Minx Never Existed. But Here’s What May Have Inspired It.
Everyone’s heard of Playboy. You’ve may heard of its rival, Penthouse too. Widely published pornography and erotica has historically been made by and for men. So what’s the story behind the people who made the first women’s erotic magazine? That’s the premise for HBO’s new show Minx, which “is set in 1970s Los Angeles and centers around Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond), an earnest young feminist who joins forces with a low-rent publisher (Jake Johnson) to create the first erotic magazine for women.” But is HBO’s new workplace-comedy based on real life?
In the ’70s, only a few erotic magazines for women existed, including Playgirl and Viva. They may not have had the longevity of say, Playboy or Penthouse (Playgirl folded in 2016, then was revived in 2020, according to Interview Magazine; Viva existed from 1972 to 1978), but their legacies live on as ways for both straight women and queer men to embrace their sexualities. These publications fought to prove anyone who wasn’t a straight white man could appreciate sex while also enjoying thoughtful commentary on fashion, current events, and politics. Just from the trailer of Minx, it looks like the show will dive into how controversial it was to create an erotic magazine for women in the ’70s and all the obstacles both a publisher and the women behind the publication would have to surmount.
As Minx’s first season begins, we looked into the history behind the first erotic magazine for women, because if it wasn’t Minx, don’t you want to know what magazine it really was? Read on to find out the real history.
Was Minx a Real Magazine?
No, but according to The New York Times, the magazine in the HBO show was modeled off ’70s publications like Viva and Playgirl.
If Viva doesn’t ring a bell, it’s probably because the porn magazine for women only existed from 1972 to 1978. Created by Penthouse—a Playboy rival—the short-lived mag featured notable contributors who then went on to head well-known publications, including Mother Jones and Vogue, according to a Shondaland oral history featuring various editors who worked there.
Like with the fictional Minx, Viva’s inception came from an idea of Penthouse editor Gay Bryant had (or Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, the oral history reports the magazine’s origins were contested). With second-wave feminism and a sexual revolution sweeping the nation, it only made sense to ask: why isn’t there a porn magazine for women?
With his unbuttoned shirts and gold chains, Guccione “looked the part of pornographer, even if he didn’t consider himself one,” Molly Savard, who wrote Shondaland‘s oral history, reports. To be honest, he doesn’t look far off from Jake Johnson’s Doug, publisher of Minx. We don’t know if Doug is directly inspired by Guccione, but according to a Thrillist interview with Johnson, Doug runs a “small empire” of porn magazines in Los Angeles, and wears “a wardrobe of bell bottoms and chest-hair baring shirts.”
Despite brainstorming its inception, Guccione relied on his business and life partner Kathy Keeton to handle the day-to-day operations, Shondaland’s sources reported. In addition to salacious images, Viva embedded within its erotic covers writing on serious subjects, including the Vietnam War. It also had well-known writers contribute, like Gore Vidal and Simone Beavoir. Anna Wintour was also a fashion editor at the magazine.
Still, even with thought-provoking content and the progressive idea for women to fully embrace their sexuality, former Viva executive editor Patricia Bosworth said that at the time, “feminists were against pornography. So in a way, I found myself in the center of a battle.”
The magazine constantly struggled with how revealing its art should be, and the staff knew if it went too far, it could turn off its readership, or further stoke anger with the feminist movement. Throughout its six-year run, Viva failed to find a solid identity, and couldn’t turn a profit. It ultimately failed because “it became a mirrored version of Penthouse, and did not evolve into something that women could appreciate,” Gay Bryant says.
Let’s hope Viva’s downfall isn’t a spoiler for Minx.
Minx is out now on HBO Max.
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