I’m a bit behind in my posts so I’ll be doing a few this weekend. Let’s start with Hugh Hefner’s passing first because it’s a pretty problematic RIP.
Pros: Hef changed the culture with his singular vision, advancing the idea that (soft) pornography could be OK as long as it was about the Girl Next Door. He paid artists, cartoonists, writers, and journalists a very good wage while other magazines were far less generous (though it took him a while to publish women authors). He supported Bettie Page in her declining years. He funded a fair amount of First Amendment causes (though that was ultimately self-serving). And oh, the interviews. Those long, complex, and revealing interviews with anyone and everyone important. The Playboy interviews were worth the cost of the magazine alone. So yes, you could read the magazine for the articles.
Cons: He was pretty much an exploitative creep. The stories are starting to slip out. The easiest way out of the mansion for an actress or bunny was to refuse the advances of a male guest. That would get you a lifetime ban. Hef believed in free love but only from one side. That gaggle of girlfriends that he always surrounded himself in the last decades were controlled, manipulated, and gas-lighted to the nth degree. He used to administer ludes to them before having sex with them, calling the pills “thigh-openers”. Take that last one and remember that he was good pals with one Bill Cosby. His support of the right causes was often to his own benefit. In the first issue of Playboy he printed nude photos of Marilyn Monroe without her permission. He arranged to be entombed in the slot above Marilyn Monroe. Even in death she can’t escape him. In promotion of the movie Pretty Baby he printed nudes of a ten-year-old Brooke Shields. Perhaps exploitative creep is too mild of a term.
A bit of a disclosure here, I read the magazine for a couple decades. It was good reading and yes, I did enjoy the photography. But the allure of it faded. I can still look at those old centerfolds and feel a little nostalgia but it’s been tinged with awareness for quite some time. A lot of the women in the magazine came to bad ends after the fame of being a Playmate or at least were cruelly abandoned by Hef when they no longer met his needs or became less pliable. Many were promised that an appearance in the magazine would lead to acting roles and riches untold. You want to tell me how often that happened?
So farewell Hef. Your life was one step forward and definitely two steps back.