The Story of Playboy: An Adult Industry Giant

Is this the final chapter in the Playboy story?

Coronavirus has changed the landscape of the modern world more rapidly and globally than any fiction writer could ever have imagined. As we’ve already reported, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the adult industry has been suffering closures of its film-production, entertainment venues and licensed brothels but this Spring also marked the end of an era for one of the industry’s icons. Yes, from March 2020 the quintessential top-shelf men’s mag is now only available in digital format. So, whilst this means your Spring 2020 copy of Playboy may now be worth a lot more than you paid for it, could COVID-19 have done what three generations of feminists could not?

In this article, we take you on a guided tour of the history of one of the adult industry’s most iconic brands from the very first issue in 1953 through to the final print copy in Spring 2020. We’ll also look at Hugh Hefner’s influence on popular culture and how that infamous ‘bunny’ managed to infiltrate the four corners of the globe. And, we ask the question, what next for Playboy?

Playboy Moves Online and Off The Top Shelf

After 67 years in print, Playboy announced in March 2020 that it would be discontinuing the regular print edition of its magazine following a drop in sales amidst the coronavirus crisis. The move is no surprise when you consider the consumption habits of the modern consumer and printed material now accounts for a fraction of many publication’s regular sales.

playboy magazine moves online

Playboy announces it will move to online publication only from Spring 2020. Images via Flickr.

But, with the magazine dropping from monthly to bimonthly publication in 2017 and quarterly from 2018 could this latest change mean the adult industry giant has finally been brought to its knees?

Current CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Ben Kohn, announced in an open letter that the decision had been discussed internally for some time before the pandemic struck but that disruptions to the supply chain and changing spending habits had forced their hand.

Despite the fact that the regular print editions will no longer be on the shelves, the format will remain a part of the company’s offerings. From 2021, Kohn expects there to be “special editions, partnerships with the most provocative creators, timely collections and much more”. Adding, in a somewhat nostalgic comment, he assured fans of traditional media:

“Print is how we began and print will always be a part of who we are.”

The Playboy Story: From Humble Beginnings to Iconic Status

“Publishing a sophisticated men’s magazine seemed to me the best possible way of fulfilling a dream I’d been nurturing ever since I was a teenager: to get laid a lot.” – Hugh Hefner

Born April 9th 1926, Hugh Marston Hefner was raised in Chicago by his conservative, Methodist parents. He was a creative child who wrote comic books, horror stories and mysteries and had an IQ of 152.

After graduating from a local high school he served his country at the end of World War II, first as an infantry clerk and then as a U.S. Army Writer working for a military newspaper between 1944 and 1946. After his stint in the forces he went back to education and earned himself a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a double minor in Creative Writing and Art from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

This was 1949 and after a semester of studying further courses in sociology he dropped out and took up a post working for Esquire as a copywriter.

Now married to his first wife, Mildred Williams, he then spent a couple of years at the publication, evidently learning the industry.

After being declined his request for a $5 raise, and in January 1952, a 26-year old Hefner quit his job to launch his own magazine. Originally intending to call the publication Stag Party, Hefner had to change the name to Playboy following the threat of a lawsuit from the publishers of a similarly titled magazine The Stag.

Other names considered for Hefner’s venture were:

  • Pan
  • Bachelor
  • Top Hat
  • Satyr
  • Sir
  • Gentleman

Taking out a mortgage loan and borrowing money from investors (including his own mother), Hefner used the $8,000 capital raised and turned his simple idea into reality.

1950s

The first issue of Playboy was published in December 1953 though copies of the magazine are actually undated as Hefner didn’t know if they would publish again.

His caution would prove unfounded and his decision to purchase previously unused photographs of a semi-nude Marilyn Monroe, and to put these on the front cover, ensured instant success. Costing just $0.50, the magazine sold around 54,000 copies.

first playboy magazine marilyn monroe

Hefner knew exactly what he was doing when he purchased images of Marilyn Monroe to go on the cover of his new magazine. The blonde bombshell was hot property and he knew she would help sell Playboy for him. Image via Wikipedia.

