Seminal (in every sense of the word) men's magazine from the year 1962. In hard cover, it was billed as "the most expensive magazine in the world" (at $25/year!), and contained exclusively stories about love and sex. Its incredible lineup of artists and writers included John Alcorn, Ray Bradbury, Nat Hentoff, and Bert Stern, and contained reprinted material by John "Fanny Hill" Cleland, Frank Harris, a Victorian memoirist, and even some parts of the Bible, plus photographs of the Black Temple of Karnak, Hindu eunuchs, and reproductions of William Hogarth's "Harlot's Progress". A lush spread surveyed brothels in Western art, and there were articles on such subjects as contraception (considered quite controversial at the time), Japanese sex toys, and aphrodisiacs (with detailed, though not especially -- at the time--practical recipes).

It's best known, however, for Bert Stern's photoshoot of Marilyn Monroe, the last before her death. Taken when the actress was on the cusp of forty, and often working nude, her appearence comes as a shock to most who've been nurtured on the myth of her as the apex of female allure -- she has poor muscle tone, small, banana-like breasts, a vacant expression, and a face that seems to owe more to makeup than to natural appeal. (Having seen these photos all my life, I can't think of her as anything more than simply good-looking, if you like that kind of thing.) Many of these photographs are defaced by orange crosses and fingernail scratches where she rejected them. A similarly extensive, though less sensationally presented spread contains a charming (in every sense of the word) interracial couple indulging in clothed and nude necking (for want of a better term), culminating in a nude embrace that shows neither nipple nor cock, but is clearly intimate.

It's for this feature that disaster stalked this fine periodical. Ralph Ginsburg was charged with obscenity by the U.S. Post Office, convicted, and served three years in prison, before restarting his publishing career with Bottom Line, a helpful-hints newsletter. The Monroe photographs, unable (because of copyright restrictions) to be exhibited or reprinted remained in escrow until recently, and at one point, complete sets of the magazine sold for as much as $600.

As a sexually precocious child and adolescent, I found the volumes to be both accurate and a friendly introduction to the worlds of literature, art, and sex. I lament their rarity, or I'd recommend them to everyone. Sigh.

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