Hugh M. Hefner’s Life Story


A Modest Background

Hugh M. Hefner was born as the eldest of his brothers in Chicago, Illinois on April 9, 1926. His parents, Grace and Glenn Hefner, were devout mMethodistsof which he spoke very highly of and influenced his future outlook on life to come “My parents are wonderful people and they instilled in me an idealism for which I’m grateful.”

Hefner began his school life at Sayre Elementary School, which was later followed by attendance to the Steinmetz High School. During his time here, it is claimed that Hefner was found to have an impressive IQ of 152. Hefner’s time in high school was well spent and he was soon appointed as the president of the student council. It was this position that later leads to the founding of the school’s newspaper and comic book, entitled “School Daze” which served as a clear reminder of Hefner’s skill as a budding journalist.

World War II had now arrived and in the later years of the war Hefner had decided to enrol as a noncombatant; he was later discharged in 1946. Initially, after the war Hefner decided to study at the Chicago Art Institute during the summer, he later enrolled and majored in psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. By 1949, Hefner had achieved his bachelor’s degree and was now ready to focus on his personal life. During this year, Hefner married Mildred Williams, his first wife (of three.)

Hefner’s interest in the sociological and psychological effects of sex soon became evident when he completed a semester of graduate school, with particular attention centred around Alfred Kinsey’s sex research institute.

The next step in Hefner’s fast-growing portfolio was to earn himself a job, of which he soon did. In the 1950’s, Hefner managed to join the Chicago office of Esquire Magazine as a copy-writer. This magazine was huge at the time and included both illustrations from pinup artists and written content from well-renowned authors such as Ernest Hemmingway. After later being denied a $5 raise, Hefner decided that it was time to move on and leave Esquire in his pursuit of success.

The Origins of Playboy

With no job, but plenty of drive, Hefner made the bold decision to start a publication which he could call his own. To start his venture, he would need to raise the necessary starting capital first. Through a combination of contacting investors and explaining his idea to his family, he managed to acquire a total of $10,000 ($8,000 from 45 separate investors and a combined $2,000 from his mother and brother, Kieth.) Finally, he had enough money to launch his very own magazine.

Initially, Hefner wanted to name his magazine “Stag Party”, however, with an already existing magazine called Stag magazine, it was unlikely that this would happen due to the possibility of trademark infringement. After much deliberation, Hugh’s colleague would suggest the name Playboy, which we all know and love today; it’s safe to say that Hugh quickly snapped it up and started to build his very own empire.

The first edition of Playboy was produced in Hefner’s South Side home and was soon released to the public during December 1953. Worried about the success of his magazine, Hefner made the bright decision to purchase a nude image of Marilyn Munroe for $500, which he used on the front cover for the first issue of Playboy. The magazine was a big hit and sold over 50,000 copies, making it a massive success!

While at first, most disregarded this magazine as obscenity it wasn’t long until Playboy began to discuss more mainstream topics and improve their public image. Post-War America had recently gone through a period of sexual repression and there just so happened to be a sociological craving for a controversial publication such as Playboy; this provided Playboy with a seamless transition from a start-up, to the global empire which we know today.

A Global Bunny

By the time that Playboy had released their second publication, the Playboy Bunny had already become a trademark of the brand. The Playboy logo was chosen by Hefner to represent a rabbit fitted with a tuxedo bow tie due to the obvious connotations which the logo portrayed. Hefner also noted that the “frisky and playful” nature of his logo would later be perfect for the articles and cartoon’s which were scattered throughout the magazines.

Playboy began to market itself as a magazine aimed at the American intellectual, of whom would read (and care) about the Playboy Philosophy which Hugh. M Hefner came to coin. There is no question that it was the sexually explicit imagery and adult literature which kept the men coming back to read, however, it was this magazine which gave Hefner the platform to proclaim is opinions about freedom of speech, free enterprise and human sexuality.

In 1959, Hefner and his first wife Mildred (“Millie”) Willaims were divorced. By this time, they already had two children, Christie and David. Meanwhile, Playboy was now outperforming Esquire with total sales coming to an astonishing million copy per month.

See every issue of Playboy in the 1950’s here:

playboy logo

An Era of Prosperity

With the 1960s nowhere, Hugh Hefner had made himself the persona of Playboy and was soon becoming a legendary American icon. People would remember Hefner as the up-class gentleman who would smoke a pipe whilst wearing a fine silk smoking jacket. Of course, this was only the beginning of his reputation. Hefner was now forever accompanied by stunning women and had begun to socialize with the rich and famous during the many activities which he started to involve himself in.

Circulation for Playboy continued to increase and Hefner used this increase in capital to fund his “private key” clubs which at the time were some of the few racially inclusive clubs around due to the fact that segregation was still being enforced. All bunnies were given a set of directions follow in order to stay safe and best represent the Playboy brand, of these, were the orders to keep a “professional distance” away from clients and to also maintain a particular appearance.

See every issue of Playboy in the 1960’s here:

hefner smoking jacket

The United States Recession

Playboy Enterprises went public in 1971 as the brand had become a major corporation. In 1971, Playboy had sold 7 million copies and earned $12 million profit that year. During the 1970s, The United States of America hit a recession and Playboy was now competing with even more explicit magazines. Hefer tried to respond with this increase in competition by making future copies of playboy even more riské, with models posing in more provocative positions. Advertisers were unimpressed with this shift and pushed back, causing circulation to further decline.

To repair Hefner’s presumably crumbling empire, steps are taken to reduce risk and focus on improving it’s magazine publishing formula; this meant separating itself from clubs and hotels which were not profitable, whilst downsizing all unnecessary endeavours. In order to improve the quality of Playboy, Hefner implemented new photography standards and added new features to the lad’s mag including the popular “Girls of the Big Ten”.

See every issue of Playboy in the 1970’s here:

economic growth usa

Even Your Favourite Celebrities Starred in Playboy

With such a surge in popularity over the past twenty years, Playboy had built some traction and was now even attracting the attention of celebrities across the field. Before you knew it, everybody female celebs began to appear in Playboy, such as Kate Moss, Jenny McCarthy, Naomi Campbell and Nancy Sinatra. Want to know if your favourite celebrity was in Playboy? Click to read a full list of Playboy Stars.

The whole world was looking at Playboy and times were quickly changing; now, feminists such as Gloria Steinem and other critics were targetting Playboy for condoning the objectification of women. In 1963 Gloria decided to go undercover in order to show what it was like to be a bunny waitress behind the scenes. In 1965 this exposé was made into a TV movie.

During 1975, instead of spending his time travelling between two mansions, one based in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, and the other based in Chicago; Hefner decided to make the LA home his permanent residence. This decision meant that Hefner would be able to work in a closer parametre to his television and film productions. At this time, the Hollywood sign was in was looked to be a state of disrepair; Hefner took it upon himself to help restore the landmark and in doing so was honoured with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Magazine Cover
Playboy Magazine Cover

Hugh’s Wake-Up Call

Hefner was inflicted with a minor stroke in 1985, this was thought to be due to the stresses of business life and the horrific death of Dorothy Stratten which was highlighted in Peter Bogdanovich’s book, entitled “The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980”. Dorothy Stratten was a former playmate who was murdered, this, understandably was disturbing for Hefner.

After his stroke, Hefner decided to take his life back by the reigns and his world-view was altered. Hefner now started to exercise, quit smoking and aimed to go about his day in a more leisurely, relaxed fashion, as not to provoke another injury. By 1989, Hefner was ready to marry his next wife, who was his long-term partner, Kimberly Conrad. They later had two sons named Cooper and Marston, which lead to a homely feel in the Playboy Mansion. Sadly, by 1998 the couple had separated and in 2009 got divorced. The children were moved to an estate next door to the mansion where Hefner was still able to see them.

Late Hugh M. Hefner
Hugh Hefner in Captain’s Hat.

Playboy Enterprises Takes a New Direction

Hefner decided that he would name Christie, his daughter, the chair and chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises in 1988. This During her time in this role she played a huge part in directing Playboy’s media and online exposure; these included Playboy’s cable television and video production exploits until Christie renounced her position during January of 2009.

At this point in time, the business landscape was looking much different to how it was when Hefner first began his magazine in the 1950’s. Magazine publications were on the decline with radio, television and the internet receiving an ever-increasing popularity. Due to Playboy’s phenomenal success, however, it had already built itself into a global brand; this meant that Playboy Themed merchandise was flying off the shelves. The Playboy Logo was soon to be seen everywhere, from pop-culture, to on celebrities accessories and even school-girls pencil boxes. It’s no surprise that the Playboy logo is still to this day one of the most recognisable logos in the world; with this comes a great opportunity to monetize their brand.

Photograph of Christie Hefner

Hefner’s Third Marriage and Playboy Changes

In December 2017, Hefner and Harris became engaged. By June 2011, Harris shook the world as she called off the engagement; they later announced their re-engagement in 2012. 82-year-old Hefner and 26-year-old Harris were married on New Year’s Eve, 2012, in the Playboy Mansion.

During this time-period (October 2015), Hefner and Cory Jones, chief content officer, disclosed that they had made the strategic decision to stop including images of fully-nude women. Their hopes were that by presenting Playboy as a non-nude lags mag, they would be able to enhance their advertisement and newsstand placement opportunities.

Hefner’s son, Cooper, was appointed as the chief creative officer in 2016 and decided to reclaim Playboy’s identity by once again, featuring unclothed models. In February 2017, Cooper tweeted “Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.” It was obvious that after a few years of a very confusing economic climate, Cooper was keen to restore Playboy to it’s former glory.

In summer 2016, the Playboy Mansion went up for sale and was soon sold for a mind-boggling $100 million to a neighbour, with the condition that Hefner and his wife would continue to live there until his death. Cooper Hefner was not impressed, however, this decision was out of his grasp.

Hugh M. Hefner’s Death

On September 27, 2017, the world was devastated as they head about the death of the legendary Hugh M. Hefner in the Playboy Mansion, aged 91.

Freinds, family, fans and former colleagues all took to social media to voice their sentiments. An official statement was released:

“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,”

In true Hefner fashion, he was buried on September 20, 2017, next to Marilyn Monroe in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles.

As a testament to Hefner’s down-to-earth persona and deep want for those close to him succeed, he had left a warning to his beneficiaries. This warning stated that if any of the beneficiaries should become “physically or psychologically” dependent on drugs or alcohol, to the point where they were not caring for themselves properly, trustees of the inheritance had the power to suspend their payments.