Greetings first-time a.nolen readers! If you are unaware of the IRS evidence suggesting that Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Empire are CIA assets, please see my post Do You Have A Key to the Playboy Mansion? Enjoy!
I started writing this post expecting to find that the literary brain behind Playboy magazine, Auguste Comte Spectorsky, had a few intelligence ties to William Stephenson’s publishing network in New York City during WWII. Instead, I stumbled onto ‘Congress for Cultural Freedom 2.0′.
The operation which Spectorsky ran for Hugh Hefner was/is a more sophisticated version of the ‘non-communist left’ crusade that CIA agents Melvin Lasky and Michael Josselson ran across the globe during the Cold War. Why was a more sophisticated strategy necessary?
The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) was fatally flawed in that it was obviously not organic to any of the regions where it metastasized: after WWII loud Americans suddenly appeared with gobs of money for any ‘intellectual’ who would present anti-Russian, leftist views. The game was obvious and anyone worthy of the appellation ‘intellectual’ would have known that US intelligence was behind it– after all, the US and Russia were the only countries left standing.
The CCF was never very successful and I suspect that the CIA realized well before Ernst Henry exposed the CCF in 1962 that appealing to intellect would not sell their message; the CIA’s best chance would be to wrap their politics in sex. Hence the weird, Orwellian hybrid of ‘sexual liberation’ and sexual exploitation that is The Playboy Empire.
Hefner’s magazine mimicked part of the CCF’s political message in as far as it promoted non-communist left ideas, however, Playboy dropped the Christian and more conservative political elements which the CCF included. Hefner never tried to be anything but American, so the message wasn’t burdened with the inherent fakeness of Americans posing as Spaniards, Indians or French, etc. Instead of selling the CIA through testimonials from already-famous intellectuals, Hefner sold the CIA through T&A, consumerism, and a mirage called ‘the Playboy lifestyle’.
Here’s where things really get interesting, because Playboy had to take up the core CCF message without allying itself with the CCF. Many authors who were promoted by the CCF also appeared on Playboy covers, but so did many Western intellectuals who made names for themselves by bashing the CCF. In fact, the first authors and politicians featured on Playboy covers were those championed by CCF critics like Allen Ginsberg and John Kenneth Galbraith. Playboy was self-conscious in its promotion of these ‘dissident’ intellectuals, as if to scream “We’re not CCF!” while promoting the core of the CCF message.
As I researched who Playboy promoted month by month from 1959-1976, I consistently recognized names from Frances Stonor Saunders’ book The Cultural Cold War; names she celebrated as critics of the ugly Americans’ CIA operation. Saunders’ prejudices matter, because her work is considered the gold standard CCF exposé. The men Saunders plugged as ‘intellectually honest critics of the CIA’s agenda’ were the same ones that CIA-backed Playboy chose to promote in the face of the CCF’s implosion. Saunder’s heroes promoted the CIA’s leftist agenda in Playboy, but stripped it of the more moderate, conservative elements– elements that the older CCF had included.
This forced me to reevaluate Saunders’ book The Cultural Cold War: in writing it she cut off an arm to save the CIA’s body. She protected CIA assets like Allen Ginsberg at the expense of CIA assets like T.S. Eliot. That’s why she’s still breathing, folks. The only question I have left about Saunders is why her book had to come out in 2000– I’m not going to dig into that question now, though I suspect the answer has something to do with Bill Colby floating face down in the Wicomico River circa 1996. (Colby told us in his autobiography that the CIA’s ‘non-communist’ left putsch was largely staffed by his old OSS friends.)
I’ve thrown my theory at you, so now I’m going to explain how I’ve come to this conclusion. First, I’ll provide what little background I have on A. C. Spectorsky, because his personality is interesting with respect to The Cult of Intelligence. Then I will present the results of my statistical analysis of Playboy covers between 1959-76, highlighting the mind-boggling number of known intelligence operatives who wrote for the publication. Next week I’m going to drill out Playboy’s ‘culture war’ politics– politics which mesh ominously with MK ULTRA operations that I’ve written about in the past.
Who was A. C. Spectorsky?
When I read in Warren Hinckle’s autobiography that he’d been given an introduction to Hugh Hefner by A. C. Spectorsky in a bid to fund Ramparts, I knew that I would have to learn more about the Playboy gatekeeper.
