40 Years Ago During the Sexual Revolution: A Man on a Rug

Looking fine in 1991. Photo by: Alan Light

The April 1972 cover of Cosmopolitan magazine looked like any other under the editorial leadership of Helen Gurley Brown.  It was designed to appeal to young and not-so-young women, promising tips on health and beauty and advice on love, life, and, of course, sex.  An attractive model in a low-cut dress took center stage, and teasers of the topics inside ran on the side.

“A Sure Way to Win a Man – Zap Him When He’s Down and Unsure of himself” declared one blurb.

Another announced, “You Don’t Have to be Popular or Beloved to be Happy – Au Contraire.”

For the politically-minded, one story described “What a Woman Can Do in Congress,’” featuring Bella Abzug.

But the star of the issue was 36-year old Burt Reynolds, who had just received rave reviews for his macho, but vulnerable, performance in Deliverance, splayed on a bear skin rug in all his glory, his arm casually covering his privates.  The photograph spoke volumes about the Sexual Revolution.  If women weren’t interested in men the same way men were interested in women, it wouldn’t have happened, pill or no pill.

Brown had been contemplating a male nude centerfold for quite some time, but she just hadn’t found the right guy.  One night on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson she shared the couch with Reynolds.  His deprecating wit and good-natured teasing were a turn-on, and she thought, “He’s cute. Why not him?”

Burt thought it would be a kick, and he readily accepted, but he was nervous during the session.  Photographer Francesco Scavullo remembered giving him something to drink, so he’d be more comfortable and take off his robe.  Whatever. It worked.

“There wasn’t one bad picture of him,” Scavullo later recollected. “I photographed him with a hat in front of it, a dog in front of it.  I photographed him with his leg crossed so you couldn’t see it, I photographed him with his hands, his arms, and we photographed him also, completely, everything showing.”

Upon its release, there was a stampede on newsstands, and all 1.6 million copies of the issue sold out.  The foldout was hung in college dormitories and taped on refrigerator doors to the dismay of boyfriends, husbands, and lovers.

Reynolds wasn’t the only newsmaker to bare his soul.  Later that year Henry Kissinger appeared nude in the Harvard Lampoon.  It was a parody, however.   The editors had attached the face of the National Security Advisor to the body of a 50-year old taxi driver.  Oh, well, we can always fantasize.

It’s not too late to get in on the action.  Copies of the special edition can be bought on Ebay.  Or, if you’re interested in the articles, Cosmopolitan is still available wherever fine monthlies are sold.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


To see how the covers of Cosmopolitan evolved from 1896 to 1976, go to:


  1. louisa may alcott says:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same- Deliverance is that old? Are we?

    • Here are some more questions: Is Burt Reynolds that old? Are Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie talking? Is Helen Gurley Brown still alive? What’s Pat Narcisi up to? Where in the world is Henry Kissinger? Do you still read Cosmopolitan?

  2. louisa may alcott says:

    was she ever?
    not too much
    mischief,no doubt
    at Montefiore Home
    never read it- published after my time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: