September 28th, 2017

Hugh Hefner dies at 91

I’m not sure what to say about the life of Hugh Hefner, who has died at 91.

In some basic way, Hefner’s world never interested me, although I couldn’t help but notice it. Many of the Hefner obituaries talk about how he revolutionized the way people looked at sex, and give him credit (or blame) for much of the sexual revolution, or at least for sparking it.

I never got that impression, although I got the impression that he wanted to give that impression. The way I looked at it was that he was a marketing and publishing genius, who invented a brand and pushed it brilliantly, riding the wave of the sexual revolution for many decades and fading out only in recent years when his prime was past. Yes, he probably helped the so-called sexual revolution along in many ways too. But I believe it was a phenomenon that would have happened anyway without him, although perhaps not in the same exact way.

Hefner didn’t invent the marketing of sex, after all, or the girlie magazine. But he knew America was ready for a different kind of girlie magazine, a more mainstream one with nudity that featured what looked like the girl next door and wasn’t frankly pornographic but skirted on the edges.

That wasn’t all the magazine was about, although it was the main attraction. I was one of those people who really did sometimes read Playboy for the articles (the interviews in particular). But I obviously wasn’t Hefner’s target audience, to say the least.

Hefner described himself as having been proudest of this accomplishment:

That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.

Hefner had described his childhood home as a puritanical one where sex was never mentioned. It’s not so surprising he might rebel against that and be proud of striking a blow for sexual freedom, but not only do I not think that he played that big a role in “decontaminating the notion of premarital sex,”—as I wrote earlier, I think he was just one part of a big movement that was bound to happen—but I don’t know why he’d be so very happy about it, given the societal negatives of out-of-wedlock children and social instability that have gone along with it.

Hefner always seemed an overgrown boy to me—albeit a boy who functioned very well indeed in the business and PR world. It turns out that he very much agreed:

“I’m never going to grow up,” he said in a CNN interview when he was 82. “Staying young is what it is all about for me.

“Holding on to the boy and long ago I decided that age really didn’t matter and as long as the ladies … feel the same way, that’s fine with me.”

Hefner was in some ways a boy who liked to play—at adult games. Unlike many playboys, however, he also liked to marry (three times in all), and when married he professed to be faithful to his wives.

RIP. I’ll leave it there.

24 Responses to “Hugh Hefner dies at 91”

  1. Ray Says:

    You might mind this interesting.
    https://www.motor1.com/features/181911/hugh-hefner-playboy-automotive-legacy/

  2. BrianE Says:

    Our hyper-sexually charged society is certainly an improvement over those primitive times before pornography was sanitized by the likes of Hefner. We may be dying from our excesses, but we’re certainly having a good time along the way!

    Humanity has been in rebellion since the fall, and societies have risen and then fallen under the weight of their hedonism. Do we really thing we’ll be any different?

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “I think he was just one part of a big movement that was bound to happen—but I don’t know why he’d be so very happy about it, given the societal negatives of out-of-wedlock children and social instability that have gone along with it.”

    Agreed. As to why he was so happy… denial. Which is common among boys.

  4. Sharon W Says:

    “…I decided that age really didn’t matter and as long as the ladies … feel the same way, that’s fine with me.” Without his wealth and fame he would have found that his age would matter considerably where the ladies are concerned. The point you make Neo, “but I don’t know why he’d be so very happy about it, given the societal negatives of out-of-wedlock children and social instability that have gone along with it” pretty much shows that Hefner was likely a very shallow person. Probably many young boys possess greater maturity.

  5. Bilwick Says:

    I certainly am grateful to Hefner for providing me with spiffy images of naked beautiful women during my formative years and beyond. He was also a rational antidote to the repressive Irish Catholic world-view I grew up with, and possibly would never fully free myself from. My main beef with him was his politics. He seemed to be frozen in the Fifties with Big Bad Conservatives always trying to outlaw sex or shut down free speech or something. He apparently was a big bankroller of the Democratic Party, and never seemed to get that you can’t expand the power of the State indefinitely without having Big Brother sooner or later coming after you.

  6. Wry Mouth Says:

    After much time and consideration, I can say that, so far, I can’t think of a single, good reason to encourage people to have sexual intercourse outside of a marriage.

  7. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Playboy isn’t really for men that have sexual intercourse outside of marriage (or inside it, for that matter). It’s for the 80% of human males that will spend their whole lives alone, because they’re not the top 20% that women consider marriagable.

    Losers we may be, but our prostrates still keep producing semen, and it has to go somewhere, or else our hormone levels get so out of control that we try to start talking to women that aren’t wearing a “please bother me random strangers” sign, and that just never ends well for anyone involved.

  8. expat Says:

    Hefner was the personification of Trump’s Billy Bush comment. I don’t like people who reduce men to the size of their wallets and women to the size of their breast implants.

  9. DNW Says:

    The article “The Playboy Philosophy” is available if you look for it.

    I cannot find it in the few moments I’m willing to spend on it so enjoy this instead …

    Buckley and Hefner on Firing Line. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71B6hqEbbYQ&spfreload=10

  10. DNW Says:

    “The Playboy Philosophy”

    Well, I couldn’t help myself. I had to search.

    Anything that says philosophy, you know.

    In this case however it is not the 1962 magazine editorial but a book length work. Who knew?

    For those who are interested in wading through 200 plus pages of it.

    I’ll take the Reader’s Digest version myself, in this one instance …

    http://brentdanley.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/theplayboyphilosophy.pdf

  11. Richard Aubrey Says:

    People who read the pages with the letters on them tell me that name authors sent their second-rate stuff to Playboy.
    They get paid and published and Playboy gets a name author and the quality issue is subsumed in that other stuff.

    Interesting if true.

  12. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    Hefner as brilliant marketer and showman gets it about right for me. He ought not be eulogised as anything more than that. But of course, he will be.

    Hefner will be editorialised over the next few days as a transformative pioneer bravely fighting against the artificial and unhealthy restraints imposed on sexuality in his time.

    He transformed nothing and, except for the initial financial stake he is famously reputed to have borrowed from his mum, risked nothing. He just spotted earlier than most and skilfully rode, a societal shift in mores while staking out a section of the market for himself.

    Playboy magazine was only ever very superficially about sex. Men looking for images of naked women could always, before and after Playboy, find much more graphic and satisfying images in its far-raunchier predecessors and in its quickly-established imitators like Penthouse or Hustler.

    What Playboy was principally about was pushing a model of what it meant to be a “successful” man in modern times – and that model was always a rather effete and shallow sort: the male “sophisticate”.

    How did Hefner’s sophisticated real man prove he was these things? Merely by being a consumer of things: of the right brand of stereo equipment, the right brand of car, the right brand of whisky or wine and ultimately, of course, of women.

    Playboy was never about the vaunted articles or the homogenous women it featured- it was about the ads.

    Men as consumers; Women as commodities. Just one more possession to be owned and played with by true men. Everything, even women, there to amuse and signal the new man’s status.

    His acolytes can dress up his achievement however they want as societal crusader for freedom but marketing an ideal of manhood as just an overgrown boy at play – especially at a time when society was already moving in that direction anyway and he could cash in relatively risk-free, did no-one any great service.

    His true legacy is summed up by the hundreds of vapid young women who, having once or twice attended a party at Hef’s mansion as baubles, are right now, under the guise of “honoring” his memory, posting revealing bikini and lingerie selfies on their social media accounts to publicise themselves.

    Fitting and proper that such a man be memorialised by such women in such a way.

  13. J.J. Says:

    My early reaction to Hefner was that he would break down sexual barriers, of which there were quite a few back in the 1950s. Foolish me. I didn’t see that it would lead to the breakdown of families, higher divorce rates, and an open sewer of porn. It objectified women and sold a brand that was based on a lie – that free love and promiscuous sex was not dangerous to society. I count Hefner as an over-sexed, foolish fellow who managed to make a fortune in the publishing industry. His legacy is nothing to celebrate.

    RIP.

  14. DNW Says:

    If Christians are right, Hefner is probably in Hell.

    If Christians are not right, all he succeeded in doing is making a killing as a kind of virtual pimp, peddling recreational sex to people who are neither athletes nor much good at recreation, and helping to create a culture of shambling materialist fat-asses who imagine that because I’m ok. so are they.

    Or something like that.

  15. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    As I read the comments here I am reminded yet again that despite what the feminists and leftists like to shriek at us, it is conservative or conservative-leaning men who are womanhood’s truest defenders.

    Very seldom have I ever heard from a leftist male or woman any recognition of the innate dignity of the feminine state of being or the feminine sensibilty or of the tremendously sad devaluation of female dignity that was ushered in by the 60’s and Hefner’s cohort.

  16. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    Stephen Ippolito nailed it. Excellent analysis. It would be difficult to find anything so cluelessly pretentious as the Playboy “philosophy” or its advice on, say, how to host (and dress for) a formal dinner. Hefner seemed a nice enough fellow, but when he got to expatiating on this or that there was that painful realization that — like a former Illinois Senator and recent President — he actually believed his own bullshit.