Auguste Comte Spectorsky is not an easy man to track down. Most of what I could find comes from Playboy contributor Steven Watts’ book Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream. In July 1956, Watts says Hefner hired Spectorsky to be his “second in command” at the magazine, though Hinckle’s recollections show that Spectorsky had control of more than just the publication. Prior to July ’56 Playboy had already published one of Spectorsky’s stories under a pseudonym. This is how Watts says Hefner decided to hire ‘Spec':
The publisher [Hefner] had decided that someone carrying credentials with the East Coast Establishment would help Playboy to gain increased respectability… Equally important, he [Spectorsky] was content to remain in the background and support Hefner as a public symbol of the magazine. “I think Hef, the young sparkplug and head of the whole operation, is the guy who should be kept in the foreground,” he [Spectorsky] wrote in a staff memo.
How magnanimous of new-hire Spectorsky to affirm Hefner as the front man! Besides deciding what would go into Playboy– like how and where products would be placed– Spectorsky’s job included introducing Hefner to “important authors, publishers and agents”.
Spectorsky was born in Paris in 1910 to Russian émigré parents– that’s prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, but during the time when the Czar’s enemies (political undesirables) were sometimes driven to Western Europe for succor. For example, Trotsky was in Vienna at this time and Lenin was in Switzerland; from these places the future dictators drummed up support for what would become the Bolshevik Revolution.
I don’t know that Spectorsky’s parents were ‘political undesirables’, but when WWI began they fled Paris for New York City, where they were quickly absorbed into the more comfortable echelons of society. (Just like Trotsky had been.) After graduating in Physics and Math from NYU, A. C. Spectorsky’s first job was with the editorial staff of The New Yorker magazine.
Improbable doors never stopped opening for the young Auguste Comte: Spectorsky worked as Literary Editor for the Chicago Sun for six years “during the 1940s” before returning to NYC as “a writer and editor in movies, television and journalism”.
The literary world Spectorsky swam in was stuffed with ‘pinko millionaires’ and their henchmen. I’ll remind readers that every publishing concern except Hearst’s got behind FDR’s campaign to drag the USA into WWII to fight for the British, and that British master-spy William Stephenson’s media power-base was in NYC. (See Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars.)
To work in television, however, Spectorsky would have needed additional patronage; patronage that likely came from the circle around David Sarnoff, the military-media-mogul and ‘father of American television’. Sarnoff was versed in intelligence matters thanks to his war-time propaganda work and was an admirer of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who championed the use of propaganda to subvert democracy. David Sarnoff is also credited with devising the American foreign policy tactic of ‘gang rioting’ to facilitate regime change. (By the mid Sixties the CIA was exploring how to incite rioting in American ‘inner cities’ via the MK ULTRA subproject 102 and the work of Muzafer Sherif.)
In short, A. C. Spectorsky had friends in all the right places and was close to those ‘pinko millionaires’ who have done so much to undermine civil society. Spectorsky’s literary career was built on flattering those millionaires: his most famous book, The Exurbanites, is a cloying homage to NYC’s intelligentsia:
The exurbanite is a displaced New Yorker. He has moved from the city to the country. So indeed have hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially since the second World War; but for the exurbanite the case is different; for him the change is an exile. He will never quite completely permit himself to be absorbed into his new surroundings; he will never acclimate… spiritually he will always been urban, an irreconcilable whose step… is still the steadiest when it returns to the familiar crowded cross-walks of Madison Avenue.
Of course, literature is how you look at it and Spectorsky may be mocking the ‘East Coast Establishment’ in his book, but having lived that life myself, I believe it’s more likely that Spectorsky is regurgitating the provincial attitudes (and fears) which were lampooned on this New Yorker cover in 1976: We don’t know how Spectorsky was chosen to be the brains behind Playboy, but it happened, and he soon transferred his unfettered desire for approval away from the New York Literary Establishment to his new power-figure, Hugh Hefner. This is how Watts describes the relationship between these two men, it may remind readers of how cult followers identify with authority figures:
Nevertheless, he [Spectorsky] yearned for his boss’ [Hefner’s] approval. “He had a very strange relationship with Hefner,” Spectorsky’s wife reported. “Almost father-son, but the wrong way round. I don’t know why he had this tremendous need to please Hefner but he did.”
Spectorsky describes his own relationship with his boss this way: “To hate him as much as I’ve hated him, you really have to love him.”
Hefner, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to express condolences to Spectorsky when A.C.’s daughter died. Spectorsky put up with his narcissistic ‘boss’ because of a deep-seated insecurity about his worth as a writer, says Watts. Spectorsky’s opinion of his own talents was higher than anything literary he achieved in life; he tried to compensate for this with a flashy yacht and a luxurious lifestyle.
