The Monthly

Hugh Hefner was world famous as the chief editor of Playboy, the most iconic men's magazine in the world. In that regard he was also the only magazine publisher to reach such universal recognizability. Between 1953 and 2016 he was Playboy's chief editor, creative advisor and publisher, a feat which landed him in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest-running chief editor of a magazine. Playboy was the first "nudie magazine" in the world and therefore managed to become a million dollar-enterprise with various media outlets. It broke the market for countless similar erotic magazines. Yet contrary to them it actually achieved a classy, dignified status. Playboy discussed sex in an open manner. Various celebrity models, actresses and pop singers saw it as an honour to pose nude in its pages. The legendary parties at the Playboy Mansion created a fun and open atmosphere. As such Playboy stood at the forefront of the sexual revolution, which exploded during the 1960s and 1970s. Hefner used his magazine as a platform for freedom of speech. He vocally supported sexual liberation, civil rights for black people and the LGBT community. The magazine offered quality interviews, articles, columns, cartoons and... comics.  Many artists whose work was too free-spirited and risqué to be published in regular magazines found a well-paid spot in Playboy's pages. Few people know that Hefner actually began his career as a cartoonist, though not with the same success as his later Playboy enterprises.

Early life 
Hugh Marston Hefner was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1926. His parents were very conservative Methodists who both worked as teachers. Hefner showed an interest for publishing at a young age. As president of the student council he founded a school paper for which he wrote articles and drew cartoons. Hefner's favorite comics during his youth were Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' and Milton Caniff's 'Terry and the Pirates'. He even acknowledged that he started pipe smoking because of the 'Terry' character Pat Ryan. In 1944 he was drafted in the U.S. Army and worked for their newspaper. Back in civilian life Hefner studied at the University of Illinois, where he achieved a bachelor of arts in psychology and a double minor in creative writing and art. 


High school diary by Hugh Hefner.

Cartoons
Hefner wrote and drew several cartoons for the campus newspaper, the Daily Illini. He later established his own humor magazine too, Shaft. All of his cartoons relied heavily on inside jokes referring to daily life in school and at the campus. During lessons he scribbled and doodled down notes about what his fellow schoolmates said, did and even wore. Later that afternoon and evening he worked everything out in little comic strip-like cartoons, hand-coloured with crayons. The drawings were somewhat stiff and at times chaotic by lack of frames to separate individual scenes. For anyone not present at Hefner's school at that time they are incomprehensible without explanations. Yet his fellow students enjoyed them quite a lot. One of them, Jane Sellers, saved them because she was confident that he was "destined to do amazing things." Thanks to her these cartoons were rescued from obscurity and possible destruction. The student council voted Hefner not only as "Class Humorist", "Best Dancer", "Best Orator" and "Most Popular Boy", but also as "Most Artistic" and "Most Likely to Succeed in Life". This latter prediction only came half true, as Hefner never made a career out of cartooning. After graduation he drew a new series of cartoons with a more professional look, aiming at a more general audience. Most publishers rejected them, though some appeared in print in the satirical book 'That Toddlin' Town: A Rowdy Burlesque of Chicago Manners and Morals' (1951). It's not difficult to understand why they didn't catch on. Most lack funny punchlines and only show glimpses of his future Playboy persona. Realizing his own limits, Hefner pursued a career as editor instead. He worked as an assistant personnel manager for the Chicago Carton Company in 1949. A year later he became advertising copywriter for Carson Pirie Scott Department Store and, from 1952 on, for Esquire. Low payment eventually convinced Hefner to found his own magazine, which he called Playboy.

Playboy
Playboy was a serious gamble. Hefner mortgaged all of his furniture on top of all his other loans. He was so unsure that the first issue wasn't even dated. As fate would have it became an unprecedented over-nite sensation. Sales rose with every issue until it became a million-dollar enterprise and one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Hefner had found a genuine hole in the market. Most media at the time were so prudent that sex was a complete taboo, or, particularly in the United States, presented as something shameful. Playboy was the first magazine to offer uncensored female nudity in each issue. Attractive young women were chosen as the 'Playmate of the Month'. In the center of the magazine a two-page nude photograph of the Playmate was featured. Hefner named this a 'center-fold' or 'fold-out', which became a neologism. In fact, the equally legendary "fold-ins" by Al Jaffee in Mad Magazine were inspired by this phenomenon.

Playboy not only showed nudity and sex: it embraced and discussed it in an open-minded way. A virile rabbit in bowtie became their logo, designed by Art Paul. The young women who worked at Playboy's headquarters or appeared as his female companions during public appearances were all dressed in trademarked bunny suits. Hefner cultivated the idea of the "playboy", a cool and suave man who was popular with the ladies. His main life goal was the fulfillment of his personal dreams. He gave the good example himself. The succesful editor bought a large luxurious house - the Playboy Mansion - where he organized weekly all-night parties. Fancy dinners, cool drinks, smooth jazz, game activities, celebrity guests and very willing young women were present at every occasion. Many celebrities went to Playboy's parties without any fear or embarrassment of hurting their public reputation. Hefner felt so comfortable in his self-created little world that he wore nothing but pajamas and slippers, even during public appearances. Regular broadcasts of late-night TV shows such as 'Playboy's Penthouse' (1959-1960), 'Playboy After Dark' (1969-1970) and 'The Girls Next Door' (2005-2010) further popularized his image. He sparked the imagination of many men and became a hero in their eyes.

