Retro Heaven

Death of The Hef

Death of Hugh Hefner….

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine has died at the age of ninety one. Without doubt one of the biggest  names in twentieth century media and publishing he produced an iconic brand which split opinion wherever and whenever its name was mentioned.

Born to strict Methodist parents in 1926 he began his  career at Esquire Magazine, eventually he saved the $8,000 dollars needed to publish the first copy of Playboy in December 1953. He bought an old  photo of a nude Marilyn Monroe for added appeal and the copy went on to sell 50,000 copies. By 1971 monthly sales of Playboy topped seven million, a staggering figure.

The long-standing joke of “I only read it for the articles” has given amusement for many years and whilst few men could seriously hope to  get away with it there can be no doubting the magazine’s reputation for hard-hitting political and social interviews and articles as well as promoting new books and music, and particularly jazz and the black jazz and blues artists of the day.

For a number of  years the magazine’s portrayal of the female form was extremely modest but as the liberating sixties saw evermore changes in social attitudes so the magazine’s pictures become more candid and by the early 1970s it had joined other publications in showing full frontal female nudity. Hefner courted considerable publicity in two distinct ways, he had huge numbers of people debating the ethics of what his magazine did in the way it presented women, some said (and continue to say) that it degraded women, others said it empowered them, it was a debate which raged on but gave Hefner the publicity he desired.

The second, and most overlooked, was the way in which the magazine secured interviews with the broadest cross-section of American society, many  were candid in the extreme. Could one imagine an actor of John Wayne’s fame today declaring the American Negro not yet ready to assume any  real responsibility and describing homosexuals as fags?  The magazine also gave a voice to Miles Davis to express his disgust at his own personal treatment by white Americans in a remarkable interview which positioned the musician as the (quite rightly) wealthy success story to combat the horrendous racial attitudes of 1960s America.

Vietnam was hugely divisive war throughout the sixties and early seventies and Playboy played its part in the debate, in 1971 Hefner placed an advert for the Vietnam Veterans Against War movement prior to their march which pushed their agenda to the foreground and significantly increased the group’s membership and anti-war stance.

Playboy’s sales decreased in recent years, Hefner’s  son tried to remodel the magazine by no longer publishing full nudity but it made no impact in the internet age. Hefner’s legacy has long been debated and what he started will continue to be so, but to label him as little more than a pornographer would be unfair. He could have taken the magazine in another, more sexual direction but he maintained the balance he desired and for at least four decades it served him very well. Whatever one’s personal view on the promotion of the nude female, Hefner created one of the most iconic brands of the twentieth century and lived a long and truly remarkable life. The debate will go on long after his funeral.


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