In 1956 Playboy had reached circulation figures in excess of 700,000 copies per month; a landmark notable for Hefner as this put his title ahead of his old-company, Esquire. A poke in the eye for his former employers who were probably already regretting their decision not to increase his salary!

And by 1959, this figure had reached the magical milestone of a million copies sold per month. To celebrate, Hefner launched the first ever Playboy Jazz Festival. Held at the Chicago Stadium and taking place over three days, the celebration was America’s first ever indoor jazz festival and drew crowds of around 68,000 people.

The Hefs new approach to a party life might be due in part to his recent divorce to his first wife, Mildred (or maybe the split occurred as a result?). Whether the chicken or the egg came first, Hefner became a single man again in 1959.

The same year, the magazine’s Editor in Chief purchased the original Playboy Mansion (see below) and the company also saw additional growth of the brand, this time on TV as their first show, Playboy’s Penthouse, debuted.

playboy after dark

Still from ‘Playboy After Dark’, the TV show that followed Playboy Penthouse in the 1970s. Image via Wikimedia.

1960s

As the company advanced into what would become the swinging sixties and an era which would see the launch of a sexual revolution across the Western world, the decade actually started in a far less progressive manner.

Racial segregation and discrimination was still rife in the United States and black Americans were routinely denied equal rights. Yet, Hefner’s first Playboy Club opened in Chicago in 1960 and made a point of offering admission to people of all races. And, in 1961, the club broke new and important racial barriers when it booked black comedian and activist Dick Gregory to perform.

By the early 1960s, the magazine had started running its often controversial but always eye-opening ‘Interview’ feature and in 1963 the spotlight was given to Malcom X. With America in the grip of racial turmoil, the ‘militant’ black nationalist was outspoken and shocking in his statements over the course of a three-day interview. At times, he made statements so bold that he even commented to the interview (Alex Haley):

“You know the devil’s not going to print that!”

Hefner was no Devil but he was committed to freedom of speech and knew that the interview would increase sales. He would not censor Malcolm X’s words, printing verbatim the statements he made.

playboy malcom x martin luther king

Both King and Malcolm X were interviewed for Playboy. Image via Flickr.

The same year, and due to controversial matters from an unrelated issue, Hefner was arrested. Nude pictures of the actress Jayne Mansfield were deemed to be too obscene and vulgar to print yet charges were dropped after a jury were unable to reach a verdict against the magazine’s chief.

In a timely response and perhaps as a result of his own liberties being ‘infringed’, in 1964, Hugh Hefner established the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, a not-for profit organisation whose sole aim was to facilitate individual rights in a democratic society. Though their scope has expanded over the years, part of the initial focus for the Foundation could be seen as self-serving with money being used to support activism on First Amendment rights, promoting rational sex and drug policies and civil liberties; all areas which Hefner and his empire would benefit from being liberalized or protected.

Around the same time, Hefner was the subject of yet more controversy when feminist activist Gloria Steinem infiltrated one of the Playboy clubs as an undercover Bunny girl. A journalist in her own right, she wrote up a two-part expose on her whole experience including the work, pay and hiring process. As you would expect, it was a less than flattering piece.

In January 1965, the Playboy interview was yet again to be the platform for a prominent black rights activist when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave what was to be his longest interview to the press. Conducted and published shortly after winning his Nobel Peace Prize, an interview in an adult men’s magazine like Playboy seemed an unlikely outlet for a minister like King to choose but the power of the magazine’s influence was all too obvious to pass up a chance to harness.

Continuing to fight censorship laws and with an ever-increasing backlash from the feminist movement, the Playboy foundation granted further funding for human sexuality research. Again, this could be seen a cynical move but little that Hefner did wasn’t without good reason. Whilst his supporters saw this as an act of philanthropy, critics were keen to point out that liberalizing sexuality would further benefit, and legitimize, his philosophies.

playboy story hugh hefner

Hefner in 1966 and 2010. Images via Wikipedia.

