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Playboy for sale - Tom Purcell

It was one of the chief reasons kids built shacks in the early 1970s: to hide their stash of Playboy magazines.

Playboy was pretty racy fare back then, and any kid whose mother caught him with one might not survive into adulthood. And so, we built shacks.

We'd walk miles to the new housing projects and scavenge supplies. We'd build shacks in the woods and secure them with locks.

Once the shack was built, kids had two goals in life: secure whatever Playboys we were able to acquire and raid other kids' shacks to swipe their Playboys.

That is how I came upon the famous Barbi Benton issue.

Another kid two blocks away -- I didn't know him well, but we'd later become best friends -- had built a shack with his group of pals. Despite it having a big Master lock on the door, one yank caused the door's hinges to fall off.

When I went inside, I hit the mother lode: There sat a stack of six or seven Playboys, including the coveted Barbi Benton issue.

I got to thinking about the old shack days recently after learning that Playboy Enterprises is for sale.

As it goes, in an era in which racy stuff is now everywhere, the magazine's circulation is in decline. The company is losing lots of dough. Its stock is tanking.

Money has gotten so tight, says the U.K. Telegraph, that old Hugh Hefner, the magazine's founder, has had to lay off household staff. To generate new revenue, the company is charging people to attend the famous parties at the Playboy Mansion.

What's worse, Hef's three blond-haired girlfriends -- the ones featured in cable TV's "The Girls Next Door" -- have moved on. They've taken advantage of new opportunities.

And I thought those girls liked the 83-year-old Hef for who he was. I never expected they might use his fame to advance their own careers.

It's a shame to see old Hef, still kicking around in his silk bathrobe, looking as tired and unhip as his old magazine.

Sure, he had a heck of a run. For a spell, in the '50s, he had been living the way most families lived -- he had a wife, two kids and a modest home in the suburbs -- but he left his wife to fulfill his dream.

He borrowed dough and bought some nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. He launched Playboy, and it was an instant success. Apparently, men liked the idea of looking at beautiful women without their duds on, and Hef's new magazine cleverly took the shame out of it.

To be sure, his magazine was groundbreaking in its day. Its interviews with the movers and shakers of that time made for good reading.

And, true, he has become an American icon of sorts. He did achieve tremendous material wealth -- he did have his share of influence over his times. According to the Telegraph, for instance, he believes he had a central role in advancing the sexual revolution.

He surely played a role in helping America overcome its repressive ways -- how things were before young women routinely got excessively drunk and eagerly flashed their parts for a "Girls Gone Wild" cameraman.

Now that his girlfriends have moved on to bigger things, old Hef is auditioning other young beauties to fill the void. Lucky for him, there will always be other young beauties waiting in line -- so long as his magazine's sale generates enough dough so that he can keep on supporting them.

In any event, if kids are still building shacks, I doubt anyone would worry much that they might be locking up their Playboys.

Thanks, in part, to old opportunists like Hef -- he became rich and famous attacking our stodgy, old moralities and contributed to the coarsening of our culture in the process -- today's parents have lots more to worry about than a couple of Playboy magazines.

Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.