Interviewed by by Larry DuBois
Originally published by Playboy USA in 1974.
From the moment Playboy first hit the newsstands in December of 1953, it was obvious that Hugh Marston Hefner’s new publication — a 48-page, undated issue with a cover and center spread featuring Marilyn Monroe — wasn’t going to be just another magazine. It was Hefner’s own vision of what a men’s magazine ought to be: a judicious blend of fiction, nonfiction, humor, art and photography — all reflecting a healthy appreciation of the opposite sex and of what he called “the great indoors.” There had never been anything quite like it on the market; something about it struck a chord with the 70,000 readers who made the first issue a sellout. Within months, in an era in which publishing empires were crumbling, Playboy was thriving; it went on to become the industry’s biggest post-World War II success. As Time magazine commented in a 1967 cover story about Hefner: “He was the first publisher to see that the sky would not fall and mothers would not march if he published bare bosoms; he realized that the old taboos were going…. He took the old-fashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazines, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture. It proved to be a sure-fire formula.”
So much so, in fact, that in less than a decade, its creator had become not only a multimillionaire but the subject of countless profiles in other publications. He had also become the most flamboyant practitioner of the affluent, sexually uninhibited lifestyle he presented in his magazine. During the Sixties — while Hefner hardly ever ventured out of the self-contained total environment he’d constructed for himself in his Chicago Mansion — the magazine grew into a diversified empire, with a string of Playboy Clubs in 19 cities and hotels in Jamaica, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Chicago and Miami Beach.
As the decade ended, Hefner “came out” — with gusto — purchasing the world’s most luxurious private plane, a customized DC-9 he calls the Big Bunny. He’s used it to take a number of trips to Europe and Africa and to commute from Chicago to the latest addition to his personal and corporate world, the Playboy Mansion West, a five-and-a-half-acre estate from which he supervises the company’s further expansion into films, television, records and other areas of the entertainment business.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the conspicuous success of the magazine and its offshoots, Playboy and its Editor-Publisher have been subjected to criticism from various quarters. First there were the sexual puritans, who were shocked at the sight of bare flesh, however tastefully displayed. Then came the religious commentators, who took issue with “The Playboy Philosophy.” As flak from the right died down, it appeared from other quarters: the radical left, denouncing Playboy’s “materialism,” and the shriller fringes of the women’s liberation movement, reviling its supposed sexism. Both leftists and feminists chose to ignore the commitment of the magazine — and the Playboy Foundation, established in 1965 as an activist force in the battle for preservation of constitutional rights — to the very causes they espoused.
Even more than critics, though, Playboy has spawned imitators — most of them unabashed rip-offs of what they see as the Playboy formula. Some are prospering, but Playboy readership, meanwhile, has continued to climb toward an all-time high of some 26,000,000 monthly — more than the total of all its imitators combined.
With Playboy approaching the end of its second decade, we decided to ask our Editor-Publisher — who selects all the names for this feature — to approve our suggestion for the subject of this 126th “Playboy Interview.” We couldn’t think of a more fitting occasion than our 20th Anniversary Issue for the controversial target of so much attention from the press to speak for himself in the pages of his own magazine: discussing what the past 20 years have signified to him personally, to Playboy and to its readers, and what the next 20 years may hold. Not without some reservations — which he confides in the interview — Hefner agreed.
For this unprecedented assignment, we picked freelance writer Larry DuBois, a 31-year-old former Time writer and correspondent whose penetrating Playboy Interviews with Jules Feiffer, Jackie Stewart, Roman Polanski and Jack Anderson convinced us that he had the experience, ability, tenacity and good humor we knew this job would entail. We were right about it and him. Here’s his report:
“In the Butler Aviation terminal at O’Hare airport outside Chicago, where the private-plane set is pretty blasé about your average limousine, people still snap to attention when a huge Mercedes 600 — license number HH1340 — pulls up, and when the owner steps out, the place practically freezes like a snapshot to watch him stride briskly through, followed almost at a trot by a couple of beautiful blondes — one his girlfriend, the other his highly competent secretary, who’s madly taking notes as he dictates a memo on the fly.
“A few hours later, over Los Angeles, he and his friends are finishing their last game of Monopoly, and as his plane zooms in low over the freeway, traffic slows to a crawl when drivers catch sight of that sleek jet-black DC-9 with the Rabbit’s head on the tail. It belongs, of course, to Hugh Hefner; everybody knows that. It’s the most famous private plane in the world, he’s the most famous publisher in the world and he leads one of the most publicized personal lives of anyone in public life.
