Hugh Hefner (born 1926), founder and publisher of Playboy magazine, helped usher in a new era of openness in American Culture.
When Playboy first hit the newsstands in 1953, it represented a new openness about sexuality that was beginning to influence American life. The magazine, which was the brainchild of a would-be cartoonist from Chicago named Hugh Hefner, was originally to be called "Stag Party," but Hefner, who wanted to suggest sophistication as well as high living and wild parties, eventually settled on Playboy. Hefner hoped to make his magazine the equal of others that featured female nudity as well as articles, such as Esquire, for which Hefner had also worked and which had recently stopped featuring suggestive photography.
Playboy was an instant sensation, mainly because Hefner had shrewdly purchased a nude photograph of actress Marilyn Monroe; it had been taken before her success in Hollywood, and Hefner used it as the centerfold of his first issue. Monroe was a star by the time the magazine was published, and the first issue sold out quickly. That issue included an editorial by Hefner that espoused the Playboy philosophy that was to become familiar over the years:
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. … If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age, we'll feel we've justified our existence.
The immediate success of the magazine prompted Hefner to establish a proper office and staff for the magazine, and as of the fourth issue the Playboy empire was officially under way. Hefner's devotion to the magazine in its early years precipitated the breakup of his marriage: Hefner and his wife Millie were separated in 1957 and divorced in 1959. As he and his wife became increasingly estranged, Hefner and his associates began to embody the life-style about which they wrote, having almost weekly parties at the Playboy editorial offices. When the success of the magazine came to the attention of the mainstream public, Hefner was happy to portray himself as the playboy his magazine described. In 1959 he even hosted the television series "Playboy's Penthouse," a weekly talk show set in a bachelor pad, featuring plenty of the magazine's "playmates" and celebrities such as comedian Lenny Bruce and singers Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole.
For Hefner, his magazine and image were responses to the new mood of the country. He felt that the puritan ethic was eroding and that the pursuit of pleasure and material gain was the way of life for many Americans. As Hefner has been quoted, "If you had to sum up the idea of Playboy, it is antipuritanism. Not just in regard to sex, but the whole range of play and pleasure." For many the Playboy philosophy proved to be a welcome antidote from the repressive atmosphere of the 1950s. Over the years it has continued to have its followers, and Hefner's small magazine for men has become an empire extending well beyond magazine publishing.
In the 1990s, the glamorous life-style at the Playboy Mansion began to change. After suffering a minor stroke in 1985, Hefner reevaluated his life and made several dramatic modifications to his life-style. Gone were the all-night pool-side parties, replaced with more restrained celebrations, and in 1988, Hefner turned over the business operations of Playboy Enterprises to his daughter Christie, one of two children he had with his first wife. After a second marriage to a former Playmate of the Year produced two sons, Hefner continued to enjoy his new role as a husband and father.
He also decided to focus on electronic communication, particularly the Internet, to promote his magazine. In 1996 Hefner told Associated Press writer Jeff Wilson, "We're extremely popular on the Internet and are going to be launching a pay site. You can actually get an electronic version of the magazine and go through archival things. We are also launching a Playmate fan club in which you can get information, download images and communicate with Playmates from all through the decades." But as a parent himself, Hefner believes that parents should be empowered with a device to block their children from viewing certain Internet features. □