What Politics did Spectorsky Promote in Playboy?
Having given you a picture of Playboy’s literary gatekeeper Spectorsky, I’ll now go on to what type of ideas he chose to promote in Hefner’s mag. I’ve spent the last few days tabulating who and what was featured on every Playboy cover between 1959-1976. That’s 216 covers and about 140 authors total.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, there was a lot of cross-pollination between Playboy and the Congress for Cultural Freedom during the 1959-76 period, (the number in [brackets] is how many times the author was featured on a Playboy cover): Tennessee Williams , Bertrand Russell  (see University of Chicago CCF archives), as well as Alberto Moravia , Leslie Fielder , Norman Thomas , Vladimir Nabokov , Arthur Koestler , William Benton , William F. Buckley Jr.  and William Saroyan  (see Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War). Vladimir Nabokov was the cousin of CCF General Secretary Nicholas Nabokov.
Typically, if Spectorsky decided to feature an author on Playboy’s cover, they were featured twice, so a number of the CCF writers listed above were given extra-special promotion. However, intellectuals who made a name for themselves by criticizing the CCF were also promoted heavily: Allen Ginsberg , Gore Vidal , Graham Greene , Jean Paul Satre , John Kenneth Galbraith , Kenneth Tynan , Murray Kempton , Norman Mailer  and John La Carre . The director Stanley Kubrick , another of Saunders’ beloved ‘Cold War ethos’ critics, was also promoted.
In The Cultural Cold War Saunders makes a particular effort to emphasize how the writers listed above, particularly Ginsberg , Tynan  and Mailer , ‘stood up’ to the CIA’s perversion of the intellectual sphere. For instance, here’s a quote from Saunders’ book, p. 216:
It [Quest, the CCF publication in India] probably didn’t deserve J. K. Galbraith’s sneer that ‘it broke new ground in ponderous, unfocused illiteracy’. Certainly Prime Minister Nehru didn’t like it, as he always distrusted the Congress as an ‘American front’. (The Cultural Cold War, p 216)
J. K. Galbraith was promoted by Hefner and Jawaharlal Nehru was the first head of state to be featured on a Playboy cover; Nehru’s issue was October 1962. (The outspokenly anti-CCF Prime Minister appeared eight months after Ernst Henri outed the Congress for Cultural Freedom!) Regular readers will remember that Frances Stonor Saunders makes no mention of Henri’s article in her book, but she almost certainly knew about it. The only other foreign heads of state to make a Playboy cover during this period were Fidel Castro (Exclusive Interview!) and Mao Tse Tung (His Poetry!)– Playboy played an influential role in introducing these communist leaders’ ideas to the American public. (Castro was promoted by Allen Ginsberg and fellow Playboy contributor Leroi Jones .)
Saunders never gets tired of plugging Ginsberg and the ‘Beat’ poets as antidotes to the CIA’s cultural meddling:
With the rise of the New Left [think Ramparts magazine –a.nolen] and the Beats, the cultural outlaws who had existed on the margins of American society now entered the mainstream, bringing with them a contempt for what William Burroughs called a ‘sniveling, mealy-mouthed tyranny of bureaucrats, social workers, psychiatrists and union officials… Alan Ginsberg, who in his 1956 lament Howl had mourned the wasted years– ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness’– now advocated the joys of open homosexuality and hallucinogenic ‘Peyote solitudes’. Munching LSD, singing the body electric, reading poetry in the nude, navigating the world through a mist of benzedrine and dope, the Beats reclaimed Walt Whitman from stiffs like Norman Pearson Holmes [Literary scholar, J. J. Angleton’s sponsor with British intelligence –a.nolen], and sanctified him as the original hippy. They were scruffy rebels who sought to return chaos to order, in contrast to the obsession with formulae which characterized magazines like Encounter [CIA funded non-communist left magazine –a.nolen]. (p. 361)
The ‘Beat Generation’ writers were the second non-pornography cover feature for Playboy (June 1959); the first was Jazz, which the CIA had been using as a culture war tool since the early 50s. Playboy was a consistent proponent of Jazz throughout the Cold War; it later championed ‘pop’ music too. Playboy’s ‘dissident’ stance against traditional morality was the same stance that ‘Saunders-approved’ authors like Norman Mailer  took against the Congress for Cultural Freedom:
With equal conviction, Norman Mailer argued that America’s war in Vietnam was ‘the culmination to a long sequence of events which had begun in some unrecorded fashion toward the end of World War II. A consensus of the most powerful middle-aged and elderly WASPs in America– statesmen, corporation executives, generals, admirals, newspaper editors, and legislators– had pledged an intellectual troth: they had sworn with a faith worthy of medieval knights that Communism was the deadly foe of Christian culture. (p.371)
The typical Playboy contributor looks a lot more like Norman Mailer than a middle-aged, American WASP. So who were the typical Playboy contributors?