“Then why do people always ask, when they find out you’ve met him, ‘What’s he really like?’ It’s a good question, and the fact that it gets asked so often is as good a demonstration as any that, while Hefner has managed to make his name perhaps as well known as that of his magazine, the conflicting stories about him have obscured his identity so effectively that most people don’t have a clue to what sort of man he actually is. After getting to know him as well as anyone but his oldest friends, I still don’t have any final answers to that question myself, but I can say that in many ways, he is an even more remarkable figure than his legend. And trying to reconcile one with the other turned out to be an unforgettable experience.
“Last March, I showed up at Hefner’s Mansion in Chicago, expecting to be there for the first of a couple of two-hour interview sessions. I ended up staying six months. I’m still not sure exactly how that happened. Part of it, I must admit, was the irresistible, almost extraterrestrial seductiveness of a sybaritic environment hermetically sealed from the strife and seasons of the outside world. But the main reason I stayed—and stayed—was that I realized soon after arriving that this was the only way I’d ever walk out with an interview I’d want to see published anywhere, let alone in Hefner’s own magazine.
“During our first tape session, he responded to my questions about the magazine and its critics with all the facility and polish of an uncommonly shrewd politician; but it was obvious to both of us, I think, that if we went on like this, I’d have just another slick interview with the thinker and theorist; we’d never pass beyond that. He’s got a tremendous reserve, I found, and he’s not about to surrender much of himself to a stranger. So he invited me to be his guest at the house for a while so we could get to know each other better.
“We quickly became friends, and I enjoyed myself enormously. Hefner’s world really is fun. After months of playing backgammon and pinball, getting to know his friends, feeling the special rhythms and patterns of his private world, the tone of our interview sessions became very personal—sometimes serious, sometimes jocular, always enthusiastic and untiring. ‘Being around Hefner,’ one of his friends had told me, ‘is like plugging yourself into an electric socket.’ He was right. The man is 47, but his energy is staggering and he seems to know one emotional pitch: flat-out, hard-charging, turned on.
“Some days we’d talk far into the night. Other days, when business matters were piling up, he surrendered himself totally to meetings with executives that turned into 24-hour marathons; and when the last bunch stumbled away at 10 in the morning, as likely as not, Hefner would make a dash for the game room to rendezvous with his pals and do a fiercely competitive and often raucous six hours on the pinball machines before retiring to his quarters with a girlfriend. So much for the popular notion that beneath all the glitter, Hefner must be jaded or bored. He’s not.
“Whatever he’s into at the moment, his powers of concentration are—well—overwhelming. Until you’ve had his attention, says one of his old staffers, you’ve never had attention. His mind is so quick, so totally focused on whatever he’s doing that if it doesn’t involve you, you might as well not exist. One night, a pretty young TV correspondent who had interviewed Hefner earlier in the evening and experienced that riveting attention of his approached him at the Monopoly table to say good night. For at least a couple of minutes, she stood at his side waiting for him to look up and acknowledge her. Finally, growing uneasy, she tapped him on the shoulder; he jerked his head around and practically jumped to his feet to shake her hand. It was one of those moments that could have been interpreted as rudeness, but it wasn’t. He’d been so involved in that Monopoly game that he hadn’t even noticed her standing six inches away from him.
“And so it goes. That kind of energy, enthusiasm and concentration make him an incredibly compelling personality. Though none of these qualities has ever been explored much by writers who’ve tried to portray Hefner, they shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been around him longer than an hour. But there was one tremendous surprise for me, which is a side of him that I hadn’t seen recorded anywhere, even though I’d read everything there was to read about him. When he’s not serious, the man is positively zany. A routine night of playing games with him is as funny and off-the-wall as — and not unlike — a Marx Brothers movie. And in a conversation with him about, say, that day’s Watergate news, he offers the same kind of mordant satirical perceptions you might expect from a Lenny Bruce, who happened to be a cherished friend of his. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if Hefner had the kind of personality that opened up in a crowd, he could be a very successful stand-up comic.
“But he saves all this for his close friends and, believe me, it wasn’t easy to get it on tape. Much of what I consider the best of our interview sessions, in fact, came from questions I asked as a result of bantering at the Monopoly table, playing backgammon, splashing in his Jacuzzi Grotto in Los Angeles, riding in the Mercedes to and from airports. If he hadn’t been willing to share those moments with me, I wouldn’t have been able to share them with the reader.
“As a result, I think you’ll be able to get some sense, if not of what Hugh Hefner is really like, then at least of what it’s like to be around him. I think you’ll also see that it’s a forceful, funny, absolutely extraordinary experience. Like his legend, Hefner is larger than life, the kind of elusive, contradictory, sometimes maddening, sometimes just mad genius it required not only to build a $200,000,000 business empire and to create a private world that’s been called — rather unimaginatively — a ‘Disneyland for adults’ but also to have an absolute ball playing with it all.”
PLAYBOY: Why are you doing this interview?
