Hugh Hefner is an American millionaire, founding president of the charming magazine “Playboy”. Despite his great age – Hefner was born in 1926 – the dashing man regularly makes the front page of magazines in the United States with the arms of sculptural women, often passed by the magazine which regularly distinguishes the most beautiful women with its ranking of playmates. The press boss has chained the marriages, and married several of these playmates. During his studies, Hugh Hefner already showed a real attraction to journalism by starting a school newspaper. Presented as smarter than average, the young man was called up at the end of World War II and, again, contributed to the military newspaper. In the 1950s, Hugh Hefner joined the publication “Esquire”, which deals with men’s fashion. Then in 1953, the magnate decided to go it alone and founded “Playboy”. Promoting the image of the American pin-up, he quickly became known with his first one featuring Marilyn Monroe and with the logo of his newspaper: a white rabbit, Bunny, wearing a bow tie, which remains today hui again the symbol of “Playboy”.
On September 27, 2017, he died at the age of 91.
The 6 lives of Hugh Hefner
Hedonist, pornographer, self-proclaimed “feminist”, businessman and defender of noble causes, Hugh Hefner leaves behind a complex legacy.
Shortly before launching the first issue of a magazine called Playboy in 1953, Hugh Hefner decided to call himself “Hef”. One way to delimit his real life – a man in his twenties married in America still puritanical in the Eisenhower years – from the one he dreamed of: press boss, bachelor libertine, supporter of sexual freedom as a way of life.
The man who popularized and built a business empire on this lifestyle died Wednesday, Sept. 27, at age 91, in the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. He leaves behind a complex legacy.
Hefner the hedonist
When he published the first issue of Playboy, Hefner was 27 years old, an urge to show the hypocrisy of the stuck America he grew up in and, in his pocket, a few nude photos of Marilyn Monroe, bought for 500 dollars. Playboy was not the first to show nude women on its pages. But he was the first to sell his clients more than just nudity. He championed a lifestyle with “humor, sophistication and spice.” For Hefner, the difference was that Playboy contained in its pages “this realization that good girls also love sex.” It was revolutionary in the 1950s. ”
To build the universe of Playboy, we must also build the myth of Hefner, the playboy who embodies the lifestyle, with his artifacts: the velvet dress, the pipe, the half-smile, the scantily clad and eternally younger women. than him in his arms. “Hefner the man and the Playboy brand were inseparable. They were both sold as emblems of the sexual revolution, ”writes The New York Times.
The rise of Playboy accelerates and eventually merges with that of the liberation of mores of the 1960s. The endless parties at the Playboy Mansion (then in Chicago, where Hefner had grown up) attracted actors, musicians and the entire jet set. , attracted by glamor and vice. Hedonism was assumed to be better sold.
The press will try to identify him by comparing him to Gatsby, Walt Disney or Citizen Kane. Looking back on his youth, she will see that he grew up in a strict Methodist family where sex was taboo, that he was a virgin until 22, married at 25 and “in a listless mess early in his life. adult “. Playboy will be his way out of this stagnation and to give an outlet to his vision of sex as an instrument, personal and global, of liberation. In the foreword to The Century of Sex: Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution, he writes:
“Sex is the main motivator in the history of mankind. In the twentieth century, he emerged from the taboos and controversies that surrounded him to take his rightful place in society. ”
Hefner, the “feminist” and / or the pornographer
Of course, the official story of Hefner and Playboy is not widely accepted. Enemies and detractors have not failed in more than sixty years: fundamentalist religious and conservative politicians, who saw in it depravity, feminists, who saw it as exploitation and misogyny, or just those who did not. found no charm in the vulgar world of Playboy.
Hefner will never understand, or pretend never to understand, the accusations of sexual objectivization of women that generations of activists have made against him. “I was a feminist even before there was something called feminism,” he said in 2002.
“Women have been the great beneficiaries of the sexual revolution. They could have been natural sexual beings, like men. This is where feminism should always have been. Unfortunately, there is a puritanical, prohibitionist element to feminism that is anti-sexual ”.
