The new HBO Max series “Minx” takes its name from a fictional women’s magazine whose fortunes we follow from its launch in the early 1970s through … I have no idea. (Only the first two episodes are available so far.) The basic plot: When idealistic young Vassar grad Joyce Prigger—her surname couldn’t possibly be more on-the-nose—fails to start a feminist magazine called The Matriarchy Awakens, she reluctantly teams up with a Los Angeles fetish-magazine publisher, Doug Renetti, to create America’s first erotic magazine—complete with full-frontal male nudity—for “liberated” women.* Joyce wants to keep the Matriarchy title, but her new co-publisher tells her it’s “poon poison.” “What we need,” says Doug, “is a wet-pussy title.”
Alone at her desk after hours, Joyce mocks up the Issue #1 cover with the new title: Minx.
Screenshot of Issue #1 cover, featuring a hunky firefighter.
And that’s it. We never learn how Joyce got from The Matriarchy Awakens to Minx. Alone? With a team? And we learn nothing about the replacement name other than that it’s The One. Would that all naming projects progressed as swiftly and seamlessly!
In the absence of any explanation from the show’s writers, I will take on the chore of decoding “Minx” to the best of my abilities.
Which, alas, aren’t very good.
Minx turns out to be one of those “uncertain origin” words. (It isn’t related to mink, which was borrowed from Middle Low German in the 1400s. Nor is it related to the minke of minke whale—also of uncertain origin but possibly named after a Norwegian whaling gunner named Meincke “who accidentally shot one in mistake for a Blue and thus achieved a rather dubious immortality,” according to a 1971 book, Lost Leviathan.)
The OED conjectures that minx may be an altered form of minikin, which came from Dutch minnekijn, “sweetheart.” The first appearances of minx in print are from the mid-1500s, when the word referred to a pet dog. By the late 1500s, it could refer to “a pert, sly, or boldly flirtatious young woman” or—taking it a bit further—a “lewd or wanton woman” or prostitute.
The Minx writers may have been inspired by Dr. Minx, a 1975 comedy/drama starring the bodacious Edy Willliams, who had starred in several soft-core Russ Meyer movies (and was married to the director for a few years).
You gotta love a movie whose plot summary includes the phrase “murder ensues.”
Or maybe they just couldn’t resist the #minxonmax hashtag.
I’ve watched the first two episodes of HBO’s “Minx.” While I find it amusing, I also find it a less-engaging, less-nuanced duplicate of “G.L.O.W.” (2017–2019), the much-missed Netflix series, set in 1980s Los Angeles, about the unlikely “Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling.” The two pairs of leads—Alison Brie and Marc Maron in “G.L.O.W.,” the spectacularly named Ophelia Lovibind and Jake Johnson in “Minx”—even resemble each other physically.
But I’m going to stick with “Minx” for entirely self-absorbed reasons: I used to be a contributing writer for one of the magazines on which Minx is modeled.
“Minx”’s creator, Ellen Rapoport, has said she was influenced by the story of Viva, the classy-looking feminist-erotic magazine that lasted from 1973 to 1979.** I worked for the other ladies’ skin mag—the more down-and-dirty one, much beloved by gay men—that also launched in 1973: Playgirl. I wrote a health column in the 1980s and also contributed the occasional feature, like the one I proudly titled “Down There.” (It was about foot care, and my editors, bless them, kept the title.)
Playgirl Issue 1, June 1973. Note the typographic similarity with Minx.
I don’t remember, and can’t find, where Viva was published; it may have been in New York, like Penthouse. Playgirl, though, was published in Los Angeles, like the fictional Minx. And while both Viva and Playgirl were founded by male-female teams, like Minx, the backstories of Playgirl’s founding couple more closely parallel Minx’s, down to the name of one of the partners: Douglas Lambert was a nightclub owner, Marin Scott Milam was an editor. (Viva was founded by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione and his wife, ex-stripper Kathy Keeton.) Playgirl was launched as a feminist response to Playboy (which sued over the Playgirl name, and settled amicably) and Penthouse; its cover price was $1, like Minx’s. Viva’s was 79 cents.
“Hot off the presses”
Playgirl stumbled along through several changes of ownership until 2008, when I was long gone and the last print edition rolled off the presses. “The magazine’s editors said they were never told why the magazine was shut down,” wrote Cara Buckley in what amounted to a New York Times obituary. (Short answer: no advertisers.) But never discount those fervent gay male readers: In November 2020, 31-year-old Jack Lindley Kuhns revived the Playgirl title for a new generation. As Out magazine put it in March 2021, the new Playgirl has “replaced erotic centerfolds of naked men with beautiful shots of nude bodies of all ethnicities and genders and stories that include tales of racial injustice, trans empowerment, and body positivity.” On the first cover: a naked and very pregnant Chloë Sevigny.
* I got a giggle out of the name of Doug’s publishing company: Bottom Dollar Publications.
** Fun fact: Vogue Queen Bee Anna Wintour once worked for Viva.