The founder of Playboy, Hugh Marston Hefner “Hef,” died at age 91 of natural causes. Born April 29, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, Hefner was the silk-robe clad lothario who shed America’s puritan views of sex and altered the way the world perceived adult entertainment; he made it stylish.
A strict Methodist upbringing did not deter Hefner from dreaming scandalously large. He attended public schools, and though he had a recorded IQ of 152, his academic performance was lacking. However, he shined brightly in entertaining classmates through his journalistic endeavors:
“While in high school, Hefner became president of the student council and founded a school newspaper—an early sign of his journalistic talents. He also created a comic book entitled School Daze, in which the generally reticent youngster was able to be at the center of his own imagined universe.”
Can you imagine the world of which Hugh Hefner dreamed? We didn’t have to; it unfolded before our very own eyes.
Bringing Sex Out of The Bedroom
After serving two years in the Army, Hefner studied at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1949. He later completed a semester of graduate school in sociology, which focused on the findings of the Institute for Sex Research, Inc. You may recognize the name on the letterhead, Alfred Kinsey, who at the time was considered controversial for his research subject matter.
Hef worked a while as a copywriter for Esquire, but left after demands for a $5-dollar raise were rejected. Frustrated, he decided to start his own publication. He pitched his idea of a magazine for the swinging, urbane bachelor to 45 investors and his mother. In December 1953, after currying together $10,000, Hugh launched Playboy.
The first issue was not dated, as Hefner was unsure he could produce a second one. But with Marilyn Monroe gracing the cover – and featured nude in the centerfold – the publication quickly sold out. Hefner also included an introduction that read in part, “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex …”
It worked. Within a few years, Playboy surpassed Esquire in circulation, Hef was a household name, and the marketing genius became a brand.
Buxom Bunnies and Brains
The blending of naked women and intellectual philosophizing from contributors such as Ernest Hemingway and John Updike and interviews with contemporary and controversial figures such as Malcolm X, John Lennon, and even the mild-mannered President Jimmy Carter, whose remarks, “I have looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. God recognizes I will do this and forgives me,” had Americans twittering for days. The interviews and articles also inadvertently created the American male mantra of “I buy Playboy for the articles.”
In the 1960s-70s, the Playboy brand, the bunny with the bowtie, launched exclusive key clubs in most major metropolitan cities, television series, fragrance lines and lifestyle products from cufflinks to cocktail napkins. It became the mark of the super suave. The self-made multi-millionaire built his LA mansion and road the wave until the rise of the internet and easy porn access pushed the dated lifestyle brand to the shore.
When the Cocktail Party is Over
Hefner faded into the sunset, almost gracefully, compared to the life he lived. In an interview with Larry King in 2010, he asked to be remembered for using his celebrity platform and wide readership for social issues saying, “I knew I could do the other half of what I’m really all about, which is social justice.”
Whether or not Hugh Hefner will be remembered for his swing bachelor lifestyle or his political expressions will be determined by future generations. What we do know is this American icon will be laid to rest in a Westwood crypt beside Marilyn Monroe, whose nude pictures helped launch him into history. As he told The Times in 2009, “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.”
Hef leaves behind three ex-wives, four children and several generations of mourners who feel they came of age with the Hef, and are reminiscing their own Playboy stories and sharing with other men of a certain age. As for Liberty Nation, we wish you Godspeed, Mr. Hefner. May the gates of the Heavenly Hutch welcome you home.