Authors were first promoted on Playboy’s cover regularly in Jan 1959: the first fifteen included three British intelligence agents P. G. Wodehouse, Roald Dahl, Robert Graves, plus one more likely British intel agent John Collier. (Collier’s career so closely resembles Dahl’s that it would be extraordinary if Stephenson hadn’t recruited him.) Let’s be conservative and say 20% of the first authors were British intel.
Open American intelligence operatives are the next most numerous: Richard Gehman and Marion Hargove both wrote allied propaganda for the military during WWII. Alberto Moravia’s journalistic career in Italy flourished under James Angleton’s propaganda regime; Moravia also participated in the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom. 20% of these Playboy cover writers come from US intelligence.
Recap: 40% of A. C. Spectorsky’s first 15 authors who were promoted on Playboy’s cover were British or American intelligence agents/assets.
The next largest group are the probable American intelligence assets; I say probable because of their association with US agent Allen Ginsberg, who gave CIA notes on the heroin trade in Vietnam to Alfred McCoy so that McCoy could write The Politics of Heroin; and introduced Mick Jagger to his political handler, Tom Driberg, a British intelligence agent. These ‘friends of Ginsberg’ are 1) Jack Kerouac; who was discharged from the Marines after ten days’ service and mysteriously avoided prosecution for his role in the murder of David Kammerer and 2) Herbert Gold who would eventually occupy CIA asset Vladimir Nabokov’s chair at Cornell. That’s another 13% who had probable intel ties.
Finally, Ben Hecht had intelligence connections of a different type. In the US, he was a big proponent of racial integration, but in Israel he supported Irgun, the Zionist paramilitary group which ethnically cleansed chunks of Palestine for the Jewish state. (According to Judith Rice of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, the ‘American League for a Free Palestine’, a cover for Irgun stateside, cooperated with the NAACP to end segregation. Did the NAACP know what their Jewish partners were doing to Palestinians?) Charles Beaumont, another ‘first’ Playboy contributor, was one of Hecht’s working colleagues. Conservatively, Let’s tag on another 7%.
At the very least, between 47%-60% of contributors who were among the first 15 writers featured on Playboy’s cover had intelligence connections. I wonder why Spectorsky’s talent pool contained so many spooks? This sampling of writers is quite representative of Playboy contributors over the 1959-66 period, who were drawn from the intelligence community in shocking numbers.
Things really get interesting when we look at all-time contributors. I’ve broken the list up into pre-1966 contributors and 1967-76 contributors because 1966 was the year the New York Times was told to out the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
Ian Fleming, the British master spy, is easily Playboy’s most promoted author ever– covers in 1965 were rarely without him and his literary achievement, the spook-fairy-princess ‘James Bond’, originally debuted on Playboy pages. (Why would a CIA organ want to promote Bond’s lifestyle in a magazine that encourages the objectification of sexual partners? See John Gittinger’s Personality Assessment System, The Cult of Intelligence and Great Users of People.)
I’ve mentioned most of the names on that list before; we all know that Ernest Hemingway was a CIA/OSS/KGB spy. J. P. Getty, a running contributor on money matters, ultimately funded CIA agent Kenneth Anger’s career. Robert Raurk was a poor man’s version of Hemingway, who covered the Mau Mau Rebellion (which Rolling Stones groupie Robert Fraser helped suppress via propaganda) for the CIA front TIME magazine (Feb. 16th 1953). Nat Hentoff is a pro-Israel ‘social justice’ activist who covered Jazz for major East Coast media outlets during the period in which the CIA used Jazz as a Culture War tool. (Hentoff now fights anti-semitism from the CATO Institute.)
Shepherd Mead was a vice president of the advertising firm Benton & Bowles. Benton & Bowles rose to fame on the coat-tails of the Radio industry in the USA, an industry that has always had deep ties to the intelligence community. Benton, the company’s founder, shared David Sarnoff and Edward Bernays’ vision that communications should be used to reeducate the public. Jean Shepherd was also a radio personality, making a smooth transition into media from serving in the US Army Signal Corps during WWII.
