Retired Playboy editor gets airbrushed treatment in newspaper profile

Ever wonder about the morality or spirituality of a Playboy editor? Well, when you read a newspaper profile on one of them, you'll still be left wondering.

The Sunday feature, in the Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune, drops a hint or two in telling of Gretchen Edgren, who worked as an editor for 25 years in the Playboy empire. She's a "churchgoing mother of two." Now living in retirement in Holmes Beach, she was "brought up in a religious but open-minded household" in Oregon. But aside from those glancing blows, the article pretty much rambles for 800+ words.

The hook is apparently that this calm, silver-haired lady once edited a magazine and several books for Hugh Hefner's libertine realm. As a further paradox, although she's on nickname terms with "Hef," she never even visited his Playboy Mansion.

The Herald-Tribune takes pains to say that Edgren was a "serious journalist" whose first gig was at the The Oregonian before becoming an assistant editor for VIP, the magazine for Playboy Club members. She then edited annual collections of Playmates and a 40-year retrospect of the flagship magazine.

How did she regard the focus of her trade -- which one of her annual projects celebrated as The Year in Sex? No problem, says the Herald-Tribune, but it doesn't really say why:

“I considered myself a feminist, but the whole feminist thing about 'Playboy' exploiting women wasn't right,” says Edgren, whose first job was as a reporter for The Oregonian. “Women were not being rounded up and forced to pose. They were lining up at the door, and for a lot of reasons.”

You don’t need years in newspapering to see the questions left hanging. In what ways is Edgren a feminist? What reasons brought women to Playboy? And is force the only way women are exploited? For more on the latter, try Gloria Steinem's painful, humiliating turn as an "undercover Bunny" at the Playboy Club in New York.

Edgren tells the Herald-Tribune that she ignored Hefner's "personal peccadilloes and admired his commitment to civil rights, free speech and women's issues." She adds: "He doesn't get credit for a lot of the good things he's done.”

OK, like what? How did Hef and Playboy contribute to civil rights, free speech and women's issues? Edgren doesn't say. And unless a paragraph or more was cut, she wasn't asked.

How does her religious background gibe with the skin-mag trade? The article doesn't go into that, either. It merely says that she and her late husband, Bud, "alternated between the choirs at his church, Lutheran, and hers, Episcopalian." The church names? Not given.

It's not like the membership is secret. The Islander, the weekly newspaper of Anna Maria Island, ran an obit on her husband in 2012, giving both church names: Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation.

Wouldn't it be interesting to ask Edgren what light those religious traditions, Lutheran and Episcopal, may shed on the libertine Playboy Philosophy -- which includes a lot of opinions on religion? I guess the Herald-Tribune didn't think so.

Edgren gave rather more substantive answers in a 2006 story -- also in the Herald-Tribune. That story, an advance on a talk at the local library, concentrates on some of the hundreds of playmates she's interviewed for her five Playboy books.

It includes some of the catchphrases, but goes a little further:

She is a married, churchgoing mother of two. Not that it matters, she said.
"You assume that because I work for Playboy that I'm kind of libertine. I'm not," she said. "Or you think because I go to church I'm sort of prude. I'm no prude at all."

Evidently, she isn't asked the obvious: "How do you blend the two sides of your life?"

Later, though, the writer asks directly: "Is it immoral?" She dodges with, "If I really thought that what I was doing was really that immoral, I wouldn't be doing it. I don't think that it is."

And the newspaper lets her get away with it, with no follow-up questions. You know, like "What morals are involved with posing nude or leading a sex-oriented lifestyle? Do the churches you attend provide any perspective?"

Edgren barely hints at a different reaction from the playmates themselves when she says that "some regretted the decision to pose nude, but most didn't." Here, too, the Herald-Tribune could have found some resources, like Cosmopolitan's log of negative things playmates said about Hef's mansion.

The main premise of both newspaper articles is the paradox of a churchgoing mother who is a veteran in one of the main influences in loosening sexual morality. These and other issues lurk at the fringes of the two Herald-Tribune stories, as in the 2006 sentence, "Playboy emerged on the scene in 1953 at the speartip of the Sexual Revolution."

The Herald-Tribune didn't need to write sensational exposes; but it could have used sharper focus and less airbrush.

Thumbnail photo: Playboy logo, Berlin, 2014, via Main Photo: "Playboy Club Bar" by terren in Virginia on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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