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50 Years Of Playmates.

From Playboy's first Centerfold, Marilyn Monroe to Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, and the 50th Anniversary Playmate, Colleen Shannon, Playmates are beautiful, sensual and remarkable women who can never be forgotten. Now, as part of Playboy's 50th Anniversary, Playboy Home Entertainment proudly presents a Collector's Edition 2-disc set that brings together for the first time 50 years of Centerfold photos; every Playmate data sheet; and interviews and video footage of dozens of the most popular Playmates. 50 Years of Playmates features interviews with Hugh M. Hefner, Playboy photographers, Playmates and celebrities including Kelsey Grammer, Sharon Osbourne, Drew Carey, Adam Corolla, Jimmy Kimmel, and many more.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$45.033 million on 3471 screens.
Domestic Gross
$102.543 million.

Rated PG-13

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 73 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 9/14/2004

Disc One
• 50 Years of Centerfolds and Data Sheets
• “Playboy’s Photographers” Featurettes
• Trailers
Disc Two
• “Playmates of the Year: The Eighties”
• “Playmates of the Year: The Nineties”
• Playmate Videographies


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Playboy: 50 Years Of Playmates (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 10, 2004)

Despite decades of reader claims to the contrary, Playboy didn’t survive for 50 years due to its articles. In addition, it didn’t prosper solely because it showed good-looking naked women. Lots of publications do that - the magazine’s distinctiveness came with the prominence conferred on the Playmate of the Month. Each year, hundreds of women appear in Playboy, but only 12 or so - not counting the occasional set of twins or triplets - earn the title of Playmate.

That makes them special, so much so that they earn a documentary that examines their history. 50 Years of Playmates covers the much-desired models in a reasonably informative manner.

It uses a mix of sources to tell it tale. Playmates presents footage of the women from video centerfolds, behind the scenes and archival clips. We get stills and new interviews with Playmates Pennelope Jimenez, Miriam Gonzalez, Heather Carolin, Janet Pilgrim, Divini Rae, Dalene Kurtis, Shannon Stewart, Allison Parks, DeDe Lind, Joyce Nizzari, Patti Reynolds, Jo Collins, Liv Lindeland, Marilyn Cole, Jennifer Jackson, Christina Santiago, Carmen Berg, Stephanie Heinrich, Tylyn John, Rebecca Ramos, Carmella Decesare, Cynthia Myers, Barbara Moore, Marketa Janska, Deanna Brooks, Devin Devasquez, Pamela Anderson, Deborah Driggs, Renee Tenison, Heather Kozar, Shannon Tweed, Debra Jo Fondren, Tina Bockrath, Marcy Hanson, Martha Smith, the Dahm triplets, Lisa Dergan, Tishara Cousino, and Colleen Shannon. We also hear from Hugh Hefner as well as senior photo editor Kevin Kuster, senior contributing photographer Arny Freytag, photography director Gary Cole, west coast photo editor Marilyn Grabowski, special editions senior editor Jeff Cohen, Hef’s brother Keith, TV hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla, and Robin Leach, and actors Drew Carey, Tony Curtis, Sharon Osbourne, Kelsey Grammer, Harry Hamlin, Lisa Rinna, and David Hasselhoff.

The documentary starts with the first edition of Playboy in December 1953 and the origins of the Playmate as the “Sweetheart of the Month” with Marilyn Monroe. Hef discusses the roots of his obsession with pinups and we hear about the use of “Miss (Month)” and freelance photos. We learn of early Playmate stars and the “girl next door” concept that featured amateur models instead of pros.

The gatefold emerged in March 1956, and Playboy’s Penthouse TV show followed. Hef opened the Playboy Mansion in 1959 and the first Playboy Club in 1960. The Playmate of the Year debuted in 1960 as well, and we hear why the magazine includes the “stories” of the centerfolds. We learn about the evolution of nudity in the magazine and the depiction of the Playmates in the Sixties as well as the popularity of the Playmates in Vietnam. The program covers the first non-white Playmates in the Sixties as well as Playmates’ reactions to the experience and their reactions.

We hear about the debut of the Playboy After Dark TV show in 1968 and the use of the “Big Bunny” jet as well as the move to the Playboy Mansion West in 1971. The photographers discuss their work, and we learn about the arrival of full-frontal Playmate nudity in 1971. The program moves through the emergence of data sheets and video shoots plus the 25th Anniversary search and reunion party in the late Seventies. We get specifics about murdered Playmate Dorothy Stratten before the show discusses the negative affect of the conservative Eighties.

In that decade, the centerfold lost the staple, and that gets coverage. We find notes about Playmates Kimberley Conrad - who married Hef - and Pamela Anderson. This leads to the changing face of Playmates via career aspirations and the evolution of fashion trends in Playmates. We hear about the Playboy website and the return of the Mansion parties after Hef split from Conrad. Lastly, we find notes about the 45th anniversary party and reunion, the Who Wants to Be a Playboy Centerfold? show, and the 50th anniversary search.

At its best, Playmates presented a brisk and entertaining look at its subject. It moves at a rapid and relentless pace, which never allows the show to slow or get tedious. We zip from one subject to another and never pause for air.

This works as both positive and negative. It makes sure we never get bored, but it also means that the program lacks much depth. It’s an exceedingly happy and peppy piece. Almost no problems or criticisms ever appear. The only slightly negative notes occur when we hear of the conservative nature of the Eighties as well as a brief mention of Hef’s split from Conrad.

Otherwise, the program is all happy-happy, joy-joy. I can’t say that I expected more from an in-house program intended to commemorate 50 years of Playmates. However, the tone means that 50 Years never enters into the realm of a real documentary, and it causes more than a few frustrations. For example, I’d have liked many more comments from the Playmates about their experiences. Their remarks fly by very rapidly and offer virtually no substance to convey what it’s like to be in their position. More information from the photographers also would have been good, though at least the DVD’s supplements help flesh out that topic a little.

