuela in April 1976
But there was worse news for Hefner that April. Ten days later the Wall Street Journal ran an article highlighting all the depressing news about Playboy: drops in circulation and revenue at the magazine and the music and film divisions losing money. The problems with the hotel division were news too. In fact, things were so bad at the beginning of 1976 that Playboy had taken its name off two of its biggest properties in New Jersey and Chicago; realising that the Playboy name had actually become a liability rather than an attraction. On top of this the Inland Revenue Service had asked for $7.5 million in back taxes.
Ursula Andress undressed for April 1976
What must have been the most hurtful assessment, however, was that the Wall Street Journal felt that Playboy was now old fashioned and hopelessly out of touch with the sexual revolution. Certainly, April's issue did nothing to counteract this view with a pictorial featuring Ursula Andress, who had first appeared in Playboy over a decade before in 1965. In 1965 she still had some cachet as the first Bond girl but by the mid-seventies she was hardly a star anymore (although she was still splendid looking).
Playmate of the Month Denise Michele carried on the new tradition of keeping her bits covered but still had a sensuous hand on groin shot. That spring Hefner stepped aside as President and Chief Operating Officer acknowledging, at last, that some fresh business acumen was needed at the helm. It would be some months before a new leader could be found, however, and in the interim the company was run by a seven man "President's Council".
April's Penthouse continued to push Guccione's post-Pubic Wars vision of increasingly displayed pussies, with cover girl Georgina Crown offering a full page, rear-end beaver shot, which was still a rarity in newsstand magazines.
April's Pet, Sandy Bernadou, was even more forthright, displaying her charms quite clearly in several pictures photographed by Jeff Dunas.
Penthouse had another couples set, Auto Erotic, which was actually rather less explicit than the previous two or three had been but it did feature this still unusual implied fellatio shot.
April 1976 Genesis
The covers of Genesis were just as strong on the nipple front as Penthouse at this time.
Lenka for Genesis in April 1976
Meanwhile, over at Hustler, Larry Flynt, obviously thinking hard about what he could publish to keep ahead of Penthouse, decided to push another boundary by featuring a pregnant woman in his April edition.
Club pushed the increasing masturbation theme by having their cover girl and centrefold, Alison, shown with her hands drifting between her legs. Club had had some catching up to do but now they were approaching Penthouse in explicitness.
Inside the magazine Alison went even further, being depicted with a finger actually between her labia. This was a much more explcit pose than Guccione's magazine had shown so far.
Oui was still gradually seperating itself from sister magazine Playboy in terms of explicitness. Whilst the original remit for Oui had been to be a Penthouse-chasing, sexier version of Playboy, latterly the goalposts were moving so rapidly that it was not only less explicit than Penthouse it was less explicit than Playboy.
As Playboy retreated from more explicit pussy pictures immediately after Hefner had declared an end to the Pubic Wars at the end of 1975, Oui took up the slack with (often barely) visible labia increasingly on show in 1976.
Oui also mirrored the new fascination for depicting pussy from the rear, which was increasingly and inevitably bringing the anus into focus. This picture of Jeanette from Oui's April 1976 issue gives us a still rare glimpse of her arsehole. Her set was by Las Vegas based photographer Robert Scott Hooper who would shortly find fame with his discovery of future Playmate Debra Jo Fondren; famous for her 52 inch long hair.
One of the drivers for more explicit magazines was the increasing access that the public had to hardcore films in the US. That month Oui featured a feature on the new erotic films coming out of France. In these small pictures from that feature we not only get a group sex scene but a photo of a young lady enetrtaining herself with a dildo: a first for any of the major magazines.
Inside, the most interesting pictorial featured a series of self portraits by the April issue's British cover photographer, Suze Randall. Randall had started out as a fashion model and actress before taking up photography. She would be a staff photographer for Playboy between 1975 and 1977 before moving on to Hustler and later Penthouse; her work getting more and more hardcore as she progressed. She was 30 when she posed herself for Playboy. Miss Randall's picture, above, illustrates how Playboy was dealing with those now problematic labia. With a mixture of clever lighting and clever retouching they were simply made to disappear; to create a happy band of advertisers.
Sonny on the cover
Penthouse wasn't worried at all by such poses and, indeed, in the following month's issue displayed Miss May, Sonny Smith, showing another pussy from the rear, albeit with some heavy soft focus.
Sonny wasn't showing anything as much as the girl in that month's boy/girl set, however. Penthouse's "love-sets" were appearing more regularly now and in the May issue photographer Earl Miller, in a pictorial called Easy Riders, portrayed a young lady actually touching her male companion's balls while his fingers crept towards her clearly visible anus.
With the lady displaying her anus and labia and scenes of implied fellatio and cunnilingus it was the strongest of Penthouse's boy/girl love sets and much more explicit than that months other love set; a boy/girl/girl one.
May's Hustler had a rather early Penthouse style cover and, inside, also featured a young lady with a bubble perm although she was not in the same class as Penthouse's Pet as regards looks.
Hustler's girl Grace also posed in the same bottom from the rear pose, as had Sonny in Penthouse, but to much more explicit effect.