The ‘science fiction’ faction of Playboy contributors is fascinating: Ray Bradbury was a regular at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), whose leading lights included Jack Parsons, the top-secret Jet propulsion scientist and Aleister Crowley (UK Intel) devotee; as well as Karl Germer’s successor to the intelligence-heavy O.T.O. Grady McMurty; and L. Ron Hubbard. (See Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter). The LASFS had a weird military bent too, as lasfsinc.info describes:
At the same time, with World War II in progress and most SF [science fiction] fans over 18 in the Armed Services, the LASFS took on the atmosphere of a fannish USO. Los Angeles was a major embarkation center for soldiers and sailors shipping out into the Pacific, and LASFS members were always ready to stop fighting long enough to greet and play host to fans in uniform passing through L.A. to the front.
Other science fiction/horror contributors include Ray Russell (a contributor to the CIA’s Paris Review), and the previously mentioned Charles Beaumont. Roald Dahl, besides being a UK intel operative, was also gifted in writing the macabre which he infused with his anger toward women and his anti-German prejudices. (See Storyteller, by Donald Sturrock.)
Ken Purdy was a personal friend of Spectorsky’s who shot himself in the early Seventies; I couldn’t find anything about “William Iversen”, who doesn’t seem to have written beyond Playboy, but he did take on a strong anti-marriage stance in Hefner’s rag.
Let’s consider the next ‘era’ 1967 to 1976, the year William Colby’s tenure at the CIA ended.
Both Len Deighton (famous for spy fiction) and Arthur C. Clarke were in the RAF during WWII, Deighton was an RAF Special Investigations Unit photographer and Clarke worked on sensitive, cutting edge radar technology. Clarke became a well-known a science fiction author and championed LGBT issues from his adopted Sri Lanka, where he was given a type of knighthood. Dan Greenberg worked with Kenneth Tynan on Oh! Calcutta! and was famous for writing How To Be A Jewish Mother; Kenneth Tynan was a favorite CCF ‘dissenter’. According to Saunders, Tynan lampooned the CCF on the BBC TV Show That Was The Week That Was several months after Ernst Henri outed the CIA operation in 1962, i.e. Tynan and the BBC slammed the CCF around the same time Playboy featured anti-CCF Nehru.
Evan Hunter is interesting because he was an executive editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency which was founded in NYC in 1946. Scott Meredith’s first client was British intel agent P.G. Wodehouse, who had to run to the USA after making suspect radio broadcasts from Berlin during WWII; MI5 quickly cleared Wodehouse of any wrongdoing, but the general public was not so forgiving and considered him a traitor. Scott Meredith also represented Playboy mega-contributors Norman Mailer and Arthur C. Clarke.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. supported Frank Platt, a CIA agent and Farfield Foundation director, for president of the PEN organization even after the CIA’s congress (and Frank Platt!) had been thoroughly outed (See Saunder’s Cultural Cold War). William F Buckley Jr was a CIA agent who worked under E. Howard Hunt. Irwin Shaw was the type of writer who the CIA’s Paris Review likes to promote. (Salon did a piece on the PR’s CIA connection in 2012– a.nolen is now taking bets on when Glenn Greenwald’s Salon will be outed as an Agency front.)
Woody Allen is the famous director and darling of Hollywood, who has recently been accused by the daughter of his one-time wife Mia Farrow of molesting her as a child. Isaac Bashevis Singer, another Paris Review (CIA) favorite, wrote about counter-culture and politics from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. John Cheever is the archetypical ‘WASP hypocrite’ writer and poster-child for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Alan Watts, whose book I quoted from earlier about Spectorsky, was a defrocked minister and an LSD proponent.
That’s a lot of names. Probably enough for one post. I’ve put up a list of Playboy contributors 1959-76 and how many cover promos they had, so you can see for yourself how the CIA ranked your favorite Mid-Century author! (This list is only comprehensive for writers who were featured more than once, a handful of remaining single-shot promos are coming soon.) Next week there will be something for everyone:
- I’ll tie Playboy politics into the larger CIA agenda during the 1950s, 60s and 70s– the agenda we know in part because of William Colby’s leaks.
- We’ll also see how Frances Stonor Saunders ties into the Angleton/Colby squabble that did so much to shape American intelligence.
- More on Ramparts and what got Gawker contributor Adrian Chen fired!