Episode 192: Hugh Hefner: Sexist or Activist?

This episode is brought to you by El Yucateco

On this episode of The Sofa King Podcast, we look at the founder of Playboy, Hugh Hefner. Hefner was born to conservative, middle class parents in Chicago in 1926. He was said to be a very bright student with an IQ of 152, though he didn’t care much for academics until he was done serving in the Army during World War II. Eventually he graduated from the University of Illinois, where he studied psychology and sexuality.

Shortly after college, he got a job working at Esquire Magazine, but he quit after a disagreement about a five dollar raise and moved between Chicago and New York. At this point, he started to raise funds to launch his own men’s lifestyle magazine, but instead of the conservative values of Esquire, Hugh Hefner wanted this one to be liberal and help shift boundaries away from the Christian norms in American. Borrowing money from friends and family, he famously purchased one nude picture of Marilyn Monroe and published the first ever issues of Playboy with her as the centerfold in 1953. It was an immediate success, selling over 50,000 copies.

And with that, his growth continued for decades. Hefner used the magazine to not just peddle smut, but to change American culture. Playboy was a men’s magazine which tried to tell men how to be stylish and cool. This included Hefner’s own articles on what to drink, how to behave like a gentleman, what suits to wear, what music to listen to, etc. He immediately became the target of conservatives and of feminists, of course, but Hefner held to his beliefs that what did was not objectifying women, but freeing them. You be the judge of that one.

Hugh Hefner considered himself a feminist, trying to give women the ability to have sex outside of marriage and not be ashamed of their own bodies. He is also considered by many to have helped usher in not only the Sexual Revolution, but the Civil Rights movement. He had black luminaries such as Alex Haley, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohamed Ali in Playboy. In fact, his series of interviews between Alex Haley and Malcolm X led to the publication of the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

So, was he just a smut peddler trying to make a dollar by selling sex, or was he truly a pioneer of sexual freedom? What happened in his Playboy Clubs, and how did men get a “key” to the club? How many wives did he have, and what is the story with the Playboy Mansion? Listen, laugh, learn.

Here’s an article about the Hefner series we talk about: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/hugh-hefner-docuseries-what-we-learn-about-playboy-founder-w477122

Our Sponsors