Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy magazine and built an empire around sex, has died at 91 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. His legacy is controversial–with many finding his attitude on sex empowering, while others regard him as sexist and a purveyor of the male gaze.
Playboy, as a brand and an empire, is convoluted and complicated at best, helmed by a man surrounded by women who were at once objectified and empowered by their sexuality. There is nothing simple about sex, or sexuality, which makes his death hard for people to react to in a sensitive way.
Regardless of how you feel about Hefner and his role in the sexual revolution, Playboy did some surprising things in its heyday. Here are some things you may not know:
1. Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy bunny in order to write a two-part journalistic series called “A Bunny’s Tale” 50 years ago. As explained by The Guardian, the tell-all piece “takes the form of a diary and moves from Steinem’s initial decision to adopt the alias of Marie Catherine Ochs to her last day on the job when she overhears another Bunny say of a customer, ‘He’s a real gentleman. He treats you just the same whether you’ve slept with him or not.'”
At the time, Steinem believed that Playboy and Hefner, were defining sexuality through the male gaze. So in many ways, their sexual revolution was a revolution only for men, not the women they objectified.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) September 28, 2017
2. Where the Sidewalk Ends author Shel Silverstein was a regular cartoonist for Playboy between 1957 and 1968. Part of his job was traveling the world and sending dispatches back in the form of illustrations. He detailed places like Fire Island, Tokyo, and more–which are now compiled in a book with a foreword by Hefner.
A lotta people don’t know that Hef was friends with Shel Silverstein and paid to have him travel the world and mail back comics for Playboy. pic.twitter.com/SsGbt82mbo
— Bryan✨Chojnowski (@BryanInSpace) September 28, 2017
3. The magazine’s longtime fiction editor was a woman by the name of Alice Turner, who Hefner famously said of, “Without you, I would have had nothing but a literary magazine.” In 1984 interview with The Missouri Review, she said, “Think about what Playboy pays as compared to, say, Harper’s, and you tell me what working writer who is actually supporting himself is going to quibble over a few nudes?”
Speaking of writers…
4. Margaret Atwood published her short story “The Bog Man” in Playboy in 1991. It’s about a woman named Julie who discovers the 2,000-year-old body of a man.
On the journey to the Emmys… here is an Emmy holding an atom, electric wings! pic.twitter.com/tPPfLUiOZJ
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) September 17, 2017
5. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were interviewed in Playboy in 1980. Lennon said of his relationship with Ono, “Why don’t people believe us when we say we’re simply in love?” He also went on to say this of Ono, which will make you fall in love:
“We are both sensitive people and we were hurt a lot by it. I mean, we couldn’t understand it. When you’re in love, when somebody says something like, “How can you be with that woman?” you say, “What do you mean? I am with this goddess of love, the fulfillment of my whole life. Why are you saying this? Why do you want to throw a rock at her or punish me for being in love with her?” Our love helped us survive it, but some of it was pretty violent. There were a few times when we nearly went under, but we managed to survive and here we are.”
6. In 1988 Playboy was the first major national magazine to publish a piece of fiction by David Foster Wallace. Here’s an excerpt from the story, titled “Late Night”:
“In the words of my husband, Rudy, I am a woman whose face and attitudes are known to something over half of the measurable population of the United States, whose name is on lips and covers and screens. Whose heart’s heart is invisible to the world and unapproachably hidden. Which is what Rudy thought could save me from all this appearance implied.”
Think Peace, Act Peace, Spread Peace
love, yoko pic.twitter.com/jCeYDS3HNa
— Yoko Ono (@yokoono) September 28, 2017
7. Martin Luther King, Jr. was interviewed in Playboy in 1965. He said, “A strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things.”
He also was quoted as saying, “One cannot be in my position, looked to by some for guidance, without being constantly reminded of the awesomeness of its responsibility. I live with one deep concern: Am I making the right decisions?”
— Ray Davis (@OregonPhotos) September 18, 2017
8. Lauren Hutton got her start at Playboy. She apparently worked at a Playboy club for three months before quitting, saying it “was a good experience because it taught me p—- power.”
— Models Of Diversity (@ModsOfDiversity) September 14, 2017
9. Deborah Harry, aka, Blondie, was also a Playboy Bunny. From 1968 to 1973, she worked at the Playboy club. This was before she dyed her brown hair her classic blonde. In 1973, she met guitarist (and future romantic partner) Chris Stein. They formed Blondie two years later.
Debbie Harry a Playboy Bunny in 1969 pic.twitter.com/oKosWHCTMK
— Lost In History (@HistoryToLearn) August 19, 2017
10. Marilyn Monroe was on the first cover of Playboy in 1953. Hefner will actually be buried next to Monroe at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Before Monroe hit it big, she posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley in exchange for $50 in 1949. Kelley sold his photographs of Monroe to Western Lithograph Company, and four years later, Hefner purchased the photos–and then made Monroe his first centerfold.
— The Marilyn Diaries (@MarilynDiary) September 28, 2017
The first Playboy centerfold, in the December 1953 issue, was of Marilyn Monroe. pic.twitter.com/cngBWwiJMI
— The Making of Sense (@MakingOfSense) September 28, 2017