The Complex Life of Mr. Playboy, Hugh Hefner

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By Vanessa Obioha

There are a thousand and one reasons why Hugh Hefner, the Playboy Magazine Founder was not loved by many. Topping the list was his liberal and libertine nature which unruffled conservatives. They frowned at his unabashed opinions about sex-a topic they considered too holy to be discussed in public; and hated him more when he became a staunch supporter of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Feminists were divided when it came to Hefner. A few admired him for liberating them, while others despised him for objectifying women whom he called Playmates. These women were often clad in scantiest wears, at times in their birthday suits and displayed boldly in the glossy pages of the magazine and TV programmes. The obscenity displayed drew the ire of religious bodies, particularly Christians, as well as reverence for the sex icon. Some called him a paedophile for recruiting young female models as his playmates and at times walking them down the altar.

In all of these, Hefner was just acting out a role he created out of rebellion at a young age. Born in 1929, Hefner grew up in a home that was void of affection. His puritanical parents Glenn and Grace denied him of any form of emotional attachment because as his mother would later reveal, a parenting magazine had suggested to her that children raised with such iron-fists turned out better in the society. However, the reverse became the case as Hefner proved to be a classical case of repressive acts-yield-rebellious behaviour. Their dispassionate acts turned the lad to an introvert.

It was just a matter of time before Hefner began to explore the world outside through his creative imagination. His parents paid little or no attention to his creative talents which were quite bountiful, for he immersed himself in movies, music, cartoons and animals. He developed a sentimental attachment to rabbit after having his favourite bunny blanket burned by his parents when his dog died on it. The bunny would later be deployed as his company’s logo.

Hefner’s creative talents were first noticed at age 9 when he published his first newspaper. He sold it to neighbours and subsequently made more publications for his grammar school. But he would suffer a setback when his fourth-grade teacher complained to his parents that he spent most of his class time drawing cartoons. He later penned a poem, apologising that he will not ‘make his teacher mad, because that will make him sad; I will not draw at school, and I won’t break a single rule.’

By the time he was a teen, he created a secret organisation called the Shudder Club for fans of horror and science fiction. He was an avid reader of such novels by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and a few others. From that club, he published a magazine which was named after the club.

Apart from his drawing and writing skills, Hefner also featured in several theatre plays in his high school. By this time, he was slowly ridding himself off his parents stronghold and exploiting his imaginative skills as well as grappling with his understanding of the sexual world.

It was during this time that Hefner’s inspiration to carve his profound brand began. A significant incident occurred before the summer he was to start his junior year. He met a girl and had a big crush on her. He was so fascinated by her that he asked her out to dance but she made the mistake of going on a hayride with someone else. Her action triggered Hefner to create a persona that will not only be revered but also envied. He transformed himself by changing his wardrobe and language. He wore mostly bold colourful shirts and spoke hip language. He even improved on his dancing skills and insisted people should call him ‘Hef’. It was only a matter of time before his popularity grew among his peers in school, and his obsession with the female gender became apparent.

After working with the army for two years where he utilised his drawing skills in Army newspapers, Hefner left the army as a honourable corporal in 1946. He enrolled at the University of Illinois to study psychology. While there, he worked for the college’s humour magazine and his cartoons took more sexual themes. He was soon made the managing editor of the magazine. This new position afforded him the privilege to bring his grand idea to paper although even he downplayed it by introducing a feature called the ‘Coed of the Month’, a similar feature to ‘Playboy Playmate of the Month’

However, not until Hefner read Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male did he gain the courage to speak boldly about sex in public.

By 1953, Playboy Magazine was published after a series of stints in publications that earned him little income, including the Esquire magazine which at the time had semblance to his big idea on sex. Before he published Playboy, he made some good money after he joined Publisher’s Development Corp., which published magazines with nude photography. Through that platform, he published his book of cartoons that had the sketch of a stripper on its front cover.

Arguably, Hefner knew what he wanted with his new magazine. He wanted women and sex. So after borrowing $1, 000 from his mother and $7, 000 from more than other 40 investors, he went about planning the layout of his new project. The first thing he did was to purchase a nude portrait of the actress Marilyn Monroe that was taken before she was famous and put it on the cover of his magazine. That first issue published in December 1953 sold 54, 000 copies. This breakthrough signalled a new beginning for the playboy master. He quickly understood that sex sells faster than anything despite the sanctimonious ways people frowned at it in the public. Parents warn their children to stay away from that abominable paper. The magazine even warned married women not to read it but with time, both men an women were compelled to take at least a glimpse at the paper which had most famous stars like Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Drew Barrymore, Dolly Parton, and Mariah Carey on its front cover. Subsequent editions of the magazine featured interviews with famous personalities like The Beatles, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X

With this initial success, Hefner’s imagination began to expand. Although, the root of his Playboy’s Mansion idea evolved during his first marriage. Despite his voraciousness on the subject of sex, Hefner was a late bloomer. he was a virgin till age 22. By then he was married to his classmate Millie Williams with whom he had his children Christie and David. During their short-lived , Hefner’s sexual imagination ran wild. He wanted to hold risque parties with the who is who in the industry surrounded by many young good-looking women who would be willing to satisfy their partners at the end of the party. Millie at a point became uncomfortable with her husband’s insatiable quest for sex. She backed out when Hefner planned a wife swap with his younger brother Keith. Hefner nevertheless slept with his brother’s wife. That signalled the beginning of an empire that will be lauded and criticised at the same time. His first actualisation of that dream was in Playboy’s Penthouse, a TV show that featured Hefner in a tuxedo, smoking pipe, surrounded by beautiful women and interviewing stars such as Sammy Davis Jr. Other shows followed as well as dedicated cable channels for the Playboy empire. He later rebranded the Playboy ‘s Penthouse to Playboy’s Mansion, the famous real-life 22, 000 square-foot house in Los Angeles where Hefner lived for more than four decades and hosted notably sexual-themed parties that attracted lots of celebrities. Hefner’s fashionable silk pyjamas also grew famous. He once said he didn’t wear underwears.

Playboy grew to be a success although it experienced few ups and downs and even a repentance that was short-lived. It announced last year that it will stop producing nude pictures only to go back to the tradition that gave it prominence this year.

During his lifetime, Hefner said he had slept with over a thousand women. He once had stroke but on Wednesday September 27, when he finally died, reports said he died of natural causes. He was aged 91.