  17. The Other Chuck Says:

    As I read the comments here I am reminded yet again that despite what the feminists and leftists like to shriek at us, it is conservative or conservative-leaning men who are womanhood’s truest defenders.

    Except for Gloria Steinem who went to extraordinary lengths to defend womanhood. Here’s Gloria in Bunny-Drag:
    https://img.haikudeck.com/mi/8999d2da05087c77ef9b9339b393300b.jpg

  18. huxley Says:

    Robert Crumb, the underground comix cartoonist, talked about how he went to New York in the early sixties to see cartoonists he idolized — Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis — who were on the Playboy payroll, and Crumb was horrified.

    Crumb had imagined himself, once he got past his bourgeois, Catholic hangups, as a Playboy Philosophy kinda guy. He couldn’t wait to make enough money to set up his bachelor pad and be as cool as Hef or James Bond.

    What he saw instead was several genius-level cartoonists working 80+ hours a week to maintain a house near New York and a semblance of a swinging lifestyle.

    Crumb gave up on being a Playboy cartoonist. He dropped out, hitchhiked to San Francisco, became an odd hippie who wore retro 40s suits, and through his own peculiar monomania and luck became the top-dog underground cartoonist.

    But he never lost his contempt for Hefner and Playboy.

  19. parker Says:

    I never wished him harm, but I can not see one positive thing for society about his life on earth. Have we not seen the harm caused by the attitude that there are no boundries or responsibilities in the realm of human sexuality? He gets no RIP from me.

  20. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    Ralph, Thanks. Most kind of you.

    The Other Chuck, I take your point on Gloria. It is well made.

    Am I the only one who thinks that Gloria has played on her conventionally pretty features and figure a little too much for a woman who made her career and name by denigrating the place that physical attraction has in relations between the sexes ?

    Gloria justified her bunny stint as undercover opposition research, as I recall. She was just like “the resistance” don’t you know.

    For my money, the most important feminist of our times, (next to our beloved and learned Neo), is the only feminist academic currently writing who consistently thinks originally and outside the box, who has the courage to speak her mind unconstrained by the dictates of doctrinaire career feminists like G and who genuinely likes, respects and defends men and maleness.

    http://acculturated.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/camille_paglia-647×434.png

    I find her much more appealing than the overrated G and look forward to reading her take on Hef’s passing in due course.

    (I have decided to forgive Camille for her slamming of my beloved Tay-Tay a while back as “an elitist nazi barbie”).

  21. huxley Says:

    … but I can not see one positive thing for society about his life on earth. Have we not seen the harm caused by the attitude that there are no boundries or responsibilities in the realm of human sexuality?

    parker: You calls ’em as you sees ’em. So do I.

    I navigated puberty under the gentle guidance of the Catholic Church and I saw my first naked woman in a Playboy. I’d argue Hefner had at least one positive thing going for him.

    Hefner was a guy on the make with vague, post-facto good intentions. The Catholic Church told me they had nothing but the best intentions for my soul while being quite hypocritical and vicious.

    Sex is too powerful to be simple no matter who makes the rules. Hefner didn’t come out of nowhere and not even just from the ordinary human id. There was a price paid for the pre-Hef days too.

    As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

    ―William Blake

  22. Hangtown Bob Says:

    Hefner claimed that the impetus for his move to become a “playboy” was the infidelity of his first wife while he was serving in the military.

    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4565862/hugh-hefners-first-wife-cheated-playboy/

  23. Bilwick Says:

    “After much time and consideration, I can say that, so far, I can’t think of a single, good reason to encourage people to have sexual intercourse outside of a marriage.”

    It’s fun! Did me a world of good, too.

  24. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    I seem to recall, from the mists of the past, that the men eager to follow Hefner’s path of self-indulgence were called “Peter Pan”s and derided for not wanting to grow up and “man up”, preferring hedonism to commitment and responsibility.

    I also seem to recall that these”Peter Pan” men gave impetus to the nascent feminist movement; the argument went that “since so many lazy bums don’t want to marry and provide for a family, we women need access to good CAREERS, not just temp jobs as fill-in secretaries.”

    (And we’ve all read the diatribes by one of our prolix commenters, blaming The Fall Of The West on Feminism , right?)

    So, Hef’s “Philosophy” may have helped open the door to The Death Of The Family.

    Unintended Consequences, eh ???

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