New year, new approach
1976 would be the year of the pussy in men's magazines in both the US and the UK. Having dipped their toes into the pussy pool the previous two years, magazines like Penthouse would dive in completely in America's Bicentennial year. Showing their models pubic hair would no longer be enough and, increasingly, the girls would be expected to flash their labia (and more) as well. However, by the beginning of 1976 Playboy had, largely, due to pressure from their advertisers, officially capitulated in the Pubic Wars leaving this fight, essentially, between Penthouse and some of the other magazines. New magazines were being planned at this time, too.
Photo by Richard Fegley. Playboy January 1976
Those expecting Playboy to go back to the innocence of the early seventies were in for a surprise, however. There were some changes but there were still some strongly erotic pictures in the publication, which were still pretty explicit and, indeed, more explicit than what Playboy shows today. So, 1976 was, for Playboy, a rather schizophrenic year and this was demonstrated right from their January issue. They knew that they didn't want to be Penthouse but they weren't quite sure what they did want to be.
An airbrushed Daina House
For only the second time in years they had dispensed with the sinister Playboy rabbit in front of a "gallery" of the previous year's Playmates, replacing it with said Playmates climbing around some lettering. This, incidentally, also took the pubic pictures they had had for the last couple of Januarys off the cover as these girls carefully concealed themselves. A clear message for the newstands and advertisers that Playboy had changed.
Daina House as originally photographed
Inside, Playmate of the Month Daina House presented the sort of legs apart pose that certainly wasn't back to 1971 in style. However, comparison with a similar picture shows that Playboy had been to work with a little judicious airbrushing to remove any hint of her labia. Later Playboy would control the models' poses and use clever lighting to make sure nothing untoward appeared but these pictures had probably already been shot before the backtracking on the level of explicitness took place at the end of 1975.
But in the same issue Playboy had a portfolio of photographs by regular photographer Richard Fegley which included this very naughty picture. Although it was black and white (and therefore Art) the pearls being pulled up between the model's labia were as strong as anything Penthouse had been doing at that point. It illustrated the dual standards that Playboy always seemed to have regarding its Playmate shoots and the other pictorials; as if the Playmates existed in a separate reality where what was done in other parts of the magazine weren't important. We had seen pubic shots in Playboy before Liv Lindeland yet it was her centrefold that was seen by the magazine as the groundbreaker. From 1976 most of the Playmate pictures did become less explicit but the same rules didn't seem to apply to the rest of the magazine. Maybe the advertisers only ever looked at the centrefolds!
Playboy was still struggling financially at the beginning of 1976 and cuts had to be made: staff at editorial meetings found their lobster lunches replaced by sandwiches. Playboy's intended Penthouse clone Oui, which had done so much to damage Playboy's circulation, was struggling too. The magazine that Hugh Hefner had set up to challenge Penthouse by being more explicit than Playboy was now losing ground itself.
Bobby Sparrow for Oui
Unlike Playboy, Oui continued to show the occasional labia shots but they were nothing like what had started to appear in Penthouse during 1976. Oui's January centrefold Bobby Sparrow flashed in several pictures but not to the extent that January's Penthouse Pet did, as we shall see shortly.
Peek-a-boo Pia in Oui
January's Oui also featured a model called Pia Sorensen who had caused something of a scandal in Britain several years earlier when it was discovered that she has making hardcore films in her native Denmark whilst still at school. Having been voted Queen of the first Danish Erotic Film Festival she embarked on a publicity tour of the UK to expected, and no doubt welcome, outrage. One MP even tried to get her deported.
Pia in action in a Copenhagen park in the Lasse Braun film Romantic
In fact, Pia had appeared as Pet of the Month in the UK edition of Penthouse back in May 1974. At that time Penthouse UK occasionally didn't use the American Pet but replaced her with another model. So it was that the US April Pet, Nancy Sebastien, appeared in the May UK edition but not as a Pet. Likewise Pia did eventually appear in Penthouse's US edition in April 1975 but not as a Pet.
Penthouse's January issue carried on the trends seen in the last few months of 1975. Cover girl and Pet of the Month Laure Favie was photographed by Allan Neumann using a number of different styles
Whatever style he used, which ran from light soft focus to very grainy, however, Canadian Laure displayed her labia in quite a few of her photographs, including, for only the third time in Penthouse, the centrefold.
Laure also had a rather sensual pussy caressing shot which was all the more the effective for the different angle Nuemann used for it. This really caught the original Penthouse voyeuristic quality nicely.
The magazine's third pictorial featured a German "actress", (well, she did make two films) by the name of Eva Carson, getting to grips with herself on the bed in their strongest faux masturbation shot so far.
One pictorial in this issue caused something of a stir. Penthouse had often had younger centrefolds than Playboy, who had run into trouble back in the fifties when they published the pictures of the under eighteen year old Elizabeth Ann Roberts. In contrast, several of Penthouse's early Pets had been as young as sixteen (there were not the same age restriction in the UK) and for this issue they teased the readers with these pictures of Lindsay Freeman, going under the name of "Baby Breese", and wearing a vest with "12" on it. In reality, the young looking model was in her twenties.
Hustler, unusually, had its holiday themed cover for January rather than the more traditional December edition. This was, however, more logical given that the issue was actually on the streets in December. They offered a life-sized centrefold picture as a Christmas present for their readers.
Their first pictorial, of Inga, was accompanied by some text which was easily as pretentious as anything coming ouy of Penthouse at the time: "Like the sea's thunderous undulation striking against the rocks, our bodies are in tune. Suddenly, with great force our bodies clash, sending us into a realm of ecstasy... Whirling, whirling waves... Then like the flowing of the tide back towards the sea we succumb to a calmness. My man has found me...the sea."
Next there came a very early Hustler couples pictorial which had a Dracula theme. This was as explicit as it got although the light just catching the girl's bush provides a certain frisson in this shot.
Strong tan lines frame the spread pussy of Donna at the beach in the next pictorial.
It is Shelley, however, who demonstrates how, during this period, Hustler had become considerably more explicit than Penthouse, as she clearly shows her anus. Already, this part of the anatomy was set to be the new battleground.
February's Playboy saw an assertive cover featuring Jill de Vries (October 1975) which, with its boudoir lingerie and long string of pearls, owed a lot to Penthouse's early seventies approach; altough the smiling for the camera is pure Playboy. It's almost saying:" Look, we can do a sexy legs apart shot without showing anything!"
Laura gets wet
Inside, February's Playmate, Laura Lyons, clearly demonstrated that you didn't need to show a girl's bits to produce a sexy picture.
February's Penthouse carried on in the way that they had been going since mid 1975 with their centrefolds and other models now regularly showing their genitals and doing so in increasing sharpness of detail, as the magazine largely dialled back on the soft-focus.