When Hugh Hefner died recently, I didn’t think I’d have much to say about his passing. But the appreciation articles, followed by the excoriation of same, I’m finding really fascinating.
On one side, The New York Times:
Hefner advocated for “‘The Playboy Philosophy,’ in which he addressed topics like the First Amendment and sexual mores. He advocated gay rights.” Arthur tells a fascinating story about how The Playboy Foundation provided help AND, tellingly, how that assistance was received.
“He pushed for women’s access to birth control and abortion. He discussed censorship as well as what constituted ‘obscene’ in the United States, and he promoted the free exchange of thoughts and ideas.
“He integrated his staff and membership; he hired men and women of all races, and often provided black comedians and musicians their first chances to perform in front of white audiences.” This included the late Dick Gregory.
“Mr. Hefner also set up the Playboy Foundation, which supported First Amendment rights, often contributing to defendants in free-speech cases. The foundation went on to support other works, including research on post-traumatic stress disorder, commissions on Agent Orange and programs and organizations for veterans.”
On the other hand, there are pieces such as this one which says that those “media outlets across the country released touching memoirs, obituaries, and photographs of the mogul who made a fortune parading nude women in public like pieces of meat dangled in front of wild animals.” Or this one, which referred to Hefner as an “abusive creep.”
From here: “Hefner feels that his media empire has been a liberating force for women, that what some feminists might consider sexual exploitation, he considers a chance to strut their stuff and fly in the face of Puritanical bondage.”
I admit that, in the latter ’70s and early ’80s, I picked up an issue or two, not for the centerfold, but generally for who was being interviewed. I think I got the one with Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter from 1976, in which he admitted having had “lust in his heart.” I’m positive I got the January 1981 issue – it’s probably still in the attic somewhere – for it contained the interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono that hit the newsstands around the time that John was killed.
Yet I always felt mildly guilty purchasing it. Even though I wasn’t going to church at the time, maybe I was part of the supposedly chaste America that Hefner was trying to break down.
Back in 2012, many of those Playboy interviews were online for free. And about four dozen are still available on Amazon Prime gratis, or for 99 cents on regular Amazon, including Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan, Stephen King, Ayn Rand, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr, Bette Davis, Hunter S. Thompson, Stanley Kubrick and Fidel Castro.
Playboy published science fiction by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. LeGuin, and many other provocative pieces. The magazine paid better than average for articles and cartoons.
I thought even early on that the “Mansion-bunnies-RatPack mentality” of Playboy was weird and contrived and more than a little uncomfortable. Here are some clips from the music show Playboy After Dark. Hef was not as cool as he thought he was, as he introduces The Three Dog Night and The Grand Funk Railroad.