Meet Kevin Buckley ’62,
contributing editor at Playboy
Hometown: Greenwich Village, New York.
Style Inspiration: The Wu-Tang Clan. There’s a photo of me with Ghostface Killah. But honestly I haven’t changed my wardrobe in 45 years.
Favorite fictional film about the Vietnam War: “Apocalypse Now.” But that’s very close with “Platoon” and “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Have you seen “Apocalypse Now Redux”? You have to see it. Martin Sheen takes some heroin and goes to see this woman and says: “I see two women. One who loves. One who kills.”
Slogan: Don’t get it right, get it written.
Q How did you get started in journalism?
AI was a copy boy before I got to college, but Yale confirmed my ambition. I was the managing editor of the Yale Daily News.
Q What were the big stories while you were at the News?
AThe sex scandal of 1960. We sent reporters down to the Woolworth sit-ins. I remember the Yale Chapter of St. Anthony Hall inducted an African American and the southern branch protested. Someone came up to Yale and said: “Go fuck yourselves.” We also covered the St. Patrick’s Day snowball riot of 1959.
ASome people started throwing snowballs from inside their colleges and then it exploded. A Yale professor started yelling: “Sanctuary!” And the police beat him up on the steps of Battell Chapel.
QYou were the chief of the Saigon Bureau at Newsweek. How did you get started there?
AI joined Newsweek in 1967 as a religion researcher and writer. I wrote two cover stories. One had the lowest newsstand sale in Newsweek history: “The New Missionary.” I guess I was missing one word: “Position.” Then I got assigned to the London Bureau. It was a great job. I got to meet Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger, who came over, went through my records, put on one of his own and just started Jagging around my living room.
QWho were your greatest interviews?
AI interviewed Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Elijah Muhammad … I interviewed King after he received an honorary degree from Yale. I was at the O’Hare airport to meet King — he had just been released from jail in Birmingham — and Bernard Shaw, a friend of mine, whispered: “Come with me.” So we get into the limo with King, and I ask: “How did you like Yale?” But he thought I asked: “How did you like jail?”
Q Who haven’t you been able to interview?
AI tried to get an interview with Hillary [Clinton] for Playboy. I sent her a hand-delivered letter, and she replied: “Not in this lifetime.”
QHow has the coverage of Iraq differed from Vietnam?
A The media collaborated with Bush a lot at the beginning. The attitude toward Vietnam was “we could have won, but the press stabbed us in the back.” But really the press was incredibly hawkish. When I arrived in Vietnam the question was: “How are we doing?” It was only later that I switched it to: “What are we doing?”
Q Why are there so few foreign correspondents in Iraq?
A Saigon was very comfortable for journalists in many ways — so unlike Baghdad, which is just hellish. Saigon got rocketed only once in a blue moon. You didn’t have to be worried about getting kidnapped the entire time. The Muslim society in Baghdad is also very different from French colonialism.
Q Has the status of the journalist changed?
AThe style has changed. When I was in Korea working for GEO, there was a whole team of us there, writing on art, culture … Our breakfasts would be thousands of dollars. There were still vestiges of the glamorous foreign correspondent.
Q You’ve worked at very successful publications (The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, Playboy) and unsuccessful ones (New Times, Look, GEO, Lear’s). What makes a magazine succeed?
A I don’t know. Distribution? At Lear’s I came up with the slogan: “Not for the woman born yesterday.” Because you can’t say, “for the woman OVER FORTY.” Another suggestion was: “Around the block. For the woman who’s been there.” Or “The Gloaming.” But that reminded people too much of death. I had to hire an astrologer at Lear’s.
Q How do you find a good astrologer?
AIn the interview she said: “Can I be honest, Mr. Buckley? Your future at this magazine looks very cloudy.” I said: “That’s it! You’re hired!”
Q How did you end up at Playboy?
A Playboy was looking for someone, and I called them up and said: “You know who you should hire to run the New York office? Me.” They were friends of mine.
Q Why Playboy?
A It’s a great magazine. And I admire Playboy’s defense of the 1st Amendment. What’s coming out of the Pentagon — that’s the real pornography.