Hefner, the proto-feminist who often bragged about having slept with 1,000 women, loved to surround himself with his “Bunnies,” tight swimsuits and frozen smiles, and have them paraded before the libidinous eyes of his guests. Perhaps he saw no contradiction in it. Some feminist thinkers have nevertheless taken his defense. Camille Paglia called him “one of the main architects of the social revolution”. But most didn’t think so. In a television debate in 1970, Susan Brownmiller had said while watching him, “When Hugh Hefner comes out with a bunny tail tied to his behind, we’ll have a tie. To which he had not replied.
Hefner, the defender of noble causes
“My life is a Rorschach test. People project their dreams, fantasies and prejudices into it. So they’re either fans or jealous or they don’t agree. ”
The phrase, taken from an autobiography, comes into its own when we saw the tributes appear after Hugh Hefner’s death. Between those who celebrated the life he led and those who criticized his excesses, we find those, less divisive, who recall that the founder of Playboy has put his magazine, and his fortune, at the service of noble causes, always against this Puritan America he wanted to debunk.
As early as the 1960s, Playboy, for example, took a stand in favor of the right to abortion and the repeal of a 19th century law prohibiting certain sexual practices. In nightclubs and Playboy-branded TV shows, jazz fanatic Hefner invites black performers while segregation still exists. After his death, Jesse Jackson, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, will greet “a strong supporter”.
The Playboy Foundation will promote free speech by funding lawsuits in defense of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and help progressive NGOs, such as the Kinsey Institute (which “promotes the study of human sexuality”) or the American Civil Liberties Union. More recently, Hefner and Playboy had taken a stand in favor of same-sex marriage. This battle, he wrote, “is actually for all of our rights. Without it, we will go back, before the sexual revolution, to a Puritan era ”.
Hefner, the businessman
He was Playboy’s avatar, but mostly its leader. The one who supervised each issue, the editor who meticulously checked every detail, the one who retained the title of editor-in-chief until the day of his death.
Playboy reached its peak in the 1970s, with a circulation of 7 million copies, before eroding in the face of competition from other magazines, the Internet and a lack of interest. The star product will even give up nudity in 2015 to try to boost sales. He would return to it two years later. Today, the magazine runs 3 million copies, sold in 20 countries.
The magazine’s success in the 1970s and 1980s allowed for the building of a business empire. Playboy will branch out into movies, TV shows, clothing, jewelry, easily licensing the famous logo, to Playboy nightclubs, casinos and hotels around the world, with varying degrees of success. In the 1980s, he passed the hand over to his daughter, Christie. Today, as the Financial Times notes, “Playboy may be famous, but he’s just a small player in the sex industry.”
Hefner, the literary
The common joke was to say, when you found a Playboy hiding under your couch, you read it for articles. When you look at Playboy’s early literary production, the rationale is not so funny.
His employees said of Hugh Hefner that he was a rigorous editor and didn’t hesitate to pay dearly for the quills he wanted in his magazine. Literary polish was essential to Playboy. It embellished the daring lifestyle he sold: salacious, okay, but intellectual too.
The first pages of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbuy appeared there, as well as texts by Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Hunter Thompson, Bertrand Russell or Jean-Paul Sartre. Playboy will publish sharp texts and interviews – of Malcom X, Mohamed Ali, Fidel Castro or Steve Jobs – which will sometimes make a lot of political noise. Like when Jimmy Carter, then presidential candidate, will admit “to having committed adultery on numerous occasions, in my heart”.
Hefner and reality TV
Now in his eighties, Hefner continued to diversify his image until the end, falling into the fashion of reality TV. He will “reduce” the harem of young blond women who follow him to keep only three. They will participate, between 2005 and 2011, in the program “The Girls Next Door”.
Hefner is discovered by a generation who knew only his reputation. He appears on their screens, but often as a saucy grandpa, captain’s hat on his head, constantly in a satin bathrobe and not far from the caricature. The three women accompanying him are younger than him, even adding up their ages.
Her second marriage, in 1989, was to “Playmate of the Year” Kimberley Conrad. He was 63, she was 26. In 2012, he married another playmate, Crystal Harris. He was 86, still 26.