Hugh Marston Hefner, born 1926 in Chicago Illinois, US, Editor and Publisher of the world-famous Playboy Advertising Magazine and the Playboy Enterprise, should he not be categorised among the great artists of our past and present? A sixty-four-year career in perfecting the art of reaching a sect of people, to keep the interest and loyalty of repeat business throughout centuries. The careful, rigorous attention to detail in selecting the right models, artists, meticulously designing costumes, selecting complimentary advertisers to the magazine, and designing exquisite pages for his product. His platform to create was and is Playboy Magazine and the Playboy Enterprise. We will delve a little into his life and conclude as to whether we agree Hugh Hefner is indeed an artist.
Former executive editor of the Playboy Enterprise, Jason Buhrmester, looked into the camera, whilst filming the ‘American Playboy; The Hugh Hefner Story’ Which aired on Amazon Prime, the ten episodes show that lasted for forty minutes each episode represented the life of the man Hugh Hefner. Buhrmester, with sheer and utter respect and awe, said, “It seemed like you were opening a door to another world” he was speaking about his experience in picking up Hugh Hefner’s creation, his baby, the Playboy
Magazine, in particular, the ‘Centrefold’
Doesn’t every artist want to elicit this response from its viewers? Isn’t this the highest compliment anyone creator, an artist could receive for his work?
In 1949, Hefner graduated with a Bachelor of arts in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and a double minor in creative writing and art. He later worked as copywriter for a then well-known magazine called Esquire but in 1952, having been refused a $5 dollar raise he left. The documentary on Amazon Prime about Hefner’s life shows an actor representing a young Hugh Hefner sitting at his kitchen table, pondering over his life, his future. He began to work out what he could do to produce something better than what was already out there, couldn’t he be the creator of his own magazine? Hefner knew what men wanted, being one himself, he wanted to create a product that would have everything a man looks to for entertainment and to make his life more interesting, exciting and fulfilled. Hefner wanted to create a place where everything was under one roof. Intelligent, thoughtful debate, information and beautiful women. He tested the idea out on a few of his close friends and they, of course, were in on the idea. Hugh then began to raise the money to start his magazine, he raised enough successfully and not without sacrifice and gave his idea a name; Playboy and the first edition was printed in 1953 with Marilyn Munroe on the cover. Because Marilyn Munroe was on the cover of the first edition of Playboy, 50,000 copies were sold. Hefner was determined to always have ‘The’ perfect model for the Playboy centrefold, many beautiful women were suggested for the magazine by the Playboy team, but the woman chosen by Hugh Hefner was always one cut above the rest.
In his first TV interview on Nightbeat in 1968, Mike Wallace said to Hefner “We checked this month’s issue and found pictures of girls in various stages of undress, what kick do you get out of that?” Hugh Hefner replied with confidence “no magazine is doing a successful job at entertaining the type of audience we are trying to reach” Playboy Magazine was about creating a fantasy lifestyle. On this basis, Hugh Hefner began to branch out to other ideas, the Playboy magazine being the foundation for all of his future ventures.
Hefner created Playboy Penthouse. It was the Playboy magazine ‘come to life’. Guests and entertainers on the TV show like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald caused the show to be axed based on the race mix which was forbidden at the time the show was aired in the 1950’s. Hefner dared to break the barrier between Blacks and Whites and continued to have black guests. The Playboy Penthouse was a chance to make the Playboy magazine, hip, fun and sexy. David Eisenbach, Historian and Author spoke about the Civil rights movement and Hugh Hefner’s part in it on the Amazon Prime – American Playboy, the Hugh Hefner Story, by using the Playboy Penthouse, by insisting on using black entertainers like Sammy Davies Junior, in the eyes of the youth he made it was no longer cool or hip to be ‘racist’. Through Playboy, Hugh Hefner boldly went against the system and made a change, participating in closing the horrendous, degrading racist gap. Hugh Hefner also opened the doors to Black performers at the Playboy Clubs, he was the first artist to allow Aretha Franklin to perform in front of a white crowd and to enter the club without coming through the kitchen. He used a lot of ‘on the rise’ artists like Ray Charles, Sam Cook and Bet Midler.
The Playboy Penthouse led to Playboy Mansion Parties then bringing about The Playboy Club in Chicago, the designing and creating of the Playboy Bunnies; Women dressed up in a costume with bunny ears and tail, cuffs and collar,
To be a Playboy Bunny, the woman selected would go through rigorous training on how to be the perfect Bunny, they were taught how to do the Bunny girl bend, which comprised of placing the drinks on the table with their backs to the table and slowing lowering the back and bending their needs to achieve this. There were also strict grooming rules and rules about their presentation. The Bunny costume designed intricately by Hugh Hefner, he had a definite image in mind and was meticulous in producing the ideal woman to represent his Playboy Magazine. The Playboy Bunnies were considered to be, performers bringing to life the pages of the magazine.
On the Political front the Playboy Magazine was doing important work, there were ground breaking things to read in the magazine. Mike Wallace, a television journalist spoke about the Playboy Magazine saying; “Once you bought the magazine and started to read it, you understood that there was stuff worth looking at, worth reading and thinking about” Amazon Prime – American Playboy, the Hugh Hefner Story.
“The Playboy Magazine was very influential in its tenth year. Writers, Cartoonists, Photographers and Artists, they all wanted to be part of this cultural piece of work that we were doing” Quote by Richard Rosenzweig. The Playboy Magazine gave birth to products, namely; ‘The Playboy Interview’ where celebrities were interviewed and intimate talks and statements given uniquely to the Playboy Magazine readers. The Playboy Interview went on to become one of the most iconic features in the magazines history.
The Playboy Enterprise continues to grow, having a business in every medium. There is the Playboy Plane, where parties would be held, The Playboy Casino established first in London then opened in New York. The Playboy Holiday Resort, The Playboy TV and Film Production, The Playboy Record Label, Playboy TV Channel and the most recent, six season hit TV series called ‘Girls Next Door’
Although Hugh Hefner is a great Humanitarian and a force for social good, for example, he held a fundraiser to get the Hollywood sign rebuilt. He wasn’t seen that way by everyone. The feminist Movement introduced to the world Gloria Steinem who became a feminist icon. Gloria posed as a Bunny Girl and reported that the working conditions for women in the Playboy Clubs were bad. Gloria also said ‘There aren’t many jobs women can do that pay as well as men unless they objectify themselves. Many women feel that Hugh Hefner is their enemy, women like Susan Brownmiller and Sally Kempton, they were interviewed on the Dick Cavett show with Hefner in 1970, feminists, who are representatives of the women’s liberation movement. The women went to town expressing their disapproval of the Playboy Enterprise and how demeaning it is to women, they even asked Hugh Hefner why he does not wear a Bunny costume with a fluffy tail himself!
Hugh Hefner, from his very first Playboy issue in 1953 with Marilyn Munroe on the cover, is till reaching a particular audience, that wish to be taken away from their normal lives and transported into a land where anything is possible. Why wouldn’t anyone regard the creative pages of his 64-year-old magazine to be considered a work of Art? What is Art? Images, Sound, Touch, Taste, Entertainment. Hugh Hefner’s creation embodies all of the above. There is an audience that buys into it and will continue to do so as long as Hugh Hefner runs ahead and keeps up with what it new with technology.