HEFNER: It seemed like a natural, if unique, editorial notion for our 20th Anniversary Issue.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any reservations about being interviewed in your own magazine?
HEFNER: Well, I hope it doesn’t seem like a man talking to himself when it appears in print.
PLAYBOY: Do you think readers will believe that you agreed to do this without any special controls or limitations?
HEFNER: Certainly. Just don’t bring up anything that might jeopardize your future as a Playboy contributor.
PLAYBOY: What could be fairer than that? OK, let’s begin at the beginning. How did you happen to start Playboy in the first place, and why?
HEFNER: Well, to really begin at the beginning, I got the journalism bug early. I was publishing my own neighborhood newspaper at the age of eight or nine—laboriously typing out each issue on an old Royal — and selling it door to door for a penny a copy. As a child, I spent most of my spare time writing and cartooning — fantastic stuff, filled with mad scientists, monsters, supersleuths, space travel, that sort of thing. I remember being reprimanded by one of my grade school teachers for drawing cartoons in class when I was supposed to be studying. She sent the drawings home to my mother with a note saying that if I continued to waste my time this way in school, I would never amount to anything.
In high school, I started drawing a cartoon autobiography called School Daze for the amusement of my classmates, which continued after graduation — through two years in the Army and college after that — and eventually turned into an autobiographical scrapbook that I still update from time to time. In the Army, I became a magazine buff—studying the editorial concepts and contents of various publications. By the time I was graduated from the University of Illinois — where I drew cartoons for the Daily Illini and edited Shaft, the campus humor magazine — I knew I wanted to start a magazine of my own. The only thing wrong with that dream was the money: I didn’t have any.
I tried to sell a couple of comic-strip ideas to the newspaper syndicates, but they weren’t interested, and I wound up working as a copy writer in the ad department of Carson Pirie Scott for $40 a week. That led to my next job, as a copy writer in the promotion department of Esquire, at $60 a week. I thought that would be exciting, because in my early teens, Esquire had represented a world of urbane sophistication that really appealed to me. But the magic I’d found in the magazine wasn’t present in the job. There weren’t any Petty Girls working at Esquire.
PLAYBOY: Is that story true about your leaving Esquire because they wouldn’t give you a five-dollar raise?
HEFNER: I not only didn’t get the raise, the head of the promotion department spent almost an hour trying to convince me that I wasn’t a good “company man” to consider quitting for that reason. He was right. Anyway, Esquire moved to New York and I started thinking seriously about a magazine of my own.
The most popular men’s magazines of the time were the outdoor-adventure books — True, Argosy and the like. They had a hairy-chested editorial emphasis, with articles on hunting, fishing, chasing the Abominable Snowman over Tibetan mountaintops. I confess that I’m a little more urban oriented than that; I’m an indoor guy and an incurable romantic, so I decided to put together a men’s magazine devoted to the subjects I was more interested in — the contemporary equivalents of wine, women and song, though not necessarily in that order. Esquire had changed its editorial emphasis after the war, eliminating most of the lighter material — the girls, cartoons and humor. So the field was wide open for the sort of magazine I had in mind.
PLAYBOY: What made a guy like you, from a fairly strait-laced Protestant background, want to publish a magazine like Playboy?
HEFNER: Perhaps in part it was because of my strait-laced Protestant background. My parents are wonderful people and they instilled in me an idealism for which I’m grateful. As a kid, I remember being moved to tears by such classic movies of the Thirties as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which dealt with the typical American theme of one man against society fighting for the most basic democratic ideals, and so I admired the image of an iconoclastic individual who questions the accepted “truths.” But my parents also raised a son whose skepticism of bullshit included even the bullshit they themselves accepted; they had been reared in a very strict, almost puritan Protestantism. So at a very early age, I began questioning a lot of that religious foolishness about man’s spirit and body being in conflict, with God concerned primarily with the spirit of man and the Devil dwelling in the flesh.
The Puritans thought they could simply repress man’s sexual nature, and they reaped a whirlwind as a result. Their code of sexual morality — which became America’s — was nothing more than a set of rules laid down by people who believed that all pleasure was suspect. H.L. Mencken defined the puritan as a person who is terribly afraid that someone somewhere is having a good time. That carried over into the idea that work was virtuous but that enjoyment of the rewards for that work might somehow lead to decadence. I wanted to edit a magazine that would express my views on these subjects, a magazine free of guilt about sex and the benefits of materialism, a magazine that tried to put some of the play and pleasure back into life. So partly, I guess, I started Playboy as a kind of cause. But the other half of it is that publishing a sophisticated men’s magazine seemed to me the best possible way of fulfilling a dream I’d been nurturing ever since I was a teenager: to get laid a lot.
