Art Paul, 1925 - 2018
The designer who gave Playboy its bunny
It took Art Paul 30 minutes to create one of the world’s most iconic corporate logos. The Chicago-based designer had been hired by Hugh Hefner in 1953 as the art director of his new magazine, Stag Party. But when another men’s publication, Stag, sent a cease-and-desist letter, Hefner retitled the magazine Playboy and asked Paul to draw a replacement for the original logo, a stag in a smoking jacket. “We thought of the rabbit,” said Paul, “the playboy of the animal world.” His swiftly sketched bow tie–wearing bunny would become the symbol of the Playboy empire, emblazoned on countless T-shirts and the tail of Hefner’s private jet. “If I had known how famous that trademark was to become, I would have taken more time with it,” Paul said, “and it probably wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did.”
Born in Chicago to Ukrainian immigrants, Paul was a baby when his father died, said The New York Times. He found inspiration in his artistic older brother and “filled the margins of books at his home with drawings.” After serving stateside in the Army Air Forces, he attended Chicago’s Institute of Design and then set himself up as a freelance designer and illustrator. Hefner persuaded Paul to join Playboy as its first employee by offering him “complete artistic freedom to lay out pages, choose the typography, arrange the photographs, and, critically, hire the artists.” Paul commissioned original paintings and illustrations from Andy Warhol, Shel Silverstein, and Salvador Dalí, whom Paul called “crazy as a fox,” said the Chicago Sun-Times. He designed the magazine’s first nude cover, an image of Marilyn Monroe on a red satin sheet, and introduced pop-up and pullout pages to magazine publishing.
The classic bunny logo was originally “intended to mark the end of stories,” said The Washington Post, “but by the third issue, it had migrated to the magazine’s cover.” There it remained, though often hidden cleverly in “a reflection from a woman’s eye” or “a pattern of rumpled sheets.” After retiring in 1982, Paul drew and painted, specializing in distorted portraits of faces. He slowly lost his sight to macular degeneration, but was excited by the artistic possibilities of his blurred vision. “He would jiggle his head,” said his wife, Suzanne Seed, “and say, ‘I can turn one person into a crowd.’ That just took my breath away.”