Playboy also played a significant part in addressing social and political issues. Hefner advocated freedom of speech, sexual liberation and support of African-American and homosexual civil rights. In 1955 Playboy broke new ground by publishing Charles Beaumont's short story 'The Crooked Man' which criticized homophobia. 'Playboy's Penthouse' (1959-1960) broke new ground by having white and black performers sharing the same stage on television. The Playboy Clubs pushed the same policy, despite the segregation laws in some states. When Playboy started publishing its praised interviews in 1962 African-American jazz legend Miles Davis was the first candidate. Other notable black celebrities interviewed in those early years were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Hefner has raised money for various charitable causes and established the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award in 1979 for people who protect and enhance the first amendment of the American constitution. In 1970 Playboy became the first men's magazine to be printed in braille.


Some of Hugh Hefner's Chicago cartoons.

Criticism
Naturally Hefner also drew criticism. Puritans, prudes and religious fanatics were outraged over his glorification of sex and nudity. In several parts of the world Playboy was banned, particularly in most of Africa (except South Africa), the Middle East (except Lebanon and Turkey) and South-East Asia (except Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines). Even Ireland banned it between 1961 and 1995, as did the Australian province Queensland between 2004 and 2005. In some countries Playboy is available with censored nudity, such as in Japan. Feminists felt Playboy objectified and downgraded women as mere sex toys. In 1963 Hefner was sent to court for selling obscenity, referring to an issue which featured Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield nude. He won his case. During the 1980s U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese organized a special anti-pornography commission, backed by the Moral Majority, which also targeted Playboy. Hefner sued Meese, won his case and had the politician publicly clear the magazine of all accusations. 

Reputation and achievements
Both Playboy's hedonistic image as well as this bad press have often led to the misconception that it is nothing but a porn magazine. In reality it has a far more classy reputation than publications like Hustler, Screw or Penthouse. The featured nudity is never vulgar and doesn't feature actual sex, just women posing with their clothes off. Various high-profile professional photographers such as Ken Marcus, Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton have been hired to make the pictures elegant and tasteful. As such, it has become less of a shame and more of an honour to be published in Playboy. Even for women! Many female celebrities have posed for the magazine over the years, either directly or by having pre-existing photos published: Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, Nancy Sinatra, Kim Basinger, LaToya Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Samantha Fox, Carmen Electra, Sharon Stone, Charlize Theron, Madonna, Lindsay Lohan... The huge pay undoubtedly plays a major part too.

The centerfolds are also just a small aspect of the actual content. As Hefner put it, Playboy advocates "entertainment for men" and this has a much wider scope than just sex alone. The global enterprise has its own record label (Playboy Jazz All-Star Records, 1957-1972, Playboy Records, 1972-1978), jazz festival (1959), night clubs  (Playboy Club, 1960), philanthropic organization (Playboy Foundation, 1965), TV channel (Playboy Channel, 1982) and radio channel (Playboy Radio, 2006). Their film company, Playboy Productions Films produced such pictures as Roman Polanski's 'MacBeth' (1971) and the Monty Python debut film 'And Now for Something Completely Different' (1971). The magazine itself gained recognition for their quality interviews, articles, columns, reviews, photographs, comics and cartoons by renowned journalists, novelists, writers, critics, photographers and illustrators. 

Playboy cartoons
While Hefner's own cartooning career had been forgettable and unnecessary once Playboy conquered the world, he always remained fond of the medium. Many illustrators, comics artists, cartoonists and graphic designers were invited to decorate Playboy's pages. Already in its second issue Hefner received permission from Milton Caniff to publish 'Male Call', a comic rejected elsewhere for being too sexy. This earned Playboy a reputation as the most open-minded magazine for free-spirited and sexy artwork. A typical Playboy cartoon features naughty, but tasteful gags about nude, sexy men and women. Hefner kept a close watch on the overall look and style. It wasn't enough for a cartoon to be funny. Both the situation and female characters had to look fun, appealing and titillating. While Hefner's creative control has sometimes been controversial Playboy was still a godsend for many young artists. Artwork which was too risqué for regular magazines was warmly welcomed at Hefner's place. He not only offered the finest quality printing, but paid extraordinarily well. 