HEFNER: Sorry, that just slipped out. I don’t know what came over me. I remember, in the days prior to Playboy, walking the streets of Chicago late at night, looking at the lights in the high-rise apartment buildings and very much wanting to be a part of “the good life” I thought the people in those buildings must be leading. I suspect that a great many young men who haven’t yet found what they want in life have had similar feelings. I wanted to be where it was happening — whatever “it” was. When I finally found out, of course, it wasn’t what I thought it would be; it was infinitely better, unbelievably more exciting than I’d ever dreamed. But there was no way I could guess what was coming when I started the magazine.
I still didn’t have any money, but I was 27 years old and I was afraid that if I didn’t try it on my own soon, I might have to learn to be a good company man after all. I went to the bank and got a household loan of $200; then I went down the street to Local Loan and put up my furniture as collateral for another $400. Then I went to friends, relatives, friends of friends — anyone who’d listen — and managed to raise another $3000. A hundred dollars here, $50 there; I took whatever I could get. One writer friend contributed an article for the first issue and took his $200 payment in stock. That was probably the most lucrative magazine article anybody ever wrote. It made him a millionaire.
Anyone familiar with the business could have told me that there’s no possible way to start a major magazine on $3600, but I didn’t know that. It’s a good thing I didn’t have any friends who were familiar with the business. As a frame of reference, Time, Inc., started Sports Illustrated about the same time I started Playboy, and I understand they went through $30,000,000 before it turned a profit. If I’d known as much about publishing then as I do today, I probably wouldn’t have been foolish enough to take the chance. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
PLAYBOY: Were you confident of Playboy’s success from the very beginning?
HEFNER: On the contrary, I was so uncertain about the magazine’s chances that the first issue didn’t even have a date on it. I figured, well, if it doesn’t sell out in the first month, we’ll leave it on the stands a second month. I was the entire editorial staff; and I didn’t have a single day of professional editorial experience.
We printed 70,000 copies of that first issue—and sold almost all of them in the first couple of weeks. With that initial response, I got a small advance from a distributor and we were able to print a second issue, and then a third, and so on. Playboy was a success, as far as I was concerned, when I realized it was going to produce enough profit to permit me to continue publishing it.
On our first anniversary, I remember, the employees of the company—seven of us by that time—celebrated in a booth at a local sandwich shop. I knew we were in business to stay, so I picked up the check. I still had no idea, of course, that in the years ahead Playboy would become the most successful magazine of its time and that the Rabbit would become famous around the world as the insignia of a huge, diversified empire. Did you know that I almost called the magazine Stag Party and the symbol was originally going to be a stag? I changed my mind just before we went to press, thank God. Somehow, it wouldn’t have been the same. Can you imagine a chain of key clubs staffed by beautiful girls wearing antlers?
PLAYBOY: We’d rather not. How do you explain the magazine’s phenomenal success?
HEFNER: I think it was the right idea in the right place at the right time. A great many of the traditional social and moral values of our society were changing, and Playboy was the first publication to reflect those changes. We offered an alternate lifestyle with a more permissive, more play-and-pleasure orientation. People get less sense of identity out of their jobs now than ever before, and with increasing affluence, how one spends one’s leisure time and finds value in it is more important than ever. An article in a university quarterly a few years ago offered an interesting comparison of Playboy and Poor Richard’s Almanac. Ben Franklin was writing a guidebook for coping with life when a more frugal, work-oriented puritan ethic was essential to survival in a frontier society; Playboy came along and offered a new set of ethical values for the urban society. The editorial message in Playboy came through loud and clear: Enjoy yourself. Paul Gebhard, director of the Institute for Sex Research, once said that the genius of Playboy was that it linked sex with upward mobility, and that’s a sociologist’s way of expressing what I’m talking about.
In the years since he said that, of course, Playboy has become much more than that—more than the embodiment of an upward-mobile, pleasure-oriented lifestyle, and more than just a magazine of “entertainment for men.” Since our rather modest beginnings, it’s become not only one of the most popular magazines in publishing history but also—graphically, literarily and journalistically — one of the best in the world. Hell, it’s the best.
It may not surprise you to learn that I also think Playboy is one of the most important and influential magazines in the world, in terms of the impact it’s had not only on sexual mores but as a champion of individual rights. Somewhere between our covers — though you look like the type that never gets beyond the centerfold—you may have noticed that we’ve devoted a great deal of space, in articles, in interviews, inThe Playboy Forum, to championing for others the same freedoms and opportunities we’re lucky enough to enjoy ourselves.
PLAYBOY: Have you done anything to support these freedoms and opportunities, apart from advocating them in the magazine?
