A play­boy’s life

The world’s old­est lothario of­fers a hefty au­to­bi­og­ra­phy even as he strug­gles to re­gain full con­trol of his pub­lish­ing em­pire.

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Author: Hugh Hefner Pub­lisher: Taschen, six-vol­ume box set

WHEN he’s not pop­ping Vi­a­gra and en­ter­tain­ing his harem of bun­nies, Hugh Hefner likes to sit on his re­volv­ing cir­cu­lar bed and glue ar­ti­cles about him­self into big books.

Ever since ado­les­cence, the le­gendary lothario has been com­pil­ing a scrap­book of his life. These graphic di­aries were a dress re­hearsal for Play­boy, a mag­a­zine that also placed Hefner at the cen­tre of a world of his own in­ven­tion.

As he shot to fame on the back of its suc­cess, Hefner’s scrap­books ex­panded to in­clude ev­ery­thing writ­ten about him: now more than 2,000 black, leather-bound vol­umes line the walls of the third floor of his Los An­ge­les man­sion.

Hugh Hefner’s Play­boy: 1953-1979 (Taschen), his 3,506-page, six-vol­ume “il­lus­trated au­to­bi­og­ra­phy”, is dis­tilled from this mod­est col­lec­tion and mixes per­sonal re­flec­tion with pic­tures culled from the mag­a­zine.

It is printed in a limited edi­tion of 1,500 copies, and is avail­able on­line, at the pub­lisher’s web­site, taschen.com; in Bri­tain, it’s avail­able on sale for £900 (RM4,410)!

The boxed set comes with what looks wor­ry­ingly like a hand­ker­chief but, on closer in­spec­tion, turns out to be a piece of Hefner’s py­ja­mas (buy­ers are as­sured that they were “worn by the great man him­self”).

Both this 7cm x 7cm swatch of silk, and the 84-year-old from whom it was sourced, are relics of the Amer­i­can sex­ual revo­lu­tion of the 1960s. Hefner has con­sis­tently tried to carve a cen­tral place for him­self in the his­tory of that move­ment, which “I am some­times cred­ited with (or con­versely, blamed for) start­ing”.

Hefner says it was the pub­li­ca­tion of bi­ol­o­gist Al­fred Kin­sey’s sex­ual sur­veys in the 1940s and 1950s that pro­vided the im­pe­tus for Play­boy.

“If Kin­sey had done the re­search,” Hefner re­flected years later, “I was the pam­phle­teer, spread­ing the news of sex­ual lib­er­a­tion through a monthly mag­a­zine.”

With an $8,000 loan ($1,000 from his mother, who had hoped he’d be­come a mis­sion­ary), the 27-year-old Hefner pro­duced a pasted-to­gether but vi­tal mag­a­zine. He bought the rights to an old pin-up pic­ture of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and used it as cen­tre­fold bait to drum up 70,000 ad­vance or­ders: “It im­me­di­ately classed us as big-time with the news deal­ers,” Hefner wrote, “and prob­a­bly with our read­ers, too.”

Within two years, Play­boy was sell­ing 500,000 copies a month, at 50 cents a go; by the end of the decade this fig­ure had dou­bled. For all its rad­i­cal in­tent, Play­boy was de­signed, Hefner notes, as “a ro­man­tic re­flec­tion of ear­lier times”. In the inaugural is­sue, he de­scribed his ideal reader (ba­si­cally him­self): “We like our apart­ment. We en­joy mix­ing up cock­tails and an hors d’oeu­vre or two, putting a lit­tle mood mu­sic on the phono­graph and invit­ing in a fe­male ac­quain­tance for a quiet dis­cus­sion on Pi­casso, Ni­et­zsche, jazz, sex.”

Along­side tit­il­lat­ing pho­tos and sala­cious car­toons, Hefner filled the mag­a­zine with good fic­tion, al­low­ing sub­scribers to joke, “I only read it for the ar­ti­cles”. The first is­sue in­cluded a re­print of a Sherlock Holmes story, and en­tire nov­els, such as Ray Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451, were se­ri­alised in it.

He once re­marked that his life was an open book, each page a Rorschach inkblot on to which read­ers pro­jected their own sex­ual fan­tasies. De­spite his lit­er­ary pre­ten­sions, his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy – writ­ten with the hu­mour­less brag­gado­cio of Don­ald Trump – does lit­tle to flesh out those in­de­ci­pher­able stains.

He was born in 1926 into a strict Methodist fam­ily, which he de­scribes as “re­pres­sive” and “un­demon­stra­tive”. The skinny teenage Hefner seems to have had lit­tle luck with girls so, “I de­cided to rein­vent my­self in a way more likely to ap­peal to at­trac­tive mem­bers of the op­po­site sex,” Hefner says of the birth of his new, suave self (mod­elled on Mickey Rooney from the Andy Hardy films). “I started wear­ing cooler clothes – red flan­nel shirts, yel­low cor­duroy pants and sad­dle shoes.”

Even so, he came to sex late. In 1948, the year Kin­sey’s Sex­ual Be­hav­ior In The Hu­man Male was pub­lished, the 22-year-old Hefner lost his vir­gin­ity to his long-term girl­friend, Mil­lie Wil­liams, whom he’d met when study­ing psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois. (He mar­ried her the fol­low­ing year and they had a child to­gether, Christie.)