1970s

At the turn of the decade Playboy’s circulation surpassed seven million copies per month making the magazine one of the most influential men’s magazines on the planet. Perhaps in celebration of this achievement or to further promote the title, Hefner purchased a black McDonnell Douglas DC-9-20 airline jet which he named Big Bunny’. The aircraft was used by Hefner to jet around the world in his role as the quintessential international playboy.

Commercially, the company went public and Playboy Enterprises expanded its empire by opening another 23 Playboy Clubs, several hotels, casinos and resorts all available for its 900,000 global members to enjoy.

This was the start of the peak of Hefner’s heyday and Los Angeles became the party home to which he moved his Playboy Mansion. A five-acre estate in the Holmby Hills area of the city; he continued to commute between Chicago and L.A. until 1975 when he made LaLa Land his permanent residence.

Ever the one to invest in local community issues, Hefner donated a significant sum and was the driving force behind the restoration of the Hollywood Hills monument.

In 1975, his daughter Christie joined the family business.

1980s and 1990s

In the 1980 (first ever) Annual Hollywood Hall of Fame Awards, Hefner received Outstanding Citizen of the Year from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

In 1985, aged 58, Hefner suffered a stroke which he often referred to in later interviews as his ‘stroke of luck’. A wake-up call over his hard party lifestyle, his playboy parties continued to run but Hefner began to take less of a hedonistic approach to his endeavors.

His health scare also forced him to step down from some of his business activities and, in 1988, daughter Christie took over operations as head of Playboy Enterprises.

Hugh Hefner (R) with his friend, Sam Distefano (L) 1986 at the Maxim Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas. Image via Wikipedia.

In 1986, the American convenience chain store, 7-Eleven made the decision to stop selling Playboy in its stores. The decision would not be overturned until 2003 when the magazine returned to the shelves.

Despite being the epitome of an eternal bachelor and having his fair share of casual and steady partners, Hefner married again in 1989. His second wife was Kimberley Conrad, a long-time girlfriend and (coincidentally) Playmate of the Year 1989 (!). The Press didn’t miss a chance to point out of the obvious, this time stating the fact that there was an age gap of 36 years between them.

For a time, the Playboy Mansion became less of a party-zone and the couple focused on a more ‘regular’ family life together.

Hefner already had two children with his first wife Mildred (Christie born 1952 and David born 1955) who were then aged 37 and 34 and were both older than their new stepmother.

Hefner had another two children with Kimberley (Marston and Cooper) but the pair separated in 1998. Despite no longer being a couple, Kimberley lived in the mansion next door and they did not officially divorce until 2009.

With the business safely in the hand of his daughter Christie, Hefner devoted more time during the 1990s to furthering the work of his philanthropic projects, establishing the ‘Censorship in the Cinema’ course at the University of Southern California and funding a Freedom of Expression Award which is now given annually at the Sundance Film Festival.

In 1995, Playboy was restored to shelves in Ireland after the magazine was banned in the country in 1959. The return of the men’s periodical was not without controversy and there was staunch opposition from many groups.

In 1996, Hefner received an International Publishing Award from the International Press Directory in London.

In 1998, Hefner was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Post 2000

In 2002, Hefner was given the ultimate recognition from his peers and was honored by the Magazine Publishers of America, receiving the Henry Johnson Fisher Award. He was also inducted as an honorary member of the Harvard Lampoon.

In 2004, the magazine celebrated its 50th anniversary with the January 2004 edition launched alongside celebrations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and Moscow. The company also marked the momentous occasion by collaborating with some iconic fashion designers including Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Sean John.

Hugh Hefner with his girlfriends Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. Image via Wikipedia.

In December 2008, daughter Christie stepped down as head of the business and, effective January 2009, she decided to commit more of her time to charitable work.