HEFNER: That’s why I started the Playboy Foundation, which backs many of the same causes we espouse in the magazine — especially the ones that are unpopular enough to have been left largely unattended to by the Government and other foundations. We’ve supported countless civil liberties cases, the antiwar movement, Jesse Jackson’s PUSH and other civil rights organizations, political reform, sex research and education, abortion reform before it became popular, prison reform before it became popular, and the continuing campaign to reform our repressive sex and drug laws, as well as any number of charities and community-fund efforts. For a long time, we were the chief sponsor of the Kinsey Institute and the research of Masters and Johnson, and right now we’re the biggest financial supporter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, because I think making criminals out of people who smoke marijuana is very damaging to the social fabric of this society. I’ve made the social commitment through this and a similar foundation formed at the same time; they’re the major beneficiaries of my stock in Playboy.
PLAYBOY: The funds for your Foundation come from profits on what Life called “the house that flesh built.” By talking only of Playboy’s editorial and financial commitment to social and political causes, aren’t you downplaying the importance of nude pictures in the magazine’s success?
HEFNER: I never want to be accused of that. I love those ladies. They are, and always will be, an integral part of Playboy’s total editorial package, just as sex should be an integral part of the total human experience. Playboy has tried to integrate the erotic and intellectual interests of its male readers, and that has proved to be a far more controversial and misunderstood editorial concept than I could have guessed when we began. Even as relatively sophisticated a magazine as Newsweek has criticized Playboy for marring its otherwise excellent editorial content with what it termed a “peek-a-boo” interest in sex; but as far as I’m concerned, incorporating the two is Playboy’s greatest virtue. There’s a decontaminating process that takes place as a result of the open publication of nude pictures of the human body. I’m convinced that because of Playboy, our society suffers from fewer sexual hang-ups than it did 20 years ago.
There are still people, of course, who insist that they don’t think sex is dirty but that it ought to remain private, a concern of the individual. They fail to understand the nature of human sexuality. If you don’t encourage healthy sexual expression in public, you get unhealthy sexual expression in private. If you attempt to suppress sex in books, magazines, movies and even everyday conversation, you aren’t helping to make sex more private, just more hidden. You’re keeping sex in the dark. What we’ve tried to do is turn on the lights.
PLAYBOY: But the magazine’s nude photography has been criticized for encouraging not open, healthy sexuality but a voyeuristic, look-but-don’t-touch attitude.
HEFNER: There’s a lovely line in our new film, The Naked Ape: “Voyeurism is a healthy, nonparticipatory sexual activity. The world should look at the world.” We are sexual beings, whether we try to deny it or not, and open, healthy sexuality requires that we not be ashamed of our own bodies. When Playboy started, most men probably would have been uneasy, in the presence of a wife or girlfriend, about opening up a magazine with nude pictures in it. What Playboy has been saying is that a person shouldn’t feel guilty about an open interest in sex. We’ve taken some of the shame and mystery out of human sexuality, and it’s this kind of repression of our sensual interests that has led to the kind of voyeurism that makes looking a substitute for, rather than a preamble to, touching.
PLAYBOY: Don’t you enforce a look-but-don’t-touch policy in the Playboy Clubs?
HEFNER: Of course we do. And we’ve been criticized for it by the same people who’d shout even louder if we permitted any other policy. One critic referred to the Clubs as “a bordello without a second floor.” If we permitted members to manhandle the Bunnies, we’d have the equivalent of that second floor, and you don’t need a vivid imagination to see where that would lead. The policy was established for the protection of the Bunnies, and we’ve continued it at their insistence. We don’t attempt to police their personal lives, just keep them separate from the operation of the Club.
PLAYBOY: In editing the magazine, as well as choosing Bunnies for the Clubs, your taste in women has been criticized as immature, showing an almost infantile preoccupation with big breasts.
HEFNER: Well, I can’t deny that I prefer big ones to small ones, but to me that’s rather like saying that I prefer girls to boys. I’m very suspicious of the pop psychoanalysts who suggest that there’s something infantile about being attracted by those physical characteristics that most distinguish the sexes. In fact, the way women are built is, to me, one of the inspired notions of creation, and Playboy has unashamedly fought the asexual image of female beauty long projected in the women’s fashion magazines with their flat-chested, bony ladies.
PLAYBOY: It’s been said that Playboy is hung up on youth as well as on pulchritude, that it’s doing a disservice to older women by fostering an adolescent taste in men for pretty young girls.
HEFNER: Does that mean Playboy would be more mature if it ran photos of 40-year-old Playmates? If I prefer to publish pictures of pretty young women — and I do — it seems to me that says less about Playboy’s maturity or mine than it does about our society’s emphasis on youth and beauty. My taste in women isn’t exactly a personal aberration; it happens to be shared with some 26,000,000 Playboy readers. Playboy’s readers are no different in this regard from the overwhelming majority of the male population of the world. Since time immemorial, youth has set the universal standard of physical beauty, and the reason is simply that a shapely, firm young face and body are more attractive sexually and aesthetically than bulges, sags and wrinkles.