She was the first, Hefner claims, of more than 2,000 lovers. At the close of 1961, he as­sem­bled 12 of his favourite Play­mates for a

mag­a­zine founder Hugh Hefner at his Play­boy man­sion in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, in July this year.

3,506page, six-vol­ume il­lus­trated au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. pho­to­graph: “What made it so per­sonal and par­tic­u­larly un­for­get­table for me was the fact that I had been ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with 11 of the 12 Play­mates fea­tured in the pic­to­rial.” You won­der, as you look at the photo, which was the lucky dis­ci­ple who got away.

If you read Hefner’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy along­side Steven Watts’s Mr Play­boy: Hugh Hefner And The Amer­i­can Dream, you will see how much its sub­ject has cho­sen to elide. Watts, who was given free ac­cess to Hefner’s scrap­books, doc­u­ments the pe­riod of sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that led to the Hefn­ers’ sep­a­ra­tion in 1956: wife-swap­ping (Hefner slept with his sis­ter-in-law), bi­sex­u­al­ity, or­gies, home­made porn films and se­rial af­fairs that go un­men­tioned here.

Af­ter his divorce came through in 1959, Hefner ad­ver­tised him­self as the em­bod­i­ment of the lib­er­tar­ian Play­boy life­style. He hosted a TV show, Play­boy’s Pent­house, which was staged to feel like a soiree at his bach­e­lor pad. He also opened the first Play­boy Club, a fash­ion­able mem­ber­sonly es­tab­lish­ment that was staffed by play­girls in bunny cos­tumes and bowties (in Di­a­monds Are For­ever, 007 flashes his mem­ber’s card). Va­ri­ety de­scribed it as a “Dis­ney­land for adults” and, like Dis­ney­land, Hefner’s em­pire had its cas­tle, too.

The Play­boy Man­sion in Chicago was, in Hefner’s de­scrip­tion, a “house of dreams”; it had an indoor pool with a wa­ter­fall, dis­creet grot­toes and a fire­man’s pole down which you slid to an un­der­wa­ter bar with win­dows look­ing on to the pool. Two dozen Play­boy bun­nies resided in the Bunny Dor­mi­tory on the fourth floor. They came home from the club at 4am, keen to party, and the likes of Tony Cur­tis, Frank Si­na­tra, Bob Hope and Johnny Car­son vis­ited Chicago to join in the louche lux­ury. A brass plaque by the door read in Latin: “If you don’t swing, don’t ring.”

In Play­boy And The Mak­ing Of The Good Life In Mod­ern Amer­ica, the his­to­rian El­iz­a­beth Frater­rigo shows how Hefner’s pri­mary achieve­ment was to as­so­ci­ate sex with up­ward mo­bil­ity. Play­boy was mar­keted at yup­pies rather than hip­pies, and it repack­aged the sum­mer of love to a cor­po­rate read­er­ship with­out alien­at­ing ad­ver­tis­ers on Madi­son Av­enue.

Play­boy chimed with and helped to shape the per­mis­sive zeit­geist and, in a cul­ture that came to as­so­ci­ate sex with self-re­al­i­sa­tion, Hefner be­came a sym­bol and spokesper­son for the so-called sex­ual revo­lu­tion.

In 1971, at the peak of his com­pany’s suc­cess (cir­cu­la­tion reached seven mil­lion, and there were casi­nos, ho­tels, re­sorts, even a Braille ver­sion of the mag­a­zine), Hefner floated Play­boy En­ter­prises, sell­ing 30% of his stake.

In 1988, af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke, Hefner stepped down as CEO of Play­boy En­ter­prises – though he re­mains edi­tor-in-chief of the mag­a­zine – and handed the reins to his daugh­ter. He mar­ried that Jan­uary’s play­mate of the month, Kimberly Con­rad, and made an­other, decade-long at­tempt to set­tle down but di­vorced her in 1998.

Life out­side the man­sion has moved on, and af­ter 57 years Play­boy is a mag­a­zine that has lost its Mojo. It never re­ally sur­vived the HIV/AIDS cri­sis and the back­lash of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in the 1980s, an era that Hefner calls “the Great Re­pres­sion” (the Taschen me­mo­rial closes in 1979, at the end of the glory years), which was fol­lowed by an on­slaught of lad mags that seemed more in tune with youth cul­ture, and then by In­ter­net porn.

Play­boy En­ter­prises re­ported a net loss of US$51mil (RM159mil) for 2009 and is cur­rently fac­ing a takeover bat­tle from the owner of Pent­house mag­a­zine. Hefner, who has said his “life would be over” if he ever sold his com­pany, wants to buy back all the stock he doesn’t al­ready own for US$123mil (RM384mil), turn­ing Play­boy pri­vate and se­cur­ing his style of liv­ing.

Ear­lier this year two of Hefner’s girl­friends left him – the 20-year-old iden­ti­cal twins Karissa and Kristina Shan­non – leav­ing him with only one mistress, Crys­tal Har­ris, 24. The oc­to­ge­nar­ian in­sists he’s never felt bet­ter, and in in­ter­views sel­dom fails to re­peat the mantra, “age is just a num­ber”.

As Grou­cho Marx said: “You’re only as old as the woman you feel.” – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010 n Hugh­Hefner’sPlay­boy:1953-1979 is avail­able on­line at taschen.com.

The Amer­i­can dream: Play­boy


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