Jan 21, 2016

‘How to keep a sexy house’ and other gems from Cleo‘s first issue

As we say goodbye to the iconic Australian women's magazine, Crikey takes a look at some of the best bits of the first issue.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

How to keep a sexy home, what men are really scared about, how 30 leading Australian women met their husbands, and, of course, a nude centrefold of actor Jack Thompson. In November 1972, Cleo's first issue was a sell-out. But circulation has been falling for years, and its last issue will be printed next month. Cleo was never supposed to exist. ACP had been fighting for the rights to print an Australian edition of Cosmopolitan, but lost them at the last minute to rival publisher Sungravure. Ita Buttrose and Kerry Packer decided to instead launch Cleo before Cosmopolitan launched, to spoil the now-rival title. In her first editor's letter, Buttrose described Cleo as appealing to:
"... an intelligent woman who's interested in everything that's going on, the type of person who wants a great deal more out of life. "Like us, certain aspects of Women's Lib appeal to you but you're not aggressive about it. And again like us, you're all for men -- as long as they know their place!"


Women's liberation, or second-wave feminism, was overturning how women saw themselves. Cleo was a gateway to a new model of Australian womanhood -- less demure, more independent, and far more forthright about sex. When Cleo launched, men's magazines had for decades featured pin-up girls. Cleo did the same with its infamous centrefold. While originally intended as a one-off, the "Mate of the Month" struck such a chord that Kerry Packer pushed the team into making it a regular feature, until editor Lisa Wilkinson canned it 13 years later, replacing it with the Cleo Bachelor of the Year. A nude male centrefold wasn't an entirely novel idea. Earlier that same year Cosmopolitan had done the same in the United States, featuring a nude Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug in its April 1972 issue. It sold 1.6 million copies -- the entire print run -- and the idea then spread to the UK, where British Cosmopolitan convinced Paul du Feu to strip off for its launch issue. While the image used by British Cosmo had been printed in Australia (by Pol magazine), Cleo was the first Australian magazine to produce its own "handsome male gatefold for everyone to admire".


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6 thoughts on “‘How to keep a sexy house’ and other gems from Cleo‘s first issue

  1. Archie Travers

    First visit to Bali as a country soul surfer in 75, my wife and I were taken aside by immigration and amid much discussion by the various wayans and ketuts, my wife’s Cleo was confiscated.

  2. AR

    Like Playboy & its ilk, the demise is long overdue.

  3. mikeb

    Living in a household with 4 women of descending ages exposed me to quite a few Cleos & Cosmos. While the sealed sections of Cosmo were often good for a laugh, the usual content of both mags made me despair for the sanity of the women who read them. You’d have pages decrying
    “fat-shaming” or some similar bs, and the next page advertising weight loss techniques and how the rich and famous stay thin. Then you’d have an article on why men are bastards and a follow up on how to please men in the boudoir. Made me feel more relaxed about reading the odd editions of FHM or Ralph (RIP).

  4. AR

    The pity is that its demise, like that of Playboy & ilk, was so long overdue.

  5. AR

    Sorry for the repeat – lighting strike power outage so I thought the comment lost.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    If you have any taste at all you’d never bother saying vale Cleo, unless it was done as a joke.

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