PLAYBOY: The girls you feature in the magazine may be too young to have wrinkles, but Playboy has been accused of retouching its pictures to eliminate every other flaw of nature, thus creating a fantasy of female perfection that the reader will find unattainable in real life.
HEFNER: That’s simply untrue. We do try to pose and photograph our Playmates as attractively as possible, but the editorial emphasis in Playboy has always been on feminine beauty that’s both real and natural, with a sort of girl-next-door believability. They may be better looking than the girl who lives next door to you, but that’s only because we have photographers scouting all over the country for candidates for our centerfold. We publish pictures of beautiful women — the most beautiful we can find—because I’m reasonably certain our readers would rather look at a pretty face and figure than a plain one. It’s also healthier, in my opinion, to associate the erotic aspects of our photography with images as attractive as we can make them. But we do relatively little retouching. As a matter of fact, we cosmetize our pictures far less than the women’s magazines do, and probably no more than our ladies do themselves before they go out on a date.
PLAYBOY: How about the criticism that — until recently — you cosmetized your nude pictures by not publishing any that showed pubic hair?
HEFNER: Personally, I’ve always felt that this hang-up with body hair was so incongruous as to be laughable, even though it was, and still is for some people, what separates obscenity from acceptable erotica. It’s amusing to consider the fetish our society has made of pubic hair in light of the hang-up the older generation has also displayed over the long hair of young people. If these foolish fuddy-duddies are to be believed, the fall of Western civilization is imminent because of an excess of body hair. But as society began to mature in its ability to accept reality, I felt we could begin to present photography with more realism, and at the point when frontal nudity became commonplace in both motion pictures and the legitimate theater, I was satisfied that a major part of the public was no longer hung up on hair, and we decided, early in 1969, to “go pubic,” as one wit put it.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you made the right decision — and at the right time?
HEFNER: It was certainly the right decision, and my feeling that the public was ready to accept it turned out to be right. The initial reaction was mixed, of course; it seemed at first as though we’d be damned because we did just as much as we’d been damned before because we didn’t. But thanks to the taste with which we’ve always tried to edit the magazine, the readers seem to have accepted pubic hair in Playboy just as they do on their own bodies. It’s about time.
PLAYBOY: With or without pubic hair, according to some members of the women’s liberation movement, the girls featured in Playboy — particularly the Playmates — are treated as sex objects.
HEFNER: Playboy treats women — and men, too, for that matter—as sexual beings, not as sexual objects; not as things but as people. In this sense, I think, Playboy has been an effective force in the cause of female emancipation. Gloria Steinem once called me the father of women’s liberation, and I rather liked that. She didn’t mean it in the complimentary sense, of course, but there’s more truth to that interpretation than Gloria would care to admit.
As far back as The Playboy Philosophy, I wrote that the major beneficiaries of sexual emancipation would be women, because they’ve been the major victims of our repressive sexual heritage, which relegated women to the level of chattel — first the possession of their fathers and then of their husbands. Female virginity has been prized in our society simply because an unused possession is valued more highly than a used one. It’s part of our Judaeo-Christian heritage that women are either “good girls” or “bad girls” — on the basis of their sexual behavior.
Women have traditionally been either put on pedestals or damned as the source of all sexual temptation and sin. These are two sides of the same coin, since both place women in a nonhuman role. Playboy has opposed these warped sexual values and, in so doing, helped women step down from their pedestals and enjoy their natural sexuality as much as men.
PLAYBOY: Does that involve their becoming as sexually aggressive as men?
HEFNER: Whatever turns them—and their men—on. But I’m not suggesting that women become like men. Our deepest drives and most fundamental identities are rooted not only in our sexuality but in the differences between the sexes. It’s on this point that I part company with the more radical members of women’s lib who suggest that the ideal we should strive for is some sort of unisex society in which all cultural and behavioral distinctions between men and women cease to exist. What a drab, unexciting world that would be!
PLAYBOY: Well, no one could accuse Playboy’s Playmates of being indistinguishable from men. The trouble is that many women find the image of a pinup nude dehumanizing.
HEFNER: The innovation of our Playmate pictorials was an attempt to humanize the pinup concept. There’s a rich tradition of pinup art in America that goes back to September Morn, the Gibson girl at the turn of the century, the John Held girl in the Twenties and the Petty and Varga girls in the Thirties and Forties. They were all unreal, highly stylized projections of erotic male fantasies. Pinup photography followed in the same tradition, using movie stars and glamor girls of the period — sexual images unattainable to mere mortals — in unnatural poses and artificial studio sets.
