WHEN A MAN works for Playboy magazine for more than 16 years, his mind starts to wander.
Barry Golson served at Playboy from 1973 to 1989, mainly as executive editor in New York City directing the famous Playboy interviews.
"It was back in 1985 when I started talking to myself," Golson said in a telephone interview. "I realized there is a whole universe of men who were not bachelors, who are not young men, that there was room in the world for another kind of men's magazine."
Golson visualized a magazine without nudity for "guys in their 30s and 40s."
"Men of that age have a whole set of other ideas," he said. "They don't think like men in their 20s. They have other concerns. They're husbands and fathers. They approach their careers in different ways."
Christie Hefner, the boss of Playboy, liked the idea, Golson said, but decided the time was not right to launch a new magazine. Rupert Murdoch's organization decided the time was right. The result is Men's Life, which debuted this month on newsstands.
As editor-in-chief of Men's Life, Golson, married for 22 years and a father of two children, kept his word: There is no nudity.
But there is a "photo-investigative report" on the bikini, an appreciation of blondes and a photo album of actresses Susan Dey, Peggy Lipton, Dana Delany, Katey Segal and Annie Potts in polite, tame but definitely alluring poses.
"It's real life," Golson said. "Men can be having a conversation and it will stop when a pretty woman walks by. They look. They appreciate and then they go back to the conversation. Men like to look at pretty women."
Even the cover of this first issue of Men's Life -- a woman in full catcher's gear in a crouch -- reverberates with a Playboy touch. One woman who spotted the magazine said: "What is that, a non-sexist sexist cover?"
A lot of Men's Life stands in two worlds, sexist and non-sexist, grown-up and playboy.
"We're putting out a magazine about being a grown man today," Golson writes in an introduction to the magazine. "Men's lives have changed in these past 20 years. Many of us have this suspicion we're not the jerks some women say we are . . . Or the one-dimensional props many publications take us for."
But Golson doesn't want to get too serious about it.
"We'll have pieces about growing older, owning up to it but having fun with it," he said. "I want it to be self-mocking. I want to laugh at our foibles. I mean the tone to be lighthearted. I find a lot of men's magazines self-important. I want Men's Life to be friendly and cheerful."
A lighthearted tone has value, but sometimes it interferes. An interesting, serious article on the powerful, swarming influence of Nintendo can't resist this line: "One of the best things about being a grown-up, besides sex and the inalienable right to control the TV remote . . . " Men's Life has a table of contents as busy as any woman's general interest magazine. There are columns on money, health and style, quick looks at consumer goods and guides to tipping, restaurants and ties. The issue offers almost 20 feature articles of various lengths, including a surprising appreciation of Vice President Dan Quayle.
Golson seems most proud of the Nintendo piece and a lengthy, transcribed conversation between director-actor Rob Reiner and novelist Joseph Heller. This feature has potential, but two famous people talking has to have more than just fame.
But the light tone does harm the magazine. The short humor column, the joke pieces, seem at times almost juvenile. Golson promises more articles on facing up to age, fatherhood, the relationships of men and their children and the problems of children. These subjects would make a solid heart for Men's Life, one that could afford to be lighthearted at times.
Men's Life, $2.95 an issue, is a quarterly. If initial reaction is strong, Golson hopes the magazine will appear monthly soon.