Hugh Hefner, known to millions as "Hef," has died at the age of ninety-one from natural causes.
Hefner and his magazine -- that would be Playboy, for those of you who've been living in a freakin' cave all your life -- was formerly a $60-per-week Esquire copywriter who quit when the magazine failed to give him a $5 raise.
Hefner decided to publish his own magazine geared toward a male readership. Its original title was to be Stag Party, with a stag for a mascot of sorts (see next illustration), but the already-established Stag magazine threatened to sue. Hefner renamed his new magazine Playboy.
The first issue of Playboy is now a mouth-watering collector's item. It features
Marilyn Monroe on the cover and in the issue's pre-foldout centerfold.
Playboy, which debuted in December of 1953, was the first mainstream magazine to publish photos of nude women (That's not counting National Geographic's showing of so-called "tribal nudity," which began in 1896!) As you may expect, most of the nudity was incredibly tame by today's standards. (More on that later.)
There's been a long-running joke that people "only read Playboy for the articles." Why, you may wonder? Well...
Hefner, in his earlier days, was a wannabe cartoonist. When he began Playboy, he paid high rates to the artists whose work he published. Over the years, his magazine included comic strips and single-page drawings by such industry luminaries as Jack Cole, Milton Caniff, LeRoy Neiman, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jules Feiffer, Gahan Wilson, Alberto Vargas, Shel Silverstein... the list goes on!
With the one and only Stan Lee!
My all-time favorite Playboy cartoon, from the February 1972 issue.
In case you can't read the caption, it simply says "It's today?"
Hefner, of course, also paid the highest rates to writers, authors like Jack Kerouac, Alex Haley, Margaret Atwood, Ian Fleming, Ray Bradbury, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Denham (probably the only author who actually posed nude for the magazine), Roald Dahl, and many more.
Playboy featured interviews with celebrities, politicians, and other personalities, everyone from Malcom X to George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party.
"Wait a minute," you may ask, "are you writing a tribute to Hugh Hefner, or a history of Playboy magazine?" Uhh, would you believe both? The stories of Hefner and his publication are solidly intertwined.
Hefner was a controversial figure. You can't have any involvement with sex, it seems, without being controversial. And Hef was complex, as well. Scorned by many for objectifying and exploiting women, and for publishing "smut," Hefner was also involved in issues of free speech, liberation of sexual attitudes and mores, and gave generously to various causes during his lifetime. It is rather sad that he seemed to become a parody of himself as he aged, surrounding himself with multiple blonde girlfriends and participating in Viagra-fueled orgies -- although Hefner was married (for the third time) when he died -- but one can never discount that during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Playboy and Hefner were influential and emulated by many men.
When asked by Anderson Cooper what his definition of obscenity was, Hefner replied "Racism, war, bigotry... but sex itself, no."
"Hef" appeared in dozens of films and television shows.
Here he is with Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop II.
Hef with his arm around long-time (1969-1976) girlfriend Barbi Benton. When
42-year-old Hef asked 18-year-old Barbi for a date, she answered "I don't know,
I've never dated anyone over 24 before." Hef's reply? "That's all right, neither have I."
And now, the "more" I promised for "later":
I mentioned that by today's standards, the photos that Playboy published in its earliest days were pretty tame. Well, as proof, here are eight centerfolds from the first ten years of the magazine's existence, photos which I feel perfectly safe in posting in what is generally an "all ages" blog!
Janet Pilgrim (a three-time centerfold!), December 1955
Alice Denham, July 1956
June Blair, January 1957
Cheryl Kubert, February 1958
Myrna Weber, August 1958
Mara Corday, October 1958
Joni Mattis, November 1960
Connie Mason, June 1963
Farewell, Hugh Hefner. (At last he sleeps alone!)
Thanks for your time.