Playboy changed all that. For our Playmate features, we choose girls from everyday life — secretaries, college students, airline stewardesses — instead of aloof movie queens or professional models; and we pose them naturally, in real-life settings. Accompanying the pictures is a story about the girl that adds to her reality as a person. The entire girl-next-door concept that we created for our centerfold was intended to make the Playmates more a part of real life for our readers. If some people still consider it dehumanizing for a woman to appear naked in the pages of a men’s magazine, they’re really objecting to the sexual connotation in the pictures, and that’s just the same old repressive puritanism under a different label.
PLAYBOY: As you know, some feminists think that the Bunnies, too, are a male-chauvinist creation and that the costume is demeaning to the wearer.
HEFNER: When we first conceived the idea for The Playboy Club, we simply wanted a distinctive costume for the girls who waited on our members, and an adaptation of our already famous Rabbit trademark seemed logical. The extent to which our Bunnies have become known around the world suggests that we were right; the word Bunny has even entered the language as a synonym for a pretty girl.
PLAYBOY: The fact that attractive girls are part of a slickly packaged lifestyle/ business enterprise convinces many of Playboy’s adversaries that you regard women, if not as sex objects, then as no more than an accessory to “the good life,” along with clothes, sports cars, stereos and penthouse pads.
HEFNER: Anybody who feels that way obviously misses the whole point of what Playboy is all about. Far from being an accessory to the good life, women — and the romantic liaison between them and our male readers — are the very point and purpose of what Playboy espouses as a guide for living. The physical accouterments are there to provide the most pleasant possible environment for the relationship between two people to flourish. And since the magazine has always been an extension of my own dreams and fantasies, it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out what’s most important to me. The fact is that if you could find your way to the very heart of Hugh Hefner, what you would find is a man motivated by romance. More than wealth and power and whatever other primary motivations most men have, what lights my fire is my romantic relationships with women.
PLAYBOY: Haven’t most men passed that period by the time they reach their 40s?
HEFNER: After their 30s, too many people “settle down” into a kind of dull, gray tedium that’s rationalized as maturity. It’s an aging process that might more rightly be called hardening of the emotional arteries. It dries up one’s enthusiasm, snuffs out our lust for life. When I was in college right after the war, there was a great resurgence of interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I got very caught up in his works, but even then I was struck by his downbeat attitude toward middle age. There were many aspects of his writing I could relate to, but I couldn’t understand that melancholy feeling about life’s being downhill after 40. I refuse to succumb to that. My 40s have been better than my 30s, which were fabulous, and I expect my 50s to be even better than my 40s, because until it actually starts to impair you physically, aging is largely a state of mind. It’s been said that the boy is father to the man, but in my case, I think the boy was father to the boy.
PLAYBOY: That boyish enthusiasm of yours obviously extends to your relationships with women. What kind of woman are you attracted to?
HEFNER: Well, there isn’t any one physical type, since the most important women in my life have come in a variety of shapes and sizes: some blonde, some brunette, some tall, some short, some big-breasted, some small-breasted—believe it or not. What really turns me on is a woman who is bright, unaffected, enthusiastic, open, sincere and honest. What often passes for sophistication in our society holds no appeal for me whatever.
PLAYBOY: Aren’t women — even unsophisticated ones — ever put off by your reputation?
HEFNER: Some are, of course, but I’m not apt to come in contact with them in the Playboy-oriented world I live in. Curiously enough, a great many women are attracted to a man who has been romantically involved with a number of other women. There’s also something complimentary about being singled out for attention by a man who has numerous lovely ladies to choose from.
PLAYBOY: Part of the public’s curiosity about you has to do with the nature of your personal relationships with the women you pick as Playmates. Tell us about it.
HEFNER: There isn’t any casting couch involved, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been personally involved with a number of our Playmates over the years, but I’ve never let my personal life interfere with the editing of the magazine, or vice versa. Curiously enough, however, there does seem to be a rather high correlation between our most popular Playmates and those who have been the most important to me personally.
PLAYBOY: You’re obviously living a life that a great many men relate to in their fantasies, but fantasies are often disappointing in real life. Isn’t there a danger that you’ll become jaded?
HEFNER: No way. If anything, it seems to be working the other way around. I’m more turned on by a romantic relationship today than I would have thought possible a few years ago. I’m more open, more sensually and sexually responsive now than at any previous time in my life.
PLAYBOY: Most of the women we’ve seen around you are at least 20 years younger than you. Why?
HEFNER: For one thing, I simply find them more attractive physically than women my own age. There’s also something nice about an affair that’s the first serious relationship in a girl’s life; it permits you to recapture your own early romantic responses. It’s a way of holding onto your youth and the enthusiasm you first felt about life and love.
PLAYBOY: It’s been argued by a number of female writers who’ve written articles about you that what you’re really doing is avoiding more mature women who might challenge you more and demand more equality in a relationship.
