Art Paul, who designed Playboy’s famous bunny logo, has died in Chicago at 93

SHARE Art Paul, who designed Playboy’s famous bunny logo, has died in Chicago at 93
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Art Paul, who was the first art director for Playboy magazine, in his home studio in 2014. | Chandler West / Sun-Times

You didn’t have to know Art Paul to know his work. Around the world, it can be found on keychains, T-shirts, phone cases, bedsheets, notebooks, condoms, jewelry, perfume, underwear, handbags, headphones and pajamas — to name just a fraction of the objects featuring the Playboy bunny.

It took just 30 minutes for Mr. Paul to come up with the tuxedoed rabbit head that became one of the most famous logos in the history of design.

“You can do pretty nice things in half an hour,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2014.

Mr. Paul died of pneumonia Saturday at 93 at Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago.

Hugh Hefner’s private jet would soar over Chicago in the 1960s with Mr. Paul’s bunny logo on the tail. The Playboy founder, who died last year, once said of Mr. Paul: “I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Art Paul and wife Suzanne Seed at their Gold Coast home in 2014, showing off a collection of portraits of himself painted by famous artists. | Chandler West | Sun-Times

Art Paul and wife Suzanne Seed at their Gold Coast home in 2014, showing off a collection of portraits of himself painted by famous artists. | Chandler West | Sun-Times

“Art Paul was one of the most innovative, influential magazine art directors of the 20th Century,” he said.

Playboy said Mr. Paul was “Hef’s first hire.”

Hefner approached Mr. Paul, a child of Ukrainian immigrants and a product of Sullivan High School and Chicago’s Institute of Design, to develop a cartoon for his brand. He was thinking of a full-length mascot, something similar to Esquire magazine’s “Esky” figure.

But the artist was thinking small. He wanted something that could be used as a period at the end of the magazine’s articles. Eventually, it bunny-hopped onto all the covers.

“Hef came up to see me,” Mr. Paul told the Sun-Times. “I didn’t know him, but we had a mutual friend. Hef was looking for someone to do an illustration. He told me what he wanted to call it ‘Stag Party.’ I was resisting, and he was pleading almost. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take a chance.’

“We didn’t think it would be such a success right from the beginning, just Hefner and I putting it together,” Mr. Paul said of Playboy. “Hef was kind to me. I think I gave him a lot. He gave me a lot.”

Playboy’s longtime art director Art Paul, pictured in the 1970s, designed the famous Playboy bunny symbol in 1953 and incorporated it into the magazine’s cover in various configurations. | Sun-Times files

Playboy’s longtime art director Art Paul, pictured in the 1970s, designed the famous Playboy bunny symbol in 1953 and incorporated it into the magazine’s cover in various configurations. | Sun-Times files

The logo became so recognizable that scientists invoked Hefner when they bestowed a name on a newly discovered type of rabbit, the Lower Keys marsh rabbit. They dubbed it Sylvilagus palustris hefneri.

Hefner and Mr. Paul would tap the day’s top artists and illustrators for the magazine, including Ed Paschke, LeRoy Neiman, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, whom Mr. Paul recalled as “crazy as a fox.” When he started working with Neiman — whose confetti-esque art captured the kinetic swirl of sports — Mr. Paul said he was drawing hats for a store on State Street.

Recognizing Mr. Paul’s contribution to the Playboy empire, the founder’s son, Cooper Hefner, offered this tribute on Twitter: “He was Playboy’s first art director responsible for some of our best covers. He illustrated the Rabbit and contributed a tremendous amount to the brand. You will be missed, Art Paul. The world lost a design legend. Playboy lost a family member.”

“He changed the landscape of magazine design and layout and illustration,” said Jennifer Hou Kwong, who is completing a documentary film about the artist called “Art of Playboy.”

Mr. Paul retired from Playboy around 1982.

Despite unsteady hands and vision problems from macular degeneration, he still was drawing until a month or so ago, said his wife, Suzanne Seed.

Art Paul. | Chandler West / Sun-Times

Art Paul. | Chandler West / Sun-Times

Recently, she noticed him twisting his head back and forth. When she asked what he was doing, she said he told her: “Oh, I wish you could see what I’m seeing. . . . If I keep flicking my head back and forth, I can make one person into a whole crowd.”

If he couldn’t draw a straight line, he’d say, “I’ll just make that part of the artwork. I’ll just go with it, play with it.”

As a kid, he once won an art contest connected to Scholastic magazine. Later, he’d recall that watching someone turn pottery was an early inspiration for his art. “It was a piece of magic to me,” he said.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps and flew a Fairchild PT-19 open-cockpit plane. One time, his engine went out at 5,000 feet.

“I tried the ignition; nothing happened,” he said. “I tried to imitate being on the ground …. The only thing I could think of was driving.” Somehow, he got the engine going again. “I was very proud of myself. Glad I didn’t have to jump.”

Besides his wife, Mr. Paul is survived by sons William and Fredric, stepdaughter Nina Harlan Kohl and two grandchildren. A private gathering is planned Tuesday. A larger memorial is being discussed for June, his wife said.

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