Man Out of Time: The Mixed Legacy of Hugh Hefner

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Man Out of Time: The Mixed Legacy of Hugh Hefner

When Hugh Hefner, Playboy Magazine founder, and globally acknowledged libertine, recently passed away at the age of 91. The world stepped back to scratch its collective head and wonder, “So, was he good or bad?” Arguments can be made for both sides. As a proponent of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. He was at times, an ardent fighter for women’s rights, like birth control and abortion. While at the same time an almost cult-like figure who dominated the lives of the women who lived with him and made millions off their bodies and sex appeal. Let’s dig a little deeper and look at the man out of time: the mixed legacy of Hugh Hefner.

Wiley Businessman or Lucky Bystander?

Back in 1953, when Hefner put his first issue of Playboy for sale, the United States (obviously) was in a different place culturally. “The Leave It to Beaver” world was a patriarchal one that painted a smile on everyone’s faced and scorned the idea that any unpleasantness ever is discussed. But then, suddenly anyone who had the .50 cent single-issue price jingling in his pocket could take a gander at introductory cover girl and movie star, Marilyn Monroe, in ALL her glory.

If ever there was a ‘let the genie out of the bottle moment’ this was it. Was Hefner some sort of cultural Svengali businessman? Or simply a goober who wandered into the path of a revolution already brewing beneath the surface? It’s hard to say for sure. What can be stated with certainty is that Playboy’s introduction was the catalyst of the ‘nudie magazine’ industry and made the idea of looking at a woman’s naked body mainstream.

A Full-Scale Sexual Revolution

Perhaps, as with television, magazines like Playboy aren’t the instigator of cultural change but more a mirror that reflects and magnifies what’s going on. Regardless, the 1960’s were a tumultuous time in so many areas – civil rights, music, politics, women’s rights and sexuality. And Hefner’s Playboy was right there with often superlative writing and, of course – naked women – to keep score.

Women burned their bras and men burned their draft cards. Both sexes gravitated towards a ‘sleep with anyone you like’ philosophy that forever changed the puritanical foundation of a nation. Out went the idea that sex was an activity strictly reserved for a man and woman bound by the legality of marriage. And then there was that wild rock music, dutifully chronicled by Hefner, with a backbeat bred for sin. It would be hard to say any single factor created or perpetuated the sexual revolution but, as one of the main chroniclers, Playboy was certainly a part of the mix and takes plenty of the blame/accolades that go with the territory.

The Hef Lifestyle

It’s no secret that Mr Hefner made a lot of money, and he wasn’t shy about spending it. From lavish parties thrown at the infamous Playboy Mansion. To the perpetual bevy of beauties by his side, to a highly visible jet-setting lifestyle. It was obvious that the magazine’s founder didn’t shy away from the good things in life.

Maybe he really enjoyed it all, but maybe it was all part of his schtick too. He was a walking advertisement for the stated philosophy that “A man’s morality, like his religion, is a personal affair best left to his own conscience.” At his death, Hefner’s net worth was estimated at $43 million. Though that number doesn’t include the recent sale of the magazine for close to $200 million. The four kids who will split the inheritance – after death taxes, of course – will be able to add a substantial amount to their checking accounts.

Before Hefner, the wealthy hid their lifestyle behind walled compounds. They existed in a realm that allowed only rare glimpses to the public. Not so with Hef. He didn’t mind his life being on display. And any random celebrity or hanger-on might find themselves with an invitation to one of the famous hot tub parties at the mansion. Perhaps to lounge alongside the man himself and enjoy the fruits of his literary and carnal pursuits.

A Final Thought

The current war of words, raging in the press over Hugh Hefner’s ultimate contributions (or lack thereof) to society, is mostly a lot of yammering. Did he give freedom a kick in the rear end or accelerate the coarsening and vulgarity of society? Probably both. There was a good chance it was going to happen anyway, and if it hadn’t been Hefner who came up with the idea of selling naked women to the masses, it would have been someone else.

Bob Gorman is a freelance writer who likes writing articles that cover home and family-related topics. He has written numerous articles and contributed to several other blogs.

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