By Mark Wilkins
Hugh Hefner died today. Many younger people who think they know who Hugh Hefner was, remember the wrinkled old man with a bunch of hot young women hanging around him. Hugh Hefner was that but he was so much more.
Playboy was launched in 1953 when Hefner, who was a copy writer for Esquire Men’s Magazine, decided to start his own Men’s Magazine. He took a loan against his home and borrowed a total $8,000 from various small investors. He bought some nudes of rising superstar Marilyn Monroe and published his first issue. It sold out. Nude women became a staple of Playboy but it was not just a nudie magazine. It had well written articles on thought provoking topics.
Playboy also created a culture of wealth, style and sex. It rocked the traditional American prudishness of Eisenhower’s 1950’s. Not only did its literature take on sexual mores of the time but it explored controversial issues of the day, politics, and over time, offered both fiction and non-fiction by up and coming superstars of all races. People like Saul Bellow, Alex Haley and James Baldwin wrote articles for Playboy. Playboy also featured interviews with icons and controversial figures alike. John Lennon gave Playboy his last interview before he was assassinated.
To be sure, Playboy did objectify and exploit women. Hefner’s empire was built on the photos of nude bodies of countless women. That being said, Hefner’s main sin in many people’s eyes was outweighed by his positive actions for the world community.
Hefner was, for instance, involved in the civil Rights Movement by employing African Americans when others didn’t and by helping to promote and finance people like Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King Jr. He helped found and finance Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition. He was a promoter of Gay rights, same sex marriage and Women’s Reproductive Rights and their Right to Choose long before many others in the media were. He championed first amendment rights from Playboy’s beginning. He regularly contributed to legal cases that championed civil rights and first amendment rights.
Hefner expanded the Playboy Empire to include night clubs, television programs and movies and of course, merchandising. Unlike other magazine which featured nudes, Playboy was considered a mainstream magazine. He hosted the annual Playboy Jazz Festival for decades.
Hefner was no saint, his entrepreneurial efforts created a brand, a lifestyle and a culture which promoted the objectifying of women. His actions on many social fronts however, had an impact on the world in countless different areas. The world would be a much different place if Hugh Hefner wasn’t in it and what better can be said about the value of a person’s life than that?
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