April 14, 2009

Spy Vibe’s Penthouse Party

Taking a new step from behind the desk to inhabit the lifestyle he envisioned for himself, Hugh Hefner launched a show for television in 1959 called Playboy’s Penthouse (re-named Playboy After Dark). The concept was to host a party with his pals and heroes (many of whom would become personal friends), and invite the world to be a part of the scene- a kind of casual talk show in an intimate setting. Now released on DVD, it’s really interesting to study the program, as Hefner has commented, because it offers a glimpse of the 1940s/1950s world on the brink of a revolution, and the world of the late 1960 and early 1970s with a new cultural climate ushered in by the youth movement. Each party offered a chance to invite musicians, models, and interesting thinkers of the day to spend a casual evening discussing their ideas and playing music.

Highlights from Disc One: Author Rona Jaffe talks about her novel, The Best of Everything, after Hef screens a sneak preview of the film adaptation for the party on his movie projector. She and Hef begin an interesting, perhaps contrary, discussion about attitudes toward romantic affairs and responsibility, but are interrupted by Ella Fitzgerald’s arrival at the penthouse. Hef gets to sit piano side with Ella, who performs a great live set. Hef surprises everyone with a knockout recording that Ella made at Playboy’s famous jazz weekend festival prior to the party.

Songwriter Cy Coleman performs a number of tunes, including a few that Sinatra recorded. And greats like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. stop in to chat and share their talents. Comedian Lenny Bruce and Hef have a discussion about honesty and about the relationship between humor and society. Disc One is worth seeing especially for Ella Fitzgerald, and I look forward to checking out the rest of the box sets.

Spy Vibe’s Penthouse Party
What if Spy Vibe could host a Penthouse party of fictional characters? Which agents would get the For Your Eyes Only invite? Who would you invite? Stay Tuned!

See the SPY VIBE Website for related VIDEO


  1. The period of about 1958-1964 was for me the peak period of this kind of culture; I'm fascinated with this era, especially the jazz scene of the time. I also happen to love the style of clothes, architecture, and the overrall look of my hometown, Miami, during this same time. I've been wanting to buy this DVD but see that it's now out of print.

    It's also interesting to note how things changed circa 1965-1973, another period you've discussed previously here. Good work, Jason; I'm enjoying your blog.

  2. Thank You :) The DVD box sets are still available through Netflix if you use them.

    The Jazz portions of Playboy After Dark are especially cool to explore -as are the many live Jazz DVDs from this period. I will post some clips soon on the Spy Vibe website. Miami must have been an interesting spot back then!

  3. I'd love to see Ella, but I doublt I will check out anything with the name Playboy on it.

  4. Surely you'd want to invite Emma Peel, Steed, Cathy Gale and Derek Flint. I wouldn't mind seeing the villainesses from Operacion 67 (Santo movie) and Temptress With A Thousand Faces (HK) there either.

    As for the jazz era, there are a series of DVDs out from the Jazz Scene, USA show from the early sixties that chronicle it beautifully. You can find some great clips here: Jazz Scene, USA.