Hugh Marston Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) was an American businessman, magazine publisher and playboy. He was the editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, which he founded in 1953. He was also the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, which is the publishing group that operates the magazine. An advocate of sexual liberation and freedom of expression, Hefner was a political activist and philanthropist in several other causes and public issues.
Hefner was born during the Prohibition era in Chicago, Illinois, on April 9, 1926. He was the first child of Grace Caroline who worked as a teacher, and Glenn Lucius Hefner who was an accountant. His parents were from Nebraska. He had a younger brother, Keith. Hefner's mother was of Swedish descent, and his father had German and English ancestry. Through his father's line, Hefner stated that he was a direct descendant of Plymouth governor William Bradford. He described his family as "conservative, Midwestern, [and] Methodist".
He went to Sayre Elementary School and then to Steinmetz High School in Chicago. He developed an early interest in journalism and founded a school newspaper while in high school and also served as president of the student council where he championed student causes.
He served in the U.S. Army for two years toward the end of World War II, and was discharged in 1946. He used to write for a military newspaper.
After the war he studied at the Chicago Art Institute before enrolling at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign from where he graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in psychology with a double minor in creative writing and art.
In 1949, Hefner married Northwestern University student Mildred ("Millie") Williams. They had two children: daughter Christie (b. 1952) and son David (b. 1955)
Bright and ambitious, he worked as an assistant personnel manager for the Chicago Carton Company 1949, and as an advertising copywriter for the Carson Pirie Scott department store before landing a job as a promotion copywriter with the magazine ‘Esquire’ which was a publication for men that featured articles on topics such as men’s fashion and also illustrations from pinup artists such as George Petty and Alberto Vargas.
He worked there till 1952 and left after being denied a $5 raise.
Out on his own, Hefner was determined to start his own publication. He raised $8,000 from 45 investors—including $2,000 from his mother and brother Keith combined—to launch Playboy magazine. Hefner had planned to title the magazine "Stag Party" but was forced to change the name to avoid a trademark infringement with the existing Stag magazine. A colleague suggested the name "Playboy," after a defunct automobile company. Hefner liked the name, as he thought it reflected high living and sophistication.
Hefner produced the first edition of Playboy out of his South Side home. It hit newsstands in December 1953, but did not carry a date because Hefner was unsure as to whether or not a second issue would be produced. To help ensure its success, Hefner had purchased a color photograph of actress Marilyn Monroe in the nude—which had been taken some years earlier—and placed it in the centerfold of the magazine. The first issue quickly sold more than 50,000 copies, and became an instant sensation.
America in the 1950s was attempting to distance itself from nearly 30 years of war and economic depression. For many, the magazine proved to be a welcome antidote to the sexual repression of the era. For those who initially dismissed the magazine as a pornographic publication, Playboy soon broadened its circulation with thoughtful articles and an urbane presentation.
Hefner begins to make waves with his new magazine which, as of its second issue, features its now-iconic rabbit logo. While pushing an aspirational, sex-forward adult aesthetic and lifestyle as well as a philosophy of bachelorhood-cum-sophistication, Hefner also makes a splash publishing challenging and cerebral stories by authors like Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Norman Mailer, Ian Fleming, Gore Vidal, and Margaret Atwood.
After the Charles Beaumont science fiction short story "The Crooked Man" was rejected by Esquire magazine in 1955, Hefner agreed to publish the story in Playboy. The story highlighted straight men being persecuted in a world where homosexuality was the norm. After the magazine received angry letters, Hefner wrote a response to criticism where he said, "If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society then the reverse was wrong, too."
Hef divorces his wife, Millie.Playboy sells over a million copies every month. In celebration, Hef holds the first Playboy Jazz Festival at the Chicago Stadium, a three-day extravaganza known as the “greatest single weekend in the history of jazz” at the time. The first American indoor jazz festival draws more than 68,000. Purchases Chicago Playboy Mansion and his first television show, Playboy’s Penthouse debuts.
By 1960, Playboy would have more than a million subscribers. As Hefner’s smoking-jacket bachelor aesthetic becomes his (and the brand’s) signature look, Playboy itself enters a golden age, debuting its now-iconic “Playboy Interview” (beginning with an interview with Miles Davis by author Alex Haley), Malcolm X (1963), Martin Luther King Jr. (1965), and George Lincoln Rockwell (1966) and developing an enterprise of private pleasure clubs across the country (the first being in Chicago in 1960) that would introduce the “Playboy Bunny” hostess and peddle Hefner’s brand of “new hedonism” philosophy.
He also wrote several editorials exemplifying what he called “The Playboy Philosophy” and questioned the American heritage of Puritan repression. With its erotic images and interesting articles, it did not take long for ‘Playboy’ to become the largest-selling men’s magazine in the world.
Hef is arrested on obscenity charges after nude photos of Jayne Mansfield appear in Playboy’s June issue. The photos allegedly offended Chicago Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy, who explained that the captions beneath the images that were too suggestive to be considered art and were therefore “obscene.” Due to the jury’s inability to reach a verdict, the charges are dropped.
Hugh M. Hefner Foundation is established with a mission to facilitate individual rights society, placing emphasis on civil rights and liberties, First Amendment rights, and rational sex and drug policies.
Hef fights censorship and encourages human sexuality research by providing grants to non-profit organizations through the founding Playboy Foundation.