Among the most regular contributors were Rowland B. Wilson, J.B. Handelman, Al Stine, Jules Feiffer, Erich Sokol, Gahan Wilson, Charles Rodrigues, Gardner Rea, John Demsey, Kiraz, Alden Erickson, Charles W. Miller, Claude, Jerry King, Don Flowers, Alberto Vargas, John Held Jr., Doug Sneyd, Richard Taylor, Phil Interlandi, E. Simms Campbell, Marty Murphy and Roy Ramonde. Jack Cole, best known as the creator of 'Plastic Man', worked four years for the magazine until his untimely suicide in 1957. Hefner was one of only two people (the other being Cole's wife) whom he sent a suicide letter. In 1966 Tomi Ungerer became editor of a food column in the magazine. Some of the longest-running comics series in Playboy were Dean Yeagle's 'Mandy', Eldon Dedini's 'Satyr & Nymph', B. Kliban's 'Cat', Robert "Buck" Brown's 'Granny' (1963-2007) - and perhaps the most iconic - Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's 'Little Annie Fanny' (1962-1988). Shel Silverstein drew 23 comic strip-versions of travels he made across the world for Playboy under the title 'Shel Silverstein Visits...'. Bobby London's 'Dirty Duck' found a haven in the magazine between 1976 and 1987. People like Jack Davis, Paul Coker, John Caldwell, Art Spiegelman, Zack Poitras, John Jonik, Roger Licot, Natalia Forcat, Neon ParkArnold Roth, Rogério Vilela, P.C. Vey, Cau Gomez, Murad GumenBill Asprey, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson and Charles Burns have all at one point published erotic cartoons in Playboy's pages. In 2009 Playboy featured the first fictional character on its cover, namely Marge Simpson from Matt Groening's animated TV series 'The Simpsons'. Inside she could be seen in more revealing poses.


Cover of the first issue of Playboy, with autograph by Hugh Hefner.

Media appearances and cameos
Hefner was one of the interviewees in the cult documentary 'Comic Book: The Movie' (1989). He was special guest voice in the Simpsons episode 'Krusty Gets Cancelled' (1993). Another episode, 'All's Fair in Oven War' (2004) is a homage to Playboy, where Bart and Milhouse remodel their treehouse based on the magazine's lifestyle. Hefner also voiced himself in Seth MacFarlane's 'Family Guy', namely the episode 'Airport '07' (2007) where he meets the sex-obsessed character Glen Quagmire. As a colourful celebrity it comes to no surprise that Hefner has had cameos in several comics too. In the early 1970s Robert Crumb had his characters Mr. Natural and Angelfood McSpade visit the Playboy Mansion where Hefner makes the mistake of laughing at Angelfood in her Playboy Bunny outfit, which causes them to be thrown out. In the 1980s Dutch comics artist Dick Matena made a series of one-shot comics about celebrities in the 1980s, one of which starred Hefner. Chester Brown made a graphic novel, 'The Playboy' (1990), which deals with his feelings of guilt when he read Playboy as a teenager.

Recognition
In 1980 Hefner received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Four years later a marsh rabbit species was named after him. The Playboy publisher also made the Guinness Book of Records twice. Once for being the longest-running magazine editor in the world, secondly for owning the largest personal scrapbook collection in the world. 

Final decades and death
Playboy's heydays spanned from the 1950s until the late 1990s. At their highest point they were one of the best-selling magazines in the world. Halfway the 1970s pornography was legalized in most Western countries. This made Playboy more socially accepted than ever, but at the same time many rival nudie magazines popped up. Several offered more explicit content, appealing to specific niches. Playboy lost some readers as a result, but their market viability remained strong. Two more serious rivals were video stores in the late 1970s and Internet in the early 1990s which made porn movies more readily available. All this gradually hurt Playboy's sales. As Hefner grew older he became a self-caricature. Some younger generations saw him as a silly, somewhat pathetic old man surrounded by bimbo's five generations younger than him. He still presented himself as a ladies' man in public, but by the turn of the 21st century he spent most of his days in the Mansion playing cards with his Bunnies. In 2009 Playboy had to reduce its publication schedule. By 2016 the magazine even quit its claim to fame: the full frontal nudity. Though they wisely came back on that decision by February 2017. Interestingly enough Hefner wasn't so concerned about removing nudity, but resisted the removal of the cartoons far longer. Eventually even these had to go to remain financially saviable. In October 2016 Hefner stepped down as chief editor, after 63 years of continuous editorship. His son Cooper took over the management. Nearly a year later, in September 2017, Hugh Hefner passed away. As stated in his will he was buried next to Marilyn Monroe, as he bought the burial plot next to her tomb decades ago. In 2019 it was announced that Playboy would change from a monthly to a quarterly magazine.

Media about Playboy and Hugh Hefner
For those interested in Playboy's cartoons the book 'Playboy 50 years. The Cartoons' (2004) is the most comprehensive collection. Hefner's own cartoons can be read in 'Hugh Hefner's Playboy' (Taschen, 2013). Brigitte Berman's documentary 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel' (2009) focuses on Hefner's long and remarkable career. The film features interviews with Joan Baez, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, James Caan, Dick Cavett, Tony Curtis, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, George Lucas, Bill Maher, Pete Seeger, Gene Simmons and Dr. Ruth. 

Hugh Hefner by Robert Crumb
From: Robert Crumb's Art & Beauty Magazine #2, 2003

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