Goodbye to Playboy’s Chicago office

Sun-Times, too bad: “Playboy announced Tuesday it is moving the bulk of its operations, including editorial, art and photo departments, from founder Hugh Hefner’s original home base in Chicago to Los Angeles.”

Playboy‘s Chicago office was an offbeat-but-solid intern experience for friend Mark and many other great Medill journalism students for years. The office was also the site of my most unlikely field trip ever. From this blog in 2002 (why all the bold, dude?), here’s part one and part two.

I met one

Back in June, we learned that four Northwestern girls posed for Playboy’s “Girls of the Big Ten” issue. I wondered at the time: “Having attended Northwestern as recently as a year ago, I’m wondering about the four girls. Do I know these people? And would that be cool, or just plain weird?”

Well, as the Daily Northwestern reported yesterday, the issue has hit newsstands. Three NU women made the cut.

And, yes, I know one. Sort of. “Met one” is more like it. [Name] was in my Content Management Systems class two years ago.

Early in the quarter, the class broke into small groups to examine news Web sites. [Name], myself and a third classmate received the task of analyzing USA,, National Geographic Online, and Slate. (Which one should I work for next?) From this exercise, the following quotes made their way into my notebook:

[Name]: “I’ve never actually seen a New York Times.”

Third unknown person: “Is USA Today a newspaper?”

Third unknown person, about half an hour later, “USA Today’s a daily newspaper, right?”

What a gang. But as much as they aggrieved my newspaper soul, they were both very nice people. I clearly can’t remember too much about the third person, but I do remember [Name] as often friendly and wearing clothes.

Bunny for a day: Part II

Previously: the Playboy lobby and photo vault.

Next stop on the Playboy tour: photo studio. They shoot mostly products in the Chicago studio, and model shoots tend to happen in New York and Los Angeles. Why this is I don’t know. Possible factors:

  • Nine months of cold temperatures.
  • Wind that never stops blowing.
  • Ugliness of the general population. (Nobody looks good on the 6th straight day of subzero windchills.)To answer the looming question, no, there were no models around. The Chicago office is not the Mansion. The last model to shoot in Chicago was Miss January 2002, according to our prof, and that shoot actually occured in October or November.

The Playboy studio was a large room with lots of lightning equipment and a stereo full of bad music. Outside the room was a kitchen area, possibly where the staff can eat their Wheaties or have a mid-shoot snack of milk and graham crackers. Also just outside the studio were clothes racks, from which various leopard skin things were hung that day, and various tables. On one table were various unmentionables, tossed in a pile. This mess was odd considering the last model was there four to five months earlier.

Maybe it’s the job of the next model to pick after past model. If so, I sure don’t want to be a Playboy model; as my mother and the floor of my room can attest, I struggle pick up after myself. (I’m getting better every day, really.) But to pick up after myself and a Playmate? That would be just too much.

The tour ended at this point, and our Magazine Editing class retired to a conference room to chat with young magazine staffers about starting a career in magazines. I sat below a newsstand-style installation holding the 100 or so most recent Playboy covers. (More specifically, I sat below the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle. That’s one way to promote your comeback album, I guess.) After our discussion with the staffers, class ended. We passed Christie Hefner’s office on the way out and waved goodbye.

Bunny for a day

Thursday was a break from the ordinary, what with the field trip to Playboy and all. Chicago is home to Playboy world headquarters (but not the Mansion), and the magazine enjoys a splendid reputation among the local publishing community. It used to enjoy a splendid reputation among the local business community as well, but now they have empty cubicles where the dot-commers used to sit and the accompanying financial insecurity.

But all of this is beside the point. The field trip to their offices came as part of my Graduate Magazine Editing class, which is co-taught by Barbara Nellis, an associate editor at the magazine. (She edits the articles that every bashful male reads the magazine for, of course.) The field trip began well. “We’re here for a field trip; we’re going to the 15th floor,” we told the lobby clerk. “You mean Playboy?” he asked. Yup. “Walk down to the next lobby,” he said.

In the next lobby, we hopped in the elevator and headed up. “Do you think they’ll have a cool waiting area?” I asked a friend. The doors opened on the 15th floor … wood panelling along the walls, obtusely shaped black and blue furniture, glass tables, granite legs on the receptionist’s desk, and their giant bunny logo hanging above it all, sculpted in bronze. On the tables in the waiting area, like in every dentist’s office in America, were reading materials. It is a bit odd, however, to be sitting in a lobby, browsing through Playboys like they were year-old People issues.

Barbara led us on a tour of their offices, which were filled with art created over the years for Playboy (quality stuff too — a wall of original LeRoy Neiman’s). We walked through editorial, through dot com, and then went to the Photo Library. There, the Photo Librarian took out her keys and unlocked the door to the Photo Vault. Temperature-controlled, air-quality controlled, and under constant electronic surveillance for fire, the Vault contains just about every photo a Playboy photographer has ever taken. On the left were the unused photos, on the right were the used, with shelves of boxes reaching to the ceiling.

Fun fact learned in the Vault: Did you know someone is required to take Hugh Hefner’s photo every day?

Tomorrow: the Photo Studio.