Christie’s decision to back down couldn’t have come at a worse time for the company as profits had fallen from over a billion dollars in 2000 to just $84 million in 2009.

In June 2009, the magazine responded to declining circulation figures by reducing its publication schedule from 12 issues per year to 11 by combining July and August into one summer edition. By December of the same year, the company further reduced this to just 10 issues by combining January and February.

At the age of 86 and in 2012, Hefner remarried for a third, and final, time when he tied the knot with Crystal Harris. Born in 1986, Harris was 60 years’ younger than her new husband.

The same year, Hefner writes an impassioned plea in support of gay marriage in the United States affirming that a fight for same-sex unions is a ‘fight for all our rights’.

In 2016, Hefner’s son Cooper takes over the reigns of the empire although dad stays on as Editor in Chief. Under the new management, the decision was taken to begin publishing the magazine without nude images of women. The decision was reversed just a year later after dramatically declining sales.

High Hefner died on September 27, 2017 at the age of 91. He was buried in the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary, Los Angeles in a plot beside the late Marilyn Monroe. This was no accident and Hefner bought the plot in 1992, always knowing he wanted his body to rest alongside hers.

In September 2018, the magazine print run is reduced again from 10 copies per year to just 4 with Playboy turning into a quarterly publication. This followed earlier speculation at the beginning of 2018 that they would cease printing at all. There were reports in the media that the company was losing as much as $7 million annually.

In March 2020, Ben Kohn announces that the magazine is to cease print publication with effect from the Spring edition and that regular publication would continue online-only.

Playboy’s Magic Formula

“I’ve never thought of Playboy, quite frankly, as a sex magazine. I always thought of it as a lifestyle magazine in which sex was one important ingredient.” – Hugh Hefner

There is no doubt that the success of Playboy can entirely be attributed to the presence of naked (or near-naked) women. Certainly the title’s attempts to go non-nude in 2016 proved disastrous for the publication with sales falling faster than gravity but was there more to the recipe than just sex?

“I only read it for the articles…”

Regular readers of the magazine became pretty defensive over their motives for doing so and during the seventies, eighties and nineties it became a standing joke that men would rebuke disapproving looks with the simple statement, “I read it for the articles!”.

Despite the obvious fallacy of such an assertion, the Playboy magazine was, and still is, an exceptionally well put together magazine covering everything from fashion, current affairs and lifestyle to entertainment, sexual health and politics.

playboy articles

Image via Wikipedia.

Great Fiction in Playboy

The magazine commissioned serialized and one-off fiction with some weighty and well-respect names contributing to the magazine’s success.

Over the years, celebrated authors as diverse as Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl and Jack Kerouac have all had their work published in Playboy. Not only male writers either but women as well including some notably feminist authors.

Margaret Atwood, for instance, wrote several stories for Playboy alongside other prominent female writers Ursula K. Le Guin, Germaine Greer, Alice Denham, Joyce Carol Oates and Doris Lessing.

For every author who wrote for the magazine, there were many others who declined the opportunity, often citing moral grounds or because they feared disapproval from their peers, readers and family.

However, there is no denying  that during the heyday of Playboy’s influence, authors whose work featured alongside the centerfolds and the Playmates could be guaranteed a wide readership. The outlet was also a valuable opportunity for writers to flex their literary skills with controversial themes, exploring more adult issues that other publishers refused to print.

Hefner’s intention of creating a magazine that wasn’t solely centered around sex and nude centerfolds meant that Playboy was constantly seeking to challenge its readers. As former literary editor Amy Grace Lloyd said in 2009 when trying to sum up the magazine’s formula for success:

“You’ve got things drawing a man’s eye, then you’ve got things that are enriching his intellectual and spiritual life.”

The Playboy Interview

And it wasn’t just fiction which provided this enrichment. By the 1960s, Playboy had expanded its editorial aims to include more progressive politics and cultural affairs. A major ingredient of its success, the cutting-edge interview became just as much a defining factor in the publication’s sales figures as the cover star or centerfolds.