Oui featured the undisputed queen of softcore, Sylvia Kristel, on their May issue cover. Inside their centrefold girl, Kim Browne, was adopting the newly popular bottom thrusting position as well.
Kim thrusts it out
Also in that issue was a long pictorial called The Rooftops of Rome. This featured a whole host of different girls bathed in the warm light of the eternal city.
Oui held that the rooftop gardens of Rome made an ideal place for some private sunbathing or, perhaps. diddling yourself, as in the case of this young lady.
More diddling from Club in May with their cover girl's hand firmly squeezing her crotch.
Inside one of their young ladies was shown in the novel new pose of stroking herself but with her bottom in the air.
Given how very careful the magazine had been with their Playmates to make sure they didn't display anything that might annoy the advertisers, Fegley's full page picture of Lillian showing of her plump pudenda was something of a surprise.
Oui had a non-controversial month with the only alarming element being the garish colour scheme of June's cover.
They had dialled back on the labia to almost, but not quite, invisibility, as seen in this picture of centrefold girl Letitia.
Meanwhile, Genesis was starting to mix its softer Playboy and Oui style pictorials with rather more aggressive ones which owed more to Hustler than Penthouse.
Francesca for Genesis in June 1976
Over at Hustler itself Larry Flynt continued to aim low and hit the target. His Hustler Honey for June 1976 was headlined on her pictorial spread as "Pat, the fucking ultimate".
Pat's centrefold had her puffing away on a cigarette, her large breasts covered in droplets of sweat and her important bits brightly lit by a reflector.
Bob Guccione, having largely seen off Playboy's challemge in the Pubic Wars now had to compete not only with Hustler but also magazines like Genesis, which up until this point had been more modest. So in June he presented his most explicit Pet of the Month pictorial so far.
June's Penthouse featured the candidates for that year's Pet of the Year and it was no doubt no coincidence that many of the shots chosen to represent them were the bolder labia revealing ones from their previous pictorials. Three of the girls were also show flashing their fur on the cover; still a very rare occurrence.
Non Pet of the Month Chelsea Eriksen had a number of genital revealing spread legs shots and none more revealing than this thigh stretching number. This was nothing compared with what June's Pet of the Month would get up to, however, in what would be Penthouse's break-out pictorial for 1976.
By June 1976, Vidal, who had been a regular contributer to Penthouse, and Guccione had had a terminal argument over the direction the film was taking. Vidal actually then went on to leave the film before shooting began in August. So, given that Anna is photographed with Vidal here she must have been one of the first Pets to fly to Rome either stayed on in Rome as moost of the other Pets who appeared in the Tinto Brass directed film arrived in September 1976, after Vidal had left the production, and those who appeared in the Guccione directed hardcore new scenes were flown over in January 1977.
Twenty-eight year old Anna was born in Suffolk, England and Guccione actually photographed her pictorial in Gore Vidal's Rome apartment. The resultant pictorial was easily the most explicit that had appeared in Penthouse to date. Guccione caught Anna's pale, soft, pliant body so well that you can almost feel her flesh yielding to your fingertips.
As Penthouse gradually migrated its operation across the Atlantic and the vast majority of Pets became American it would be rare for a body like Anna's to be featured again. The American girls of the late seventies and early eighties were tauter and tended to have bold tan lines.
As we have seen, the rear-view, spread legs pose was the new yardstick of naughtiness but Anna took it to a new level with her pussy-stroking, arsehole-flashing photograph. In fact only her takes no prisoners centrefold could possibly top it. Not just labia flashing here, you can see right into Anna's vaginal entrance.
The final magazine we will look at for the period April to June 1976 is Paul Raymond's Club. This magazine, used, essentially, the same pictorials as May's Men Only in the UK.
June's Club is worthy of more detailed examination as it demonstrates how, in just a few months it had risen to the challenge of its more explicit competitors. More interestingly, this issue enccapsulates nearly all of the recent trends seen in men's magazines at this point.
We start off with cover girl Dana (in fact, Joannie Allum), her hand in her see-through knickers and her fingers either side of a perkily erect nipple. Self fondling, very much first done by Bob Guccione in Penthouse, was still an area of caution for many magazines and in the UK was less likely to appear.
This picture of Club's June centrefold girl, Lilith Leon, for example, did not appear in May's Men Only in the UK. Obviously this finger on the button shot was deemed too strong for Britain at the time.
Another picture of Lilith which was denied to UK readers was this one. It shows something which was only just starting to appear and that was the depiction of an open vaginal entrance. The second half of 1976 would increasingly see girls not just flashing their bits but flashing excited bits.
Girl/girl sets had been appearing for some time but three girl sets were very new. Club's Love All Sauna or Later pictorial by Fred Enke had three girls in the sauna, including one with an unusual bald pussy.
Boy/girl sets had also been appearing for some time but what was only just being depicted was implied fellatio as in this set from June's Club by Clive McLean.
Finally, we come, appropriately, to the new formerly forbidden zone, just winking its way into some pictorials. Allan Sass's photo of Esty clearly shows her neat anus.
We will see how all these themes develop in the second half of the year. The following month, July 1976, would see America celebrating its bicentennial and many of the mens' magazines had their own visual celebrations.