Hefner hosts his second weekly talk show, Playboy After Dark, featuring guests like Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Linda Ronstadt, and Milton Berle.
Playboy becomes the most influential men’s magazine worldwide in this decade, with circulation numbers at 7 million, surpassing those of other men’s magazines. Hef obtains a black McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 he names the Big Bunny airline jet in which he jets around the world.
Playboy Enterprises goes public, selling 7 million magazine copies every month. The company also successfully establishes 23 Playboy Clubs, resorts, hotels and casinos and boasts more than 900,000 members worldwide. Purchases the famed Playboy Mansion on a five-acre estate in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles.
Playboy earns a $12 million profit for the year.
Decides to make the Los Angeles mansion his permanent residence so that he may closely supervise production. Becomes a driving force in the restoration of the Hollywood sign, a monument he referred to as “Hollywood’s Eiffel Tower.”
• Hefner encourages fund-raising efforts that led to the restoration of the Hollywood Sign and personally contributed $27,000 (or 1/9 of the total restoration costs) by purchasing the letter Y in a ceremonial auction
• The 2nd Playboy Jazz Festival is held in the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles - This was the first jazz festival to happen on the West Coast
• The Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award is created by Christie Hefner “to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for Americans”
• Hefner earns a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for helping save the Hollywood Sign and is honored further with Hollywood Hall of Fame Award as Outstanding Citizen of the Year
In 1985, Hefner suffered a minor stroke, with the entrepreneur blaming it on stress from director Peter Bogdanovich's book The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980, which profiled the life and murder of a former Playmate. The stroke served as a wake-up call for Hefner. He stopped smoking, began to work out and adopted a slower pace in his pleasurable pursuits.
Hefner names his daughter Christie chair and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, effectively relinquishing control of his company’s new media expansion while still remaining editor-in-chief of the magazine (and choosing its Playmate of the Month).
He married his longtime girlfriend, Kimberly Conrad, in 1989, and for a time, the Playboy Mansion reflected an atmosphere of family life. The marriage produced two sons, Marston and Cooper. The Hefners separated in 1998 and officially divorced in 2009. After the separation, Kimberly and the two boys lived on an estate next door to the Playboy Mansion.
• Hefner gives $100,000 to USC to create a course, Censorship in Cinema
• Hefner establishes and funds the Playboy Jazz Film Festival, the first-ever showcase on the West Coast for many of the best and rarest films in the jazz lexicon.
• Donates $1.5 million to endow the Hugh M. Hefner Chair for the Study of American Film at the USC School of Cinematic Arts
• Receives the International Publishing Award from the International Press Directory in London
• Is inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors at its 1998 ceremonies in New York
• Is inducted into the New York Friars Club as an honorary Friar on the occasion of his gala roast in New York City, an evening of uninhibited comedy subsequently aired nationwide on the Comedy Central network
• Receives the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honor of the Magazine Publishers of America
2005 saw the premiere of The Girls Next Door, a reality series focusing on the lives of Hefner and his girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion, on the E! cable television network. The show's earlier seasons featured Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson, with later seasons featuring twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon and Crystal Harris, who would later become engaged to Hefner. True to form, the series served as a promotional vehicle for many of Hefner's projects.
The 2009 season finale of Girls Next Door chronicled more changes in Hefner's life, as Marquardt left the mansion and began her own TV series. Wilkinson left soon after, pursuing a relationship with NFL player Hank Baskett. Madison also vacated the mansion. She later penned the 2015 memoir Down the Rabbit Hole, detailing Hefner's off-camera machinations and the severe unhappiness she experienced living at the mansion.
Gets engaged to Crystal Harris, a former 2009 playmate of the month, in December.
Harris broke off their engagement on June 14, 2011, five days before their planned wedding. In anticipation of the wedding, the July issue of Playboy, which reached store shelves and customer's homes within days of the wedding date, featured Harris on the cover and in a photo spread as well. The headline on the cover read "Introducing America's Princess, Mrs. Crystal Hefner.
Hef quickly moves on and introduces Anna Sophia Berglund and Sher Bechard as his newest girlfriends.
Hefner and Harris subsequently reconciled and married on December 31, 2012.
Meanwhile, Playboy was set to undergo a transformation: In October 2015, chief content officer Cory Jones revealed to the New York Times that he and Hefner had agreed to stop using photos of fully unclothed women. The change was part of a strategic decision to secure more advertisers and better placement on newsstands, as well as a response to the proliferation of internet pornography that had made the magazine's spreads seem old-fashioned. The March 2016 issue featured bikini-clad model Sarah McDaniel on the cover, the first time Playboy presented itself as a non-nude magazine.
However, the change was short lived. Not long after Hefner's son Cooper took over as chief creative officer in 2016, it was announced that Playboy would again feature unclothed models. "Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem," the creative chief tweeted in February 2017. "Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are."
Cooper Hefner had also voiced his displeasure with the Playboy Mansion going up for sale, though he was unable to have his way on that issue. In the summer of 2016, it was announced that the mansion had been sold for $100 million to a neighbor, under the agreement that Hefner and his wife would continue living there until his death.
Hefner died on September 27, 2017, at his home, the Playboy Mansion, in Holmby Hills, California. He was 91. “Hugh M. Hefner, the American icon who in 1953 introduced the world to Playboy magazine and built the company into one of the most recognizable American global brands in history, peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones,” Playboy Enterprises confirmed in a statement. “He was 91 years old.”