Some curious things were missing from Playboy's "History of the Sexual Revolution" tour in Los Angeles last week.
Little things like treatment clinics for herpes, local jails with inmates sired by absentee fathers and the fact that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger pioneered birth control because she believed nonwhites were "reckless breeders."
Of course, talking about the downside of the sexual revolution isn't as much fun--not to mention what it could do to Playboy's business empire--so the traveling tour instead focused on more upbeat sites and stories.
For example, one of the first stops on the route was the site of Ciro's nightclub (now the Comedy Store), where a stripper named Lili St. Cyr was arrested in 1951 for taking a "bubble bath" onstage in a glass tub that was noticeably short of bubbles.
Other stops included Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly the Hollywood Park Cemetery), a famous porn theater and Hugh Hefner's mansion, where the pajama-clad magazine founder held court with the media and served lunch. The two-hour bus tour was led by James Petersen, a bespectacled, 50-ish journalist who used to write the Playboy Advisor column, which answers such pressing questions as how many calories does semen have (about two per dose) and does chewing a mint before performing oral sex improve the sensation (apparently not).
Petersen took a break from that noble calling in 1996 to pen a decade-by-decade chronicle of the sexual revolution of the 20th century. A lengthy chapter on the 1970s is featured in the current issue of Playboy, along with nude photos of model Cindy Crawford, but we're pretty sure people will buy the magazine for Petersen, not for Crawford.
To bring the semi-scholarly history articles to life, Playboy has sponsored several "Sexual Revolution" tours--in New York City (the cradle of the movement), Washington, D.C. (the censorship battleground) and San Francisco (free-love capital of the 1960s). Late last week, the tour rolled through Los Angeles--on Thursday for the media, and Saturday and Sunday for the public.
Petersen, wearing a black sports jacket, tan slacks and a cute fluffy bunny tail on his derriere (OK, we lied about the tail), says L.A.'s chief contribution to the revolution is celluloid.
"In the 1920s, Hollywood took control of the public image of sex," he says. People learned how to kiss and how to court from movies. And later they learned a few other tricks too. About 80% of all porn films are made in greater Los Angeles, he reports.
Not surprisingly, one of the stops on the tour is the former Pussycat Theater (now the gay-oriented Tomkat Theater), which showed "Deep Throat" 13 times a day for 10 years.
"This was porn's shining hour," Petersen beams, standing over the theater's skin-flick walk of fame, a section of sidewalk stamped with the handprints and footprints ("the parts of the anatomy you're least interested in for a porn star") of such actors as Linda Lovelace, Marilyn Chambers and John Holmes.
Petersen fails to mention that Holmes, who boasted of sleeping with thousands of women, died of AIDS at age 43.
Instead, pointing across the street to a sex-toy shop that sells S&M; chains by the yard, Petersen waxes nostalgic about an L.A. family who "sat around the kitchen table carving dildos and making penis harmonicas" in the 1970s. And people say Playboy doesn't promote family values.
The tour also highlights several sexual revolution villains, such as the Directors Guild of America, which is castigated for caving in to censorship pressures; the USO, which banned risque entertainment for soldiers during World War II; and the Catholic Church, the perennial bogeyman of sexual libertarians.
At another point, the tour bus lurches past a former home of Ronald Reagan, whom Petersen calls "easily the most antisexual president of the century," in part because he had the gall to "pour money into child pornography stings," thus crimping "free sexual expression."
But Petersen heaps praise on Charlie Chaplin for fighting censorship, and for impregnating and then marrying a 16-year-old, then divorcing her for a younger woman (a 15-year-old), who later charged him with demanding an act of "sexual perversion as defined by the California Penal Code" (Hint: It involved consuming about two calories).
Another of Petersen's sex heroes is Mae West, who "challenged existing morality" by appearing on radio and telling a wooden ventriloquist's dummy, "You're a nice piece of ash." West also hinted at a fling with the dummy: "I got the marks to prove it, and splinters too."
An outraged President Franklin Roosevelt responded by creating the Federal Communications Commission to squelch radio indecency. Petersen describes West as a 1940s precursor to Madonna.
Unfortunately, he adds, few in Hollywood defied censorship as bravely. But some succeeded with more subtle approaches. Cecil B. DeMille, whose grave is one of several on the tour, created "biblical porn," Petersen says. He filmed "scantily clad Christians being fed to lions," dwelt on sex-related Bible stories that would have been banned in other contexts and paved the way for steamy shower sex by "glorifying the bathroom as a world of sensuality."
Last but not least among L.A.'s sexual revolutionaries is Hefner, whose Tudor mansion is the final stop on the tour. The bus unloads at the back gate, and visitors are escorted onto the verdant grounds, which house squawking parrots, peacocks and a monkey chained to a tree. There is also the infamous grotto, an enclosed area of hot tubs, shallow pools and large padded cushions on the deck, a destination to which every self-actualized female should aspire.
Eventually, Playboy's aging, wrinkled founder emerges from the mansion. The TV news crews on the tour shift into high gear, wiring pajama-boy for sound and then peppering him with questions about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, as if he might actually have something insightful to say, which he doesn't.
Finally, someone asks about the future of the sexual revolution, which prompts Hefner to launch into a monologue about how "this society is predicated on individual freedom" (although we can't quite imagine the Founding Fathers lining up for tickets at the Pussycat Theater) and how "everybody lies about sex--to their wives, to their girlfriends and to themselves." He quotes Lenny Bruce: "Don't tell me what should be. Tell me what is. 'What should be' is a lie."
Hefner then stands up in his black pajamas, red robe and black slippers at 1:30 in the afternoon and shuffles back to his own world of airbrushed centerfolds and silicone-filled breasts, back to his own lie.