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Hefner, Playboy, and The Philosophy

A sensation since the first issue of Playboy Magazine in 1953, Hugh Hefner challenged the establishment by promoting a magazine which not only featured a bevy of beautiful naked women, he also published within his magazine articles, opinions, and views which set against very restrictive and chaotic world of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Armed with a team of illustrators, thinkers, journalists, and even his Playmates, Hefner went to war against censorship and the “puritan” ideas of America in a time where such public discourse was not appreciated.

Born in Chicago in 1926, Hefner, a child born into a family which featured the same “puritan” ideals he would later rebel against, started as an amateur journalist by publishing at his high school a weekly paper. After a brief stint in the army and marriage to his first wife in 1949, Hefner completed a bachelors of arts in psychology in 1950 at the University of Chicago at Urbana Champaign. After leaving Esquire because of pay, Hefner collected a small number of investors, among them his own mother, and in 1953 the first issue of Playboy Magazine was published . It caused immediate controversy as not only was the centerfold the illustrious Marilyn Monroe, but Ms. Monroe was completely nude.

As Hefner was to point out in an interview with THE REALIST  in 1961: “no society is truly free under the censor’s lash.” This guiding principle stoked Hefner and his revolving door of editors, who attacked conceptions of sexuality, race, war, and women’s rights.

Yet Hefner’s efforts did not succor him from criticisms from the very groups he was trying to promote. Playboy often walked the line between promotion of the things it held sacred, such as equality for minorities and women as well as freedom, which it declared in the Hefner-produced manifesto “The Playboy Philosophy.” Yet Playboy often mocked, ridiculed, and lambasted those who attempted to change the world for these ideals. Many in the feminist movement, including Gloria Steinem , decried Playboy’s use to centerfolds, while others can look at their reluctance to promote their African American centerfolds to the cover (indeed, the first African American to appear on the cover, Darine Stern, appeared on the October 1971 issue, almost eighteen years after the first issue.) Playboy also mocked the Hippie and counter-culture movements which rallied for equality and peace during the Vietnam War, often mocking them through their cartoons . At the same time, every successive year was weighed down by more and more promotion of the Playboy Lifestyle, a heavily materialistic and consumerist way of live built more on appearance than substance.

This period of great social change is best exemplified in the pages of Playboy, which struggled in their liberal leanings to remain a magazine fixed upon the urban male, with wittiness and playfulness being paramount against the serious journalism it printed.

Hef's Philosophy: Playboy and Revolution 1965-1975 attempts to examine this period in the magazine’s history, tying these stark aspects together so a proper lens may be placed upon the magazine, a colorful, informed, but often conflicted publication.