HEFNER: I don’t think an older woman is necessarily any more of a challenge than a young one. Young people today have really got it together — in a way that we never did when we were their age. I think it’s a mistake to prejudge any relationship on the basis of the ages of the two people involved. Our society’s condemnation of relationships between older women and young men is particularly strong, and it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I have a secretary who happens to be into younger guys right now, and I think it’s groovy. Each individual has to decide what’s right for himself or herself, and no one else is really in a position to make that decision for him. Different strokes for different folks.
But let me also add that I don’t go looking for any sort of challenge in a romance. I want a woman who complements the person I happen to be, not one who wants to make me over or demands a kind of relationship I’m not comfortable with. I’m not looking for a female Hugh Hefner. A romantic relationship for me is an escape from the challenges and problems I face in my work. It’s a psychological and emotional island I slip away to—away from the trials and tribulations of the rest of my life. I pity the man who goes home from the hassle of his workday to a wife or girlfriend who also gives him a hassle.
I’m not going to pattern my life after some fashionable notion of an emancipated relationship in which both partners are equal. If that works for others, that’s OK, but it wouldn’t work for me. I admit to being a rather strong-willed individual. I make most of the decisions in my life, and I like it that way.
PLAYBOY: Do your girlfriends like it, too?
HEFNER: If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stick around. But I tend to be attracted to the sort of woman who isn’t competitive and doesn’t feel frustrated or resentful because she isn’t in charge. There are still a great many women around who want a man to call the shots, establish the nature of the relationship, and so forth. If that’s male chauvinism, so be it. It’s the way I am, and I don’t apologize for it.
But that doesn’t mean I exploit a woman with whom I’m involved or that I’m insensitive to her interests or desires. Quite the contrary. All I’m saying is that each individual ought to seek the kind of relationship that most satisfies his or her needs — with a partner who complements him rather than competes emotionally.
PLAYBOY: Surrounded as you are by women, there must be a great temptation to simply play the field. Yet, over the years, you’ve always had a girlfriend with whom you’ve preferred to spend most of your time. Why?
HEFNER: While variety certainly has its own rewards, I’m essentially a sentimental, quite sensitive, romantic fellow, and I need the kind of emotional rapport that’s possible only in a long-term relationship.
PLAYBOY: Your most publicized romance in recent years has been with Barbi Benton. What drew you to her?
HEFNER: Barbi is something special — bright, spirited, with an enthusiasm for whatever she’s into that’s really quite contagious. She was a college kid when I met her — a Sacramento girl, straight-A student, ex-cheerleader, ex-Miss Teenage America contestant — who’d gone down to Los Angeles to study premed at UCLA. She was working part time as a model and I met her on the set of our TV show Playboy After Darkearly in the first season.
We started rapping while they were setting up the lights and cameras to tape the next segment, and I invited her to come along with me and a few friends to the Candy Store, a local discothèque, after the show. I already had a date, but that night I only had eyes for Barbi. One of my friends — I think it was Shel Silverstein — asked her whether she ever dated older men. She said she’d never been out with anyone over 24, and I told her that was OK; neither had I.
So we started dating, but it remained rather casual for a while, because she really wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved with a guy with my reputation. I remember the first night I picked her up at her college dorm, I pulled up in a limousine, which really freaked out her girlfriends, and instead of being impressed by that sort of status thing, she made a point afterward of driving her own car and meeting me someplace else for our dates. I dug that.
It took a while for the relationship to get serious; there was a college boyfriend in the picture, and she was also getting the rush from guys like Jimmy Caan. But once she decided our relationship was what she wanted, it was wonderful.
She’s a sports nut — an expert skier, swimmer and gymnast — and I, as I’ve said, am a very indoor guy. I remember one trip we took to Acapulco, soon after our romance got going, when some of the gang decided to go kiting over the bay. Naturally, Barbi had to be the first one to try it and, romantic fool that I am, not to be outdone by my new girlfriend, I decided to try it, too. So there I was, high above Acapulco Bay, hanging onto that kite for dear life, wondering if the motorboat that was pulling the kite would be able to put me down safely on the little raft where I’d started. From that height, the raft looked about the size of a postage stamp, and I can’t swim a stroke. Fucking incredible!
PLAYBOY: You must have been crazy.
HEFNER: Love-crazy. My life is too sweet to be risking it with such daredevil foolishness, but there I was, just the same. The only other time I got involved in such a dangerous sport was when I was in college. I learned to fly, got my pilot’s license and spent one summer learning to do stunts in a Stearman trainer — doing stalls, spins, loops, Immelmanns, everything. But even then, I never went stunt flying over any lakes.
PLAYBOY: There’s also been considerable publicity recently about your concurrent relationship with Playmate Karen Christy, who lives in the Chicago Mansion. Time reported