I think it will come as no surprise when I say that many of the actors of 70s television exuded S-E-X. That’s just the way it was with those tanned gods of the airwaves. I have always been about the machismo, and while the 80s took it to superhuman level, I thought the 70s was a nice balanced point for rippling muscles. It just so happens that the 70s was also the decade Playgirl hit the magazine stands. Douglas Lambert founded it in 1973 although he credited his wife Jenny with the idea. In a 1987 interview Lambert attributed the magazine’s success to its “clear focus” and reported that at one point they had over 2 million subscribers.
Playgirl was indeed a phenomenon that happened to be in just the right place at the right time. In an era of bra burning, it was only a matter of time before objectification of gender switched. Although the founder says the original intent of Playgirl was to hit a female audience with something new, Playgirl has also always been synonymous with the gay movement. In short, they successfully pleased many. I can’t say I was a regular reader of the magazine (and I use the word reader lightly, perhaps gawker is better), I do remember obtaining a copy back in the mid 80s. My first naked man came via those pages of Playgirl, and I think it kept me away from real naked men for quite some time. Yikes! But now that I’m older and, uh, better equipped for this sort of thing, I’ve been getting nostalgic for the decade where men willingly shared their, uh, assets with their fans! According Jacki King, who did an article in 1974 for the Associated Press, none of the actors were paid. He said (and I quote) “they did it for the exposure.” Sometimes the jokes just write themselves! Playgirl was popular enough that Penthouse spawned its own imitator called Viva, after Bob Guccione declared naked men as “lewd.”
Hollywood-gossip-columnist-turned-Playgirl-centerfold-booker Toni Holt hated the word beefcake and she didn’t care how good your body was if you had “dead eyes” (which means Jaws wouldn't have been able to pose). She also said looking at the naked male was healthy, because viewing male nudity was, until the more liberating 70s, a secretive practice which was now being flounced around for everyone and their grandmothers to ogle over. I think we call that a breakthrough. Originally, most of the actors did not reveal everything, with arms and other things covering up the proper business. However, this wasn’t always the case, as a couple of actors did ask to have more explicit photo shoots. However, I discovered that by end of Playgirl’s extremely successful first year of publication, the less is more tactic became no more.
Of all the Playgirl factoids I learned while researching this article, I was most struck with the detail that Lyle Waggoner was the first centerfold for Playgirl. That’s right, after June of 1973 things were never the same! I adore Lyle but was admittedly a tad shocked. But that’s what started this journey, as I started looking up some of my favorite actors and discovered that many of them got buck-naked on those glossy pages. I thought I’d compile a list and share some thoughts on some of my favorite small screen machismo. And for better or worse, I decided to go PG-13 with the pics. If you care to check out the real thing go to this site.
Lyle Waggoner: Gorgeous was never so good natured. Lyle is most famous for appearing on the Carole Burnett Show and for playing Major Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman. He is also the first stud to grace the centerfold of Playgirl, which I am guessing was a fairly controversial choice on his part. Being the funny fellow he is, he worked his stint as Playgirl model into an old stage act where he quipped, “Some people thought the picture was a little over-exposed, others thought it was a little under-developed.” That’s a funny quote because I think the whole affair turned out just right.
George Maharis: George is probably best known for playing sexy drifter Buz Murdock on Route 66 in the 60s, but I know him best for showing up in a gazillion things in the 70s. I remember him most from The Victim, even though his part isn’t that big. And not ever did I think I’d find out how big his parts actually were (ha! I got a million of ‘em), but then he posed for Playgirl for the July 1973 issue. Not to be outdone by Lyle, his layout was a little more explicit (as per his request), and as you can see it also featured horses. I’m sure there’s some kind of subliminal message in there, but I think I’ll just leave it up to your imagination.
Gary Conway: I’m ashamed to say I don’t know much about Gary Conway except that he was on Land of the Giants and, as you can see, he was hot. Rawr! He was Mr. August of 1973, and I swear the end of summer never looked so good!
Fabian Forte: Holy cow, Fabian! Turn me loose! There is no denying that Fabian is adorable. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a crush on him, and while his September 73 Playgirl spread is a little tame I'm glad he left a little something for our fantasies! Dreamy Fabian appeared on many television shows in the 70s, such as The Hardy Boys and even a couple of TV movies, including Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold, but I think it was his appearance as himself on Laverne and Shirley that taught me the charms of Fabian and his beautiful smile. Stand back, I think I might swoon!
Fred Williamson: Uber-stud Williamson started out as a professional football player (where he earned the nickname The Hammer because of how hard he was on his opponents) before he decided the silver screen was beckoning him. He’s best known for starring in several Blaxploitation movies during the 70s, such as Hell Up In Harlem and Black Caesar, but he also appeared on television as well. He won my heart on Julia but he also showed his brawny manliness off on such shows as Police Story and Supertrain. He also bared his other talents in the October 73 issue of Playgirl. I love this pic of him with that little kitten and I would love to be his feline pal any day. I met Fred several years ago at a convention and I have to say he’s even cooler in person than he is on screen. Oh, I’m swooning again!
Don Stroud: Like George Maharis Don asked for a more explicit layout and boy, is that what we got. Don is a stalwart of film and television, usually playing the heavy, and sometimes playing it too well. I was always a little intimidated by his presence onscreen and that actually made him one of the greatest things about 70s TV (I like being scared!). Plus he was in everything! I loved it. Like Fabian, he also appeared in Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold (I’m starting to think the casting agent liked in-jokes) and he was also a regular on Mrs. Columbo. Stroud was menacing and handsome and an extremely effective actor. It seems somewhat fitting that his November 73 Playgirl layout would go the extra mile because he is one of the best bad boys of Hollywood, no?
