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4/8/2004

Happytown > Happytown

Playboy 50th anniversary tour and welcoming a new Sentinel editor

 

When we caught wind that Playboy was bringing its 50th Anniversary tour to press its dirty pillows against the windows of The Club at Firestone, we were naturally offended. Not so much because of the blatant propagation of soft-lit sexual fantasy, but because -- and everybody knows this -- Orlando Weekly is completely and totally gay.

We weren't always this way. Even we have to admit to some camp appreciation of the Bo Derek years of the early '80s, which left us in the nervous position of interest, slowly dog-earing our shame and secretly wanting to know more.

Especially if that knowing more included a call to Playboy Enterprises, where we were met by a (not) surprisingly friendly -- and (not) surprisingly female -- Jay Jay Nesheim, the director of public relations.

"We went through our subscribers of Playboy magazine, and we selected cities that kind of had like, um, a good amount of subscribers, because we knew there would be a lot of fans there."

Which instantly conjured visions of Orlandoans behind closed doors reading Playboy with one hand, an image distinctly at odds with the popular face of O-Town as a chaste burg filled with people not coveting one another's wives (and/or husbands). Anyway.

The press release promised a "once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience that luxurious Playboy lifestyle," via a Hef-approved memorabilia exhibit (including his own silk pajamas!), and some high-class mingling with girls in uniform.

"It's something that Playboy has never done before," offered Jay Jay. "Normally, Playboy parties, a normal person can't get into them. Generally, just, that's it: You have your VIPs and you have your celebrities."

It should be noted here that we normal people can become VIPs, for an hour anyway, by shelling out $146 a ticket (normal people who prefer to stay normal can pay a budget-friendly $65).

"We want to give everybody a chance to experience the Playboy brand," she further scared us with marketing talk. "Basically, we go into a venue, and we turn it into a Playboy club for, like, a night. It's like a rock tour."

Only without that pesky rock. Bimbos dating back to '86 will be on display, and will sell and sign memorabilia from their traveling Playboy Shop. So we suggest you pull your pants up, reach deep into the closet for your dirtiest issue and run out the door now. Because the event happens Wednesday, April 7, and the issue you hold in your sweaty hands is dated Thursday, April 8. However, we try and get copies of the Weekly to a hungry public by Wednesday afternoon, so there's a chance you haven't missed this buxom, bouncy event yet. And we really don't want you to miss it. That's how important we think this particular branding experience is.

We'd like to be the last to welcome Charlotte Hall, formerly of Newsday in Long Island, another Tribune Co. paper, to her new position as editor of the Orlando Sentinel. (The announcement came at an inconvenient time during our publication cycle, and well, we were busy getting Hitler on the cover).

The story introducing Hall said she's going to make growing the Sentinel's readership a priority, a good idea as the paper has seen its circulation drop about 10 percent in the last 15 years.

Dailies all over the country have seen similar declines, so it's probably not statistically valid to pin the paper's spiral entirely on columnist Kathleen Parker's brain-dead folderol, much as we'd like to.

But Hall's here to turn it all around. "We're gonna get more readers. That's our goal," the Sentinel quoted her as saying.

The quote was stuck in our heads when we came across a story in the Long Island Press about a little problem at Newsday ("Dumping Newsday Every Day," April 1, 2004; www.longislandpress.com). Turns out that paper is one of the few dailies bucking the trend and showing circulation increases. How do they do it? By breaking the law, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

In the suit, Newsday was accused of fraudulently inflating its circulation, cheating advertisers and ripping off distributors. Press reporter Christopher Twarowski documented bundles of unread copies of the paper littering Long Island, including a huge mound decomposing in a wetland. Advertising rates are closely tied to circulation, so there's money to be made by printing extra papers and dumping them.

Of course we're not accusing Hall of anything. She's not named in the lawsuit or the Press story, and Twarowski says her name has never come up in his reporting. So the juxtaposition of her quote and the Newsday lawsuit is probably just an interesting coincidence. We called Hall just to double-check that there's nothing else to the story, and got referred to a Newsday spokesman, who e-mailed us a statement saying Newsday denies all the allegations in the suit. We never did get to talk to Hall.

Geez, this town can't take a joke. Last week's issue, published on April 1 (big clue there) featured a black-and-white shot of Adolf Hitler giving a speech at a Nazi party rally. In the shot, Der Fhrer's right arm is raised and his index finger is extended in the classic "and another thing" gesture. Under his arm, as if sprouting from his armpit, is the headline, "Is Kerry a Nazi?" Under that is John Kerry's head stuck on the body of a random Nazi in the crowd. Above "Orlando Weekly" is the tag, "Now owned and operated by the Republican Party of Florida."

Say you're the type inclined to believe everything you see in print. How could you tell this was a joke? First, Kerry's head was abnormally large; second, it's a contemporary photo of Kerry, who was born in 1943 and was likely not even a twinkle in his liberal pappy's eye when the shot was taken; and third, you just can, that's why.

We got all kinds of reactions. Jewish people called to say Hitler isn't funny, ever (tell that to Mel Brooks) and how dare we put him on the cover. A German woman wrote and said essentially the same thing, adding that our German sucked. A freelance writer wrote a note saying she was more than a little concerned about being associated with the Republicans. At least three callers were upset because they couldn't find the stories about Kerry, Sean Hannity, Cracker Barrel and Anita Bryant in the paper.

But our favorite missive came from a guy who -- apparently missing all the clues -- was so upset at the smear of Kerry that he vowed never to vote Republican again. Who says journalism is a pointless endeavor?

What we didn't get, oddly enough, were calls from Republicans hot at being (jokingly) accused of staging an obvious hatchet job. Business as usual, perhaps? Ponder.

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