The Penthouse Vs. Playboy Rivalry

Ford vs. GM.

Hertz vs. Avis.

Pepsi vs. Coke. There are plenty of famous brand rivalries, but in the world of adult entertainment, few can match Playboy vs. Penthouse. Along with Hustler, they’re the most famous gentlemen’s magazines in existence, and through the years, they’ve played a game of one-upmanship. In a recent column published by the Daily Beast, Bob Guccione recalled the rivalry between his father, Penthouse Magazine founder Bob Guccione Sr., and Hugh Hefner, the man famous for creating Playboy Magazine.

“My father hated Hugh Hefner. Which I always thought was irrational and, by the end of his life, just force of habit, something he no longer felt with any real emotion, a default position for which the source code had long been lost,” Guccione Jr. said.

Hefner launched Playboy in 1953, inspiring Guccione to create his own lad mag, Penthouse, 11 years later. Through the 1960s and early ’70s, the two publications attempted to outpace each other in terms of explicitness. The race was dubbed the “Pubic Wars” and has become such a familiar part of the pop culture of the era that it even has its own Wikipedia page! Penthouse is usually acknowledged to have “won” the war, as Playboy decided to move back toward softcore content after a poorly received cover shot of a model with her hand plunged in her underwear. “Playboy was smart to get out when it did, its reputation and its gloss of sophistication still intact,” former Playboy Advisor writer Frank M. Robinson said in his memoirs.

Even after having won the battle with Hefner, Guccione Sr. still felt he may have lost the war. “Hefner resented that my father was the usurper. My father resented that, even though Penthouse passed Playboy, he never vanquished Hefner, never replaced him in the American psyche as the Alpha male. My father was always the brasher, cockier, bolder – but always the outsider,” Guccione said.

The arrival of the ultra-explicit Hustler Magazine in 1974 meant that neither magazine could complete for the title of most hardcore publication anymore. As a result, Playboy became a softcore magazine, even flirting with a non-nude format for a time, while Penthouse has vacillated between hardcore and soft. (Its latest iteration under editor Kelly Holland is more explicit than Playboy but still much tamer than Hustler.)

While the Pubic Wars are long gone, Playboy did recently mark a milestone of a different kind: Ines Rau, featured in the November/December 2017 edition of the magazine, was the company’s first-ever transgender Playmate.