Anticipation was more than just a popular song by Carly Simon in 1972. It was the collective breathless feeling of suspense opening up the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and seeing an actual male movie star naked. From teenage girls like myself to PTA Housewives, female pulses were set racing at the sight of a mischievous grinned, mustachioed stud splayed out nude on a bearskin rug.
The provocative words on the red banner that ran across the magazine cover screamed out “Cosmo’s famous extra bonus take off! At last a male nude centerfold! The naked truth about Guess who?”
Burt Reynolds broke a taboo turning this movie star into the stratospehere of celebrity.
It’s hard today to comprehend the magnitude of this seemingly simple act. One would be hard pressed to find a woman of a certain age today whose heart did not race gazing at that “risqué” centerfold longingly.
And lustfully. Though regretfuully it was never revealed how Burt was “hung,” his visage hung in countless teenage bedrooms, untold number of dorms rooms, and festooned avocado refrigerator doors across the country.
Helen Gurley Brown, the spunky editor of Cosmopolitan saw it as a victory for women whose “visual appetites” had been ignored by male magazine editors.
Tonight’s the Night
It all began on an ordinary night in early 1972 when Reynolds guest-hosted the Tonight Show for Johnny Carson. Helen Gurely Brown was his guest. During a conversation she suggestively asked the good-looking Reynolds if he would pose for her magazine He said yes.
It was a novel idea. Women had been centerfolds for ages but it had never been done featuring a man.
The centerfold would be shot in March by Francesco Scavullo the famed photographer who shot most of Cosmo’s covers. Reynolds posed laying on his side on a bearskin rug wearing nothing but a sly grin, his own head of hair and a cigarillo in his teeth. The naughty grin might well be attributed to the boatload of vodka he later admitted to consuming to get him through the shoot.
Helen Gurley Brown clearly was onto something. The issue sold out immediately. Others would follow in time but none came close to Burt’s popularity. His place in the Hall of Fame of Sex Symbols was sealed.
The centerfold gave a healthy boost to Cosmo’s circulation and it made Reynolds a sex icon. And fueled a generation of girls fantasies.
Rest in Peace Burt.