So, in September 1962, Hefner introduced the interview with the first celebrity to be grilled being jazz musician, Miles Davis.

Extensive in their scope and often several thousand words long, these exclusive interviews were insightful, revealing and could sometimes be incredibly controversial.

playboy interview

The Playboy interview guaranteed great circulation particularly when the subjects were controversial. Fidel Castor appeared in the magazine. Image via Wikimedia.

Notable individuals who bared all alongside the ladies baring all were:

  • Malcom X
  • Fidel Castro
  • Miles Davis
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Ayn Rand
  • Bette Davis
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Steve Jobs
  • John Lennon & Yoko Ono
  • Salman Rushdie

It wasn’t just the content of the interviews themselves that was crucial to the magazine’s success but the timing of them.

Both, very frank, interviews with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were published at a time when the media was still racially divided. The interviewer for both activists was Alex Haley (the man who wrote Roots). Haley also interviewed George Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Hefner knew the compulsion and fascination with which new audiences would be drawn to content of this kind.

Though (obviously) wholly unplanned, the issue in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono were interviewed was also on the newsstands at the time that Lennon was murdered.

Playboy’s & Feminism: The Great Divide?

“I think that the major message of my life and what I hope to be remembered for is someone who managed to change the social sexual values of his time absolutely.” – Hugh Hefner

There is still a lot of controversy over the Playboy story and, in particular, Hugh Hefner and his role in the creation and perpetuation of the Playboy philosophy.

playboy lifestyle playboy story

Image via Wikipedia.

The 1960s were largely defined by its sexual revolution and the decade that saw the most growth in Hefner’s empire was one that had an openly more permissive attitude towards sex. But was this because of Playboy or in spite of it?

On the one hand, Hefner’s vision of bachelorhood, – surrounded by barely dressed or nude women, ‘kept’ like toys and living a hedonistic and promiscuous life – was a self-serving and patriarchal one. Feminists were absolutely right in their criticism of this ideal and Hefner was well known for choosing Playmates that were compliant, non-‘frigid’ and who were happy to use contraceptive pills.

If you look closely at the cultural shift that happened in the sixties, women were demanding equality and liberation. They wanted to be liberated from the stereotypes of previous generations but not simply given a new one in the form of being a man’s sex-toy. Swapping the subjugation of one role for another isn’t freedom and, for many people, that was what Hefner’s philosophy was all about. After all, weren’t the Playmates at the Playboy mansion unable to leave the house after hours unless they were in the company of the Hef himself? Doesn’t sound very liberated, does it?

playboy bunnies playboy story

A feature of the Playboy Mansion, Playmates on parade in 2011. Image via Wikimedia.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that Hefner’s approach to normalizing sex and pornography played a huge and important part in legitimizing sex-work and adult entertainment. Arguably, Playboy brought a touch of class to this XXX world and Hefner wanted to make sex a respectable topic.

Its approach to printing content other than just nude and sexy women was inspired and the choice to publish controversial articles, people and opinions, no doubt, helped to boost sales but the combination of the two together was what differentiated Playboy from the competition.

The magazine was pro many issues that aligned with feminism and they ran numerous features to support abortion and the pill but it doesn’t take a genius to see this as another self-serving aspect of the whole Playboy philosophy. If women were unburdened from the fear of unplanned pregnancy then surely they would be more sexually promiscuous, right?

But, by producing a periodical that offered intelligent writing, focusing on current affairs and touching on controversial issues, the magazine was being discussed, not in seedy back alleys, but in American workplaces and homes. At the time, the magazine had a ‘classy’ appeal and the lifestyle that Hefner was peddling seemed modern and not nearly as sleazy as it appears when we look back at it now. Believe it or not but men would take their wives to Playboy clubs; it was seen as fashionable and aspirational.

