The legacy of Hugh Hefner and Playboy


Hugh Hefner Playboy Through The BenzWe all recognize Hugh Hefner with his trademark silk smoking jacket and pipe, always accompanied by beautiful Playboy bunnies draped over each arm. He became the persona of Playboy, both the magazine and the lifestyle, living at his infamous Playboy Mansion with outrageous parties and socializing with the rich and famous. But there was more to Hefner than the superficial trappings of success. Playboy was founded at a time when the prevailing attitude of American society was that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Hefner changed that with his magazine which empowered woman and gave a voice to sexuality, and was at the forefront of the sexual revolution. Playboy helped break down sexual barriers and made sexuality something to feel good about instead of something which was thought of as dirty and only spoken about in whispers. He helped us appreciate the beauty of the human body as well as blazing a trail of free speech and free enterprise.

Hugh Hefner passed away in September and depending on your feminist viewpoint he was either seen as a champion of civil rights or as a misogynist and dirty old man. But whether you liked or despised him, we all must agree that he left behind a legacy which continues to make an impact, such as personally selecting Ines Rau to be the first transgender Playboy Playmate in the magazine’s 64-year history.

Hugh Hefner was the Editor-In-Chief of Playboy Magazine, which he founded in 1953 after scraping together $8,000 from 45 investors, including $1,000 from his mother. The first issue was published in December 1953 and featured Marilyn Monroe and sold over 50,000 copies, and the rest is history. During it’s heyday in the early 1970s Hefner had built Playboy Enterprises into a major corporation with the magazine’s circulation at 7 million copies a month and a $12 million profit in 1972.

Hugh Hefner Playboy Through The Benz

Initially seen as just a porn magazine, Hefner envisioned a more mainstream audience so he expanded Playboys circulation with articles and interviews geared towards being more intellectually stimulating. The magazine gained a reputation for serious journalism when author Alex Haley launched the “Playboy Interview” in 1962 by interviewing jazz great Miles Davis. In the following years the interviews included many notable names including Bette Davis, Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Muhammad Ali, Ansel Adams, Walter Cronkite, and during the height of the civil rights era, Hefner had Haley interview Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, as well as George Lincoln Rockwell, the notorious founder of the American Nazi Party. Hefner also developed the Playboy Philosophy which included politics, governance, free enterprise, and of course the nature of man and woman, along with advocating for open dialogue on the truths of human sexuality. But through all his side pursuits Hefner never lost sight of the fact that it was pictures of nude women which ultimately sold the magazine.

Hefner was at the forefront in the fight against censorship and those who sought to ban porn. In 1963 he was arrested and charged with selling obscene literature after an issue of Playboy featured nude photos of Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield. The trial resulted in a hung jury and the charge was eventually dropped, but this led to Hefner founding the Playboy Foundation to support endeavors related to fighting censorship and researching human sexuality. Hefner later donated $100,000 to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to create a course called “Censorship in Cinema”, and $2 million to endow a chair for the study of American film. The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award was created by his daughter Christie Hefner “to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for Americans.” So, Hugh Hefner and Playboy were more than just about beautiful women; they influenced our culture and society in important areas such as freedom of speech and politics. Hefner referred to himself as an independent due to his disillusionment with both the Democratic and Republican parties, but he did donate and raise money for the Democratic Party. Hefner supported legalizing same-sex marriage, and he stated that a fight for gay marriage was “a fight for all our rights. Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.” Hefner lived long enough to see just how prophetic that statement was, with Donald Trump pushing the conservative’s religious freedom agenda as a way of discriminating and taking away rights from certain groups of people, most notably the LGBTQ community.

Hugh Hefner Playboy Through The Benz

Hefner also waged a long-standing battle against “militant feminists” who accused him of exploiting and objectifying women and promoting pornography. A New York Times article described him as “a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism, and the exploitation of women” and branded him as the “pimp of the sexual revolution.” English writer Julie Bindel stated that Hefner “caused immeasurable damage by turning porn, and therefore the buying and selling of women’s bodies, into a legitimate business.” Journalist Suzanne Moore wrote that Hefner threatened to file a lawsuit against her for calling him a pimp, arguing that “he was a man who bought and sold women to other men.”

Whether you view Hugh Hefner as a hero or villain is subjective, but the fact remains he changed the way we as a culture view sexuality and gender, and by default, ourselves. He brought sexuality out from behind the veil of prudishness and pushed it into mainstream society, which got people thinking and talking about it. Playboy played a large role in laying the foundation for the adult entertainment industry as we know it today, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude.



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