As a “Cliff’s Notes” history of the Playboy pin-up, 50 Years of Playmates succeeds in that it presents a brisk and entertaining show. It touches on all the appropriate subjects. However, it does so too rapidly and without even a hint of depth or introspection. This makes it enjoyable but forgettable.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus A

50 Years of Playmates appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The variety of source materials made Playmates an erratic picture, but it mostly seemed good.

The nature of the editing helped render any potential problems less prominent. We usually didn’t focus on any one shot for much time, so it became difficult to absorb any issues. Sharpness usually fared well. Some shots were a bit indistinct and fuzzy, but not many of these occurred, and they tended to affect the older footage. New shots usually were nicely distinctive and well-delineated. Only minor instances of jagged edges and shimmering popped up, and edge enhancement didn’t seem to be a problem.

Source flaws varied on the materials being presented. Unsurprisingly, most of the defects came from the archival materials. Since we saw footage that went all the way back to the Fifties, occasional concerns became inevitable. Nonetheless, most of the clips looked acceptably clean.

Colors also varied. Older shots could look rough and muddy, but newer ones usually appeared accurate and smooth. Black levels mostly came across as deep and dense, while the rare low-light shots were acceptably detailed. The wide mélange of sources made this an erratic image and a tough one to grade, but it seemed good enough to merit a “B-“.

The stereo soundtrack found with 50 Years of Playmates offered a less complicated issue. Some soundbites from prior decades appeared, but most of the audio resulted from modern interviews, narration, and music. The soundfield focused on the center except for the stereo music. It showed nice stereo imaging, while all the other elements staye din the middle.

Audio quality was positive. Speech consistently appeared natural and warm, with virtually no edginess or issues connected to intelligibility; some older snippets were a little rough, but those popped up infrequently. Effects played virtually no role in the proceedings, as only very rare examples of those occurred. Music was warm and lush. The score seemed bright and concise with nice low-end response. Nothing about the soundtrack made it dazzling, but it worked well for the material.

50 Years will go down as one of the best Playboy DVDs in regard to supplements. The two-disc set starts on DVD One with a collection of Playmate Centerfolds and Data Sheets. This presents centerfold photos and data sheets for every Playmate from Marilyn Monroe in December 1953 through Colleen Shannon in January 2004. The format seems a bit awkward, as it all comes out via video instead of stillframes; this makes it clumsy to access specific Playmates. Nonetheless, it acts as a nice bonus. (Note that data sheets don’t become available until July 1977 with Sondra Theodore.)

In the Playboy’s Photographers domain, we get three featurettes, each about specific noted artists. We learn about “Arny Freytag” (eight minutes, 58 seconds), “Richard Fegley” (8:12), and “Pompeo Posar” (12:41). All shot in the early Eighties, these show the photographers at work and also include comments about them from folks like Marilyn Grabowski, Gary Cole, associate photography editor Janice Moses, and Fegley’s wife. We get notes from the men themselves about their careers. In addition, we get examples of their photos; although the featurettes themselves were taped more than two decades ago, Freytag’s portfolio includes updates up through the early Nineties. The featurettes seem fairly fluffy, but they offer decent glimpses behind the scenes. I admit it’d be nice to find something newer, though I’m not sure the job’s changed a lot over the last 20 years.

Finally, DVD One includes some trailers. We find ads for the 2004 Playmate of the Year and 50th Anniversary Playmate Video Centerfolds as well as The Ultimate Playmate Search, 2004 Video Playmate Calendar, and Rita.

Over on DVD Two, we get two substantial programs. Playmates of the Year: The ‘80s lasts 54 minutes and 43 seconds, while Playmates of the Year: The ‘90s goes for 100 minutes, 28 seconds. Both take the same approach. They present all 10 PMOYs from their respective decades, though in an oddly non-chronological manner. “’80s” follows 1988, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1980, 1983, 1982, 1985, and 1989, while “’90s” goes 1993, 1990, 1997, 1992, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1996 and 1999. Why the scattershot chronology? I have no idea.

For “’80s”, the content depends somewhat on the vintage of the Playmate. For the earlier ones, we get behind the scenes footage and stills, whereas the later ones mainly consist of photos and excerpts from the Video Centerfolds. Since the Playmates of the decade received much greater video coverage, “’90s” is a more consistent and substantial piece. The format remains the same, but since so much more footage exists, we get a lot more material here.

For me, neither program seems great, but that’s partially because Hef rarely picks PMOYs who I like. I can’t quibble too much with the shows themselves, as they do what they need to do. We get ample coverage of the 20 women involved, and the inclusion of these two programs - each originally sold separately at full price - as extras makes this a generous package.

Lastly, a useful database comes to us with the Playmate Videographies. In this domain you’ll find listings for all the Playmates who showed up in Playboy videos. You can search by Playmate name or by the year of the video release. I like the latter option, as it’s a cool way to watch the evolution of Playboy video product. The piece refers to itself as a “partial listing” but I browsed through it and it seemed fairly complete; I don’t know what they may have omitted. It’s an easy and effective way to find out where to locate your favorites.

As a loose retrospective, 50 Years of Playmates does its job in a reasonably entertaining way. However, it lacks much substance and doesn’t give us a very informative documentary. The DVD presents relatively good picture and audio plus a surprisingly charitable set of supplements highlighted by two full programs originally sold on their own. While I didn’t think a lot of 50 Years on its own, the inclusion of three hours of extras made this a winning set and one I’d recommend to Playboy fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars Number of Votes: 30
5 3:
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