When 88-year-old Alice Andreos of Henderson, NV heard of the September death of 91-year-old Hugh Hefner, she was saddened. Andreos knew Hefner in the 1950s when she was an elevator operator at the Palmer House in Chicago.
At the time, said Alice, Hugh Hefner dated a girl named Shirley Delancey, and his Playboy business partner Victor Lownes dated her friend, Mary Ann Crocetti. Both women were models and dancers with the Merriel Abbott Dancers at the Palmer House. The dance troop performed at the Palmer House from the 1940s through the 1960s, but Alice knew the dancers in the 1950s. Alice wasn’t sure she correctly remembered the girls’ last names, but Ken Price, Palmer House Director of Public Relations and Historian, provided what we think are the correct last names of the girls.
Alice remembers that Hugh Hefner was a very nice young man back in the 50s, always friendly with a ready smile. She also remembers how Hefner promoted his magazine, Playboy. At the time, Chicago was probably even more of a convention powerhouse than it is today, so Hefner asked the two models to go to the various convention hotels and pass out free copies of the magazine. Playboy then went to people and cities throughout the country.
Alice also remembers Shirley and Mary Ann because they often appeared in Playboy as models, as did Victor. She has copies of the magazines from October 1956 and November, 1958. Neither of the issues had a Playmate on the cover; Alice’s friends were the cover models. (Incidentally, were you to give Playboy subscriptions as Christmas gifts in 1958, the first one-year subscription you purchased cost $6; every additional subscription cost $4.) Playboy’s contents in the 1950s were quite mainstream; lots of talk about jazz, fashion and travel, some short stories; an interview or two, some jokes and cartoons and, yes, one fold out picture of a very pretty girl, usually with lovely cleavage.
Alice noted that a number of the Merriel Abbott dancers went on to become dancers on Broadway and in the movies, and she watched for them. Abbott, we’re told, was very strict with her dancers, forbidding any of the girls to date musicians.
Looking through the 60-year-old magazines featuring Alice’s friends is interesting. The magazines were bursting with ads for everything from buid-your-own Wi-Fi kits and personalized ceramic ash trays to whiskey-flavored toothpaste and an ad that stated, “Kirk Douglas won’t go anywhere without his Plymouth of Boston weather-ready coat”.
Playboy Party Jokes in the magazines contained these samples:
The Madison Avenue exec was dallying with both his secretary and the French maid, and on this particular evening he called home to make his excuses for a night out with the secretary. Babette, the French maid, answered the phone and the executive said in a very businesslike manner, “Tell Madam she’d better go to bed and I’ll be along as soon as I can.”
“Oui, Monsieur,” purred Babette, “and who shall I say is calling.”
“I’ve got good news for you,” said the psychiatrist. “You’re a well man. It won’t be necessary for you to continue the analysis any longer.”
“How wonderful, doctor,” said the patient. “I’m very pleased. I wish there were something special I could do for you in return.”
“Oh, that’s not necessary. You’ve paid your bill and that’s all that’s expected.”
“But really, doctor, I’m so elated I could kiss you.”
“No, don’t do that. Actually, we shouldn’t even be lying here on the couch together.”
My own memories of Hugh Hefner are rather neighborly. Back in the 1960s I lived in an apartment on N. State Parkway in Chicago across the street from the Chicago Playboy Mansion. The Mansion was one of the few places where boxing matches could be seen on closed circuit TV, and we used to see lots of limousines pull up to the house the night of the matches. Later, after Hefner had moved to California, the mansion was open for viewing on a special Sunday house walk that I attended. I wasn’t as impressed then as I might have been, but I did see the grotto. I believe the mansion was later sold as some sort of college dormitory.
These days, Playboy has its own cable channel — how times change.