Hefner himself didn’t help his own cause and when it came to speaking publicly in defense of his philosophy, he was always pretty outspoken:

“The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation. It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ’round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.”

It’s a difficult relationship to try and work out but there is some evidence to suggest that the two camps, Feminism and the Playboy philosophy, were actually kind of co-dependent on one another…for a time anyway.

In a cycle of empowerment and exploitation, the likes of feminist writers such as Germaine Greer, Margaret Atwood and Ayn Rand wrote for the magazine, not because they supported the machismo of men leering at naked women but because they knew, by doing so, that they had an audience….a huge one of a very specifci demographic (middle-class, white, men) and this was an opportunity to challenge, instruct and educate.

And, although their reasons for wanting the same things (abortion and the contraceptive pill) differed, the fact remains that they wanted the same things.

playboy bunny

The Playboy ‘Bunny’ has become an iconic figure in popular culture but at what cost to feminism? Image via WallPaperFlare.

For some feminists of the day, Playboy wasn’t the enemy, they were an ally; albeit it one that they would need to turn over at some point. After all, the routine objectification and exploitation of women as merely being valued for their looks and sexual attractiveness to men would never sit well in the feminist cause. But, did Playboy simply objectify women?

Again, there are many thoughts about this and some argue that Playboy used its status to advance women in this kind of market. Other publications of the 1960s and 1970s would also routinely use naked and near naked images of women but, unlike Playboy, these models were nameless, sometimes faceless and in far more degrading poses. As ‘objects’ of sexual attention go, Hefner saw his competitor’s objectification of women in this way as shameless.

By contrast, the nudes depicted in Playboy were real human beings. The magazine ran biographical sketches with their images alongside secondary images showing them in their day jobs as professional women, college students and loved family members. These were thumbnail snapshots of reality and demonstrated that ‘girl next door’ quality that Hefner so wanted his readers to appreciate. Rather than objectifying the models, many would argue that the magazine attempted to humanize them.

Yes, there’s no way you can argue that the magazine wasn’t sexist and that women’s bodies weren’t on sale but as we know from the adult entertainment market, the emphasis is always on choice. If women (or men) want to use their sexuality for the pleasure of others then they should be free to do so.

hugh hefner

Hugh Hefner at the premiere of Bette Midlder’s movie THE ROSE, 11/7/79. Photo by Alan Light.

Hefner’s Empire

Of course, the Playboy magazine itself isn’t the only part of the Playboy story, it was just the start. From the early 1950s through to present day, the company has expanded its operations to include a great many markets including merchandising and broadcast media, resorts and entertainment venues to embedding itself in the psyche of society. The Playboy logo itself, the ‘Bunny Girl’ and even Hefner’s trademark silk pyjamas have all become an intrinsic part of culture in almost every nation on earth.

The Playboy Bunny

We couldn’t run a feature on the history of Playboy without tipping a nod to the iconic logo of the Playboy Bunny. The simple, black and white silhouette of a rabbit’s head sporting a bow tie is one of the most instantly recognizable logos of the 20th (and 21st) century.

Missing from the first issue, the logo was drawn by a designer named Art Paul who sketched it out for Hefner to use in the second issue. From this date forwards, the logo has never been changed which is incredibly rare and testament to the success of that original drawing.

Since its introduction in 1954, the logo has appeared on the cover of every copy of Playboy yet it is not always immediately obvious. Indeed, the staff would often try to ‘hide’ the logo as a bit of a running joke.

Hefner explained in an interview with ​LOOK magazine in 1967 his ‘creative’ choices behind using the now iconic logo:

“The rabbit, the bunny, in America has a sexual meaning; and I chose it because it’s a fresh animal, shy, vivacious, jumping—sexy. First it smells you then it escapes, then it comes back, and you feel like caressing it, playing with it. A girl resembles a bunny. Joyful, joking.”

