Hugh Hefner created Playboy at his kitchen table in Chicago. The magazine was blamed for (or credited with) setting off a cultural revolution in America, but within a few years Hefner was branded a male chauvinist. He was a proponent of free speech and a champion of civil rights who was decried as a merchant of smut.
Hefner died Wednesday at the age of 91, the magazine announced in a statement, writing that he "peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones."
"My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom," Hefner's son Cooper, now the company's chief creative officer, wrote in the company's statment. "He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand."
Playboy published outstanding writers (Joseph Heller, Margaret Atwood, Norman Mailer) and distinctive interviews with acclaimed and controversial figures, including Fidel Castro, Miles Davis and Malcolm X. But who are we kidding? The magazine made millions because serious pieces were printed on the flip side of pictures of naked women.
In 2007, Hefner told NPR, "The playmate of the month, the centerfold, came directly out of the influences of pinup photography and art from World War II and before. But what set them apart was what I described at the time as the girl next door: It all comes from that notion of being a fresh, wholesome, all-American person, and — in the context of the playmate — a sexual icon. The recognition ... that nice girls like sex, too. Very revolutionary in the 1950s."
"I Get It For The Articles"
In 1952, Hefner was working as a cartoonist for Esquire magazine in Chicago. When he was turned down for a $5 raise, he decided to try something new: Hefner gathered $8,000 from 50 investors, including his mother, to create a prototype for a new magazine. He found a 5-year-old shot of a nude model in the files of a Chicago calendar company, and bought it for $500. The model was Marilyn Monroe, before she had become a star, and the magazine sold out in days.