Peter Lupus: I am ashamed again. I am not all that familiar with Peter, except that he was Willy Armitage on Mission Impossible. However, I can say by 1974, they were really upping the bar with the celeb layouts, as his was the most explicit to date. I think I can safely assume Peter was not shy. He was a bodybuilder who was apparently named the oldest person to bench press 300 lbs by the Guinness Book of World Records. Yowza!
Christopher George: I’m not really sure what’s going on with Chris and the food motif in his June 1974 Playgirl layout, but it hardly matters. He is my favorite guy on this list. I love this man. Love. In fact, the word love doesn’t really describe my feelings for Chris who is such a treat to watch onscreen. I adore that leathery, square-jawed jib and I think he is also one of the most wonderful actors of all time. Forever consistent, he is just too much fun to watch. I know him mostly for the string of horror movies he made in the early 80s right before his death (many of which starred his wife Linda Day George), but he was also a mainstay on the small screen. I most recently caught him on an episode of Vega$ called Serve, Volley and Kill where he played the bad guy, as he so often did. I wrote a tribute to him awhile back, so I’ll just post the link.
Jim Brown: OK, so Jim didn’t do all that much in the way of television in the 70s, but I saw he was in a two part episode of CHiPs titled Roller Disco and, well, that was enough for me! Like Williamson, Jim, who was the centerfold model in September of 1974, was another football player who became an actor and found out he was really good at it! I mostly know him from Three the Hard Way, where Williamson was his co-star. Oh yeah, and also for I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, but I really need to see that CHiPs episode!
Steve Bond: Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, this is why I enjoy having my own blog. Steve did nothing on television in the 70s, but I get to put Mr. October 75 on this list anyway. He played Jimmy Lee Holt on General Hospital in the 80s and that’s what I remember most about him (and his role in the awesome slasher The Prey). Steve worked as a model in the 70s to make ends meet and can even be found in some old Chippendale card packs, although he never worked at any of the clubs. In 1984 he was voted the Most Exciting New Actor on a Soap by Soap Opera Digest fans. Exciting, indeed. I can’t think of a better word to describe Mr. Bond.
Ben Murphy in Viva: Ben Murphy is seriously one of my all time great crushes. It all started in 1983 when he starred on a short-lived series called Lottery. I ended up backtracking a little when I grew up and started to watch his work from the 70s. Although he’s best known for Alias Smith and Jones, I was enchanted by Gemini Man and a weird horror movie he made in the early 80s called Time Walker. When he posed for Viva in 1973 he was poised for super stardom. It was unfortunate that he didn’t reach that pinnacle, as it was surely deserved, but he did become a wonderful character actor that I enjoyed catching on all my favorite shows. I still watch that Fantasy Island where he played a dying boxer from time to time and last night I decided a viewing of his Murder, She Wrote episode Reflections of the Mind was in order. Viva’s layout was a bit different from Playgirl as it was an erotic pictorial featuring Murphy’s finer assets and a female companion. The lady was Bess Cofield, a singer for a band called W.W. Fancy that I can’t find any info on. She was adorable, and his layout is probably my favorite of all the one’s I’ve listed, because it actually tells a little story. Even looking at the pics now makes me giggle. What can I say, he brings out the schoolgirl in me, and I love him for it!
Andrew Prine in Viva: Andrew Prine also did a layout in Viva, and it was a bit more explicit. He splits his time between a woman and horse, and well, as I’ve said before, I’ll leave it all up to your imagination (or your Google skills). Andrew is a wonderful character actor. I have had the pleasure of seeing him speak in person several times when I lived in LA. He is hilarious and charming and still terribly handsome. He was a steadfast actor of 70s television and he also appeared with Ben Murphy in the TV movie Riding with Death, which was really just two episodes of The Gemini Man mashed together to reach movie length. He was also one of Chris George’s best friends, so you see we are coming full circle.
Burt Reynolds in Cosmopolitan: Of course, this must be the most famous male centerfold of all time. Burt posed nude for Cosmopolitan in 1972 on a whim and said, “When I list the three most unimportant events in my life, this will be one of them… I thought it was good for a laugh, and it’s something unpredictable.” Although he intended it to be a spoof of the infamous Playboy centerfolds, this image would become iconic (and reproduced often, most recently with Mario Lopez who is too plastic for my tastes… Sorry Slater). Reynolds didn't do too much on television in the 70s, but he did star on Dan August which was a spin off from the excellent tele-film House on Greenapple Road (where Chris George played August).
I read a rather disparaging comment about this photo on another site that was making fun of his looks and I thought that was completely disrespectful. I know not everyone is running around looking for a way to get back to the 70s like I am, but if you really think Burt Reynolds is unattractive, then you must not like men. If you need a stache-less example then rent Deliverance. Machismo on an effen stick. And aside from his looks, he’s hilarious and a talented actor. I’m really tired of hipsterish comments that insist on making fun of things simply because times have changed (and not always for the better). I love this picture of him so much I am going to include Bullwinkle’s spoof! Now, that’s machismo!
If you are interested in more stud-age - and who isn't - please check out my article at Planet Fury on 70s Beefcake: A Look Back at Machismo
I'd also like to thank Craftypants Carol who turned me onto this whole hot actors in Playgirl thing!