The logo has appeared on thousands of products and merchandise for the company and these revenue streams continue to be profitable for the organisation. From lighters and clothing to jewelry and sex toys, the company now even stocks a range of reusable face masks sporting the infamous bunny to help fans protect themselves from the coronavirus!

playboy merchandise playboy story

Playboy has loaned its name and logo to numerous products. Image via PeakPX.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Navy even adopted the Playboy logo as an insignia for their military aircraft (VX-4 fighter-evaluation squadron).

It’s believed that the bunny logo on its own was so universally identifiable that readers could write to the publication simply by drawing a rabbit’s head on the front of an envelope!

Brand recognition is an important foundation for any company and there is no doubt that the original design of the logo and the continuity of its use has helped cement Playboy’s success.

In recognition of Hefner’s influence in the rabbit kingdom (or more likely his financial support for conservation efforts), he even has a bunny named after him. ‘Sylvilagus palustris hefneri’ is an endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit.

The Playboy Mansion

Sporting a doorplate which read ‘If You Don’t Swing, Don’t Ring’, the original mansion was actually located in Chicago and Hefner bought the property in 1959.

the original playboy mansion

The original Playboy Mansion in Chicago. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

However, Hefner relocated his swinging HQ to Los Angeles in 1971 when he purchased a new property at a cost of over $1 million. Acquired from the world-renowned chess player Louis D. Statham, the luxury estate would remain the party center of the Playboy empire for over forty years.

Many celebrities are known to have visited and partied with, Hefner at the Playboy Manson (reportedly) including:

  • Jack Nicholson
  • Adam DeVine
  • Dita Von Teese
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Nicky & Paris Hilton
  • Corey Feldman
  • Diana Ross
  • James Caan
  • Matthew Perry

John Lennon was also a guest at Hefner’s pad after he split from his wife Yoko. Allegedly, he got so blind drunk on a bender that he tore an original painting by Matisse from the walls and stubbed his cigarette out on it.

The mansion was sold in 2016 at a price of $100 million making it the most expensive property ever sold in L.A. It was purchased by co-owner of Hostess Brands (maker of Twinkies), Daren Metropoulos. This was half the asking price of $200 million that Hefner wanted for his mansion.

The sale was completed with a covenant that Hefner could stay in residence for the remainder of his life. He was to be a short-lived sitting tenant as he died just a year after the mansion was sold.

playboy mansion playboy story

The LA Playboy Mansion. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Playboy Empire

Of course the Playboy brand and its empire was not just restricted to the magazine itself and Playboy Enterprises was equally successful at diversifying its operations.

In the 1960s, Hefner opened what would be the first of dozens of national and international Playboy Clubs. Spaces where members could live the playboy lifestyle surrounded by beautiful women, the venues emulated the Playboy Mansion experience.

In 1982, the company launched its first TV channel which still broadcasts in regions across the globe from North America and Latin America to Europe, Japan and even Israel. This followed successful shows on cable channels during the 1960s and 1970s including Playboy After Dark and Playboy Penthouse.

When the digital age came upon us and the internet began to make access to pornography that much easier (and cheaper), the company expanded online and created its own official website.

Playboy.com remains a premium website providing subscribers with fresh digital content as well as access to archives of past Playboy articles, interviews, pictorials and videos.

A global brand, Playboy Enterprises encompasses event promotions, merchandise, resorts even a record label.

