Hugh Hefner Biography (1926-)

Hugh Hefner Publisher, . Born April 9, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois. Hugh Marston Hefner was the elder of two sons born to Grace and Glenn Hefner, strict Methodists with deep Midwestern roots. Hefner went to Sayre Elementary School and then to Steinmetz High School on the west side of Chicago where, reportedly, his IQ was 152. His teachers, however, described him as “unenthusiastic.” While in high school he founded a school newspaper, showing early signs of his journalistic talents.

Hefner served two years in the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II, and was discharged in 1946. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute for two years before enrolling at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in psychology. In 1949, while in college, he met his first wife Mildred Williams. Hefner earned his bachelor’s degree in 1950.

In the early 1950s, Hefner was leading a life typical of many of his peers. He was fresh out of college, young and ambitious, and in an entry-level job with a major corporation at the Chicago office of Esquire magazine. Esquire was a racy publication for men that had transformed itself into a refined periodical, featuring articles on everything from men’s fashion to literary works by such writers as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It also featured illustrations from pinup artists such as George Petty and Alberto Vargas. Hefner worked for Esquire as a promotional copywriter until 1953, when he left the magazine because he was denied a $5 raise.

Out on his own Hefner was determined to start his own publication, one that was similar to Esquire but better. He raised $8,000 from 45 investors—including $1,000 from his mother—to launch magazine. Hefner had planned to name the magazine “Stag Party” but was forced to change the name to avoid a trademark infringement with the existing Stag magazine. A friend suggested the name “,” after a defunct automobile company in Chicago. Hefner liked the name, as he thought it reflected high living and sophistication.

Hefner produced the first edition of Playboy out of his Hyde Park, Chicago, kitchen. 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 before her movie star career—and placed it in the centerfold of the magazine. The first issue quickly sold 50,000 copies, and became an instant sensation.

America in the 1950s was trying 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 1950s. For those who initially dismissed the magazine as a pornographic publication, Playboy soon broadened its circulation with thoughtful articles and an urbane presentation.

The Playboy logo, depicting the stylized profile of a rabbit wearing a tuxedo bow tie, appeared in the second issue and remained the trademark icon of the Playboy industry. Hefner chose the rabbit for its “humorous sexual connotation” and because the image was “frisky and playful”—an image he fostered in the magazine’s articles and cartoons. Hefner wanted to distinguish his magazine from most other men’s periodicals, which catered to outdoorsmen and featured “he-man” fiction. Hefner decided his magazine would instead cater to the more cosmopolitan, intellectual male, while associating sex not with prostitution but rather with “the girl next door.”

From early in the magazine’s publication, Hefner promoted what became known as the “Playboy Philosophy.” An evolving manifesto on politics and governance, the philosophy espoused Hefner’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of man and woman and called for reasoned discourse on the truths of human sexuality. However, Hefner never lost sight of the fact that it was pictures of nude women that ultimately sold the magazine.

Work on the magazine consumed much of ’s life and his marriage. By 1956, Playboy’s circulation had surpassed that of rival magazine Esquire, and was nearing 1 million copies a month by 1959. Hefner had also “walked the walk” by becoming involved in many extramarital affairs, which his wife tolerated for several years. They divorced in 1959 after having two children, Christie and David.

In the 1960s, Hugh Hefner became the persona of Playboy: the urbane sophisticate in the silk smoking jacket with pipe in hand. He adopted a wide range of intellectual pursuits, and socialized with the famous and wealthy, always in the company of many young, beautiful women. As the magazine’s increased success came to the attention of the mainstream public, Hefner was happy to portray himself as the charismatic icon and spokesperson for the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

This was also Playboy’s golden age as ever-increasing circulation allowed Hefner to build a vast enterprise of “private key” clubs. Hostesses, known as “bunnies” for their scanty bunny outfits, staffed these high-end establishments. Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises also built hotel resorts, started modeling agencies, produced feature films, published books, and operated a record company. Also in the 1960s, Hefner hosted two short-run television series, Playboy’s Penthouse (1959–60) and Playboy After Dark (1969–70). Both programs were weekly talk shows set in a bachelor pad full of Playboy Playmates, who would chat with Hefner and his special guests about various subjects.

But all that success didn’t come without controversy. In 1963, Hugh Hefner was arrested and stood trial for selling obscene literature after an issue of Playboy featured nude photos of Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict, and the charge was eventually dropped. The publicity hurt neither Playboy Enterprises nor Hefner’s reputation. In 1965, Hefner founded the Playboy Foundation to provide grants to nonprofit groups fighting censorship and researching human sexuality.

By 1970, Hugh Hefner had built Playboy Enterprises into a major corporation. The company went public, and the magazine’s circulation hit 7 million copies a month, earning a $12 million profit in 1972. Hefner began dividing his time between two large mansions in Chicago and Los Angeles. When he wasn’t home, he was globe-trotting in the “Big Bunny,” a converted DC-30 jet complete with a galley, a living room, a disco, movie and video equipment, a wet bar, and sleeping quarters for 16 guests. The jet also featured a circular bed for Hefner himself.

In the mid-1970s, however, Playboy Enterprises fell on hard times. The United States hit a recession, and Playboy faced increasing competition from more explicit men’s magazines such as Penthouse. At first, Hefner responded by “imitating the imitators” and presenting more revealing photos of women in less wholesome poses and circumstances. Some advertisers rebelled, and circulation fell even further. From then on, Hefner concentrated the company’s operations on magazine publishing. Playboy Enterprises divested itself from the unprofitable Playboy clubs and hotels. At the film and record companies, budgets were slashed and payroll was reduced. The magazine kept its new photography standards but began featuring more “wholesome” exposés such as “Girls of the Big Ten” and placed a stronger emphasis on the quality and content of the writing.

In 1975, Hefner decided to make Los Angeles his permanent home so he could more closely supervise his interests in television and film production. He became involved in the restoration of the famed Hollywood sign and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also became immersed on Hollywood’s creative community, producing such features as Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Monty Python’s first film, And Now for Something Completely Different. In 1978, Hefner started the Playboy Jazz Festival, an annual event featuring some of the best jazz musicians in the world.

In 1985, Hefner suffered a minor stroke. The incident served as a wake-up call for the entrepreneur. He cut back on his participation in the poolside parties at the mansion and took a slower pace in his pleasurable pursuits. He married his longtime girlfriend, Kimberly Conrad, in 1989 and for a time the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles reflected an atmosphere of family life. The marriage produced two sons, Marston and Cooper. The Hefners separated in 1998, and Kimberly and the two boys live on an estate next door to the Playboy Mansion.

Since the mid-1980s, Hugh Hefner’s daughter, Christie, had been working with the editorial staff of Playboy magazine. In 1988, Hefner turned over control of Playboy Enterprises to Christie, naming her chair and chief executive officer. She also served as the magazine’s editor-in-chief and played a key role in directing Playboy Enterprises’ ventures in cable television, video production, and online programming. Christie Hefner stepped down from her position at Playboy Enterprises in January 2009.

Since the 1990s, Hugh Hefner has devoted much of his time to philanthropy and civic projects. He directed the Playboy Foundation to institute the Freedom of Expression Award, given annually at the Sundance Film Festival. Hefner also personally endowed the “Censorship in the Cinema” course at the University of Southern California where he is a guest lecturer, and has been a major contributor to the efforts of the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore classic films. He also sponsored the American Cinema series on PBS.

Hefner has also received numerous awards for his contributions to society and the publishing industry. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors in 1998. In 2002, Hefner received the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honor of the Magazine Publishers of America. Also in 2002, he was inducted as an honorary member of the Harvard Lampoon, which named him “Harvard Lampoon’s Best Life-Form in the History of the Universe.”

Hugh Hefner’s most recent venture is Girls Next Door, a reality series on cable television. The series, which launched in 2003, focuses on the lives of Hefner’s three girlfriends—Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson—who lived with him at the Playboy Mansion. True to form, the series serves as a promotional vehicle for many of Hefner’s projects and enterprises.

The 2009 season finale chronicled more changes in Hefner’s life as Marquardt left the mansion to begin her own television series. Wilkinson soon followed to pursue a relationship with NFL player Hank Baskett. Madison also vacated the mansion, unhappy about Hefner’s lack of commitment to their relationship. The final moments of the season finale show 19-year-old twins Karissa and Kristina Shannon taking their place as Hefner’s new girlfriends. Since the show aired Hefner has taken on a third girlfriend, 22-year-old Crystal Harris.

Most recently, Hefner has reportedly been in talks to create a biopic about his life. Director Brett Ratner has been linked to the film, and several major stars have been named as prospects for the lead role including Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Downey, Jr.

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