Fun Facts About Playboy

  • Among the many celebrities who have posed for the cover of Playboy, Marge Simpson is the only cartoon character to do so.
  • Hefner was clearly a fan of the show and he appeared as a cartoon himself in in 1993 The Simpsons episode, titled ‘Krusty Gets Cancelled’. He guest voiced the character.
  • In 1970, a braille version of Playboy was launched and was the first men’s magazine to include blind people in its circulation. There is even a copy of one signed by Ray Charles which toured with Hard Rock.
  • Despite international editions of the magazine being regionally published in more than 50 countries, Playboy is banned in several including China, India and Singapore.
  • As well as owning the world’s largest adult industry brand and being the recipient of numerous awards of recognition, Hugh Hefner also managed to get himself into the Guinness World Book of Records….twice! Once for having the longest career as Editor in Chief of the same magazine and a second mention for having the largest collection of personal scrapbooks.
  • There is an urban myth that has been perpetuated since the magazine has been in print relating to the markings on the front cover. The letter P can often be seen to have stars printed in and around it. Legend has it that this was either a rating that Hefner had given a Playmate or how many times he had slept with her. The stars were actually indicative of the region the title had been printed for advertising purposes.
  • Hefner used his wealth and influence to support a diverse range of causes from donating $900,000 in 2010 to preserve the area surrounding the Hollywood sign to gifting $100k to the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to launch a course on ‘Censorship in Cinema’.
hugh hefner philanthropist playboy magazine moves online

Image via Wikimedia.

  • The most regular cover star is Pamela Anderson who has posed for the publication’s front cover 14 times. First in 1989 and her last in 2016.
  • Just as iconic as the bunny, mansion and Playmates, Hefner’s silk pyjamas became a style choice synonymous with the millionaire media magnate. He is reported to have owned at least 200 pairs in 20+ different colors which he paired with custom-made smoking jackets.
  • The best-selling issue of Playboy was the November 1972 edition which featured Pat Rawlings on the front cover and Lena Soderberg as the centerfold. Selling 7,161,561 copies,
  • The image of Soderberg used in that issue (whilst being utterly mesmerizing) became one of THE standards in image processing. Inadvertently and completely accidentally, one of the engineers at the University of Southern California happened to be reading a copy of Playboy just as his colleagues were looking for a high-res and glossy alternative to their stock images. Cropping the image of Lena down to 512×1512, her face and shoulders was used in the advancement of image processing experimentation and is one of the most used images ever in computer history.
the playboy story bestselling issue lena soderberg image

This cropped image of Lena Soderberg was used for image processing. Image via Wikipedia.

The Future of Playboy in the Modern Age

The decision to change the way in which Playboy magazine is to be published (online) in future is no surprise to anyone. They are not the only periodical who have been suffering from declining sales with fewer consumers opting for a print format when they can more easily access a digital version.

“People get their information in different ways now. And we are a little poorer for it, because the way you get information affects what you learn.” – Hugh Hefner

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many publisher’s hands when it came to making this move but this isn’t the only fly in the ointment for the adult industry giant.

Of far greater concern to Playboy Enterprises is the decline in appetite for periodicals like theirs altogether. When it comes to accessing nudes, magazines are no longer the way to do this and the internet offers a plethora of free content far more explicit that Playboy could ever achieve in print.

Not only that but the magazine’s bedrock has suffered a lot of damage over recent years with more accusations being thrown at the now dead Hefner over his involvement in alleged assaults and exploitation. In a post #MeToo world, the once revered and iconic figurehead of the Playboy Empire has fast become a symbol of an age when just because many men were doing it, didn’t make it right.

The era now has a legacy of toxicity about it and the industry in general is keen to disassociate itself from the old-school and move forwards into an era of ethical porn production and adult entertainment. There is no apology needed for an industry in which consenting adults are paid fairly and treated respectfully but some feel that the Playboy brand is still far too aligned to the ‘old ways’. It seems a little unfair for a company that is still creating such unique, challenging and high-end content but Hefner’s success in creating a strong brand with instant recognition over a period of 60+ years may mean that Playboy has to do some serious rebranding if it is to, once again, lead the market.

For now, at least until the first special edition is ready to hit the shelves, the printing presses at Playboy will remain silent but we hope that this isn’t the end of the title. Perhaps Playboy needs a break to reassess but we hope the perhaps the company will remember the words of its late Editor in Chief as it moves forwards:

“If you let society and your peers define who you are, you’re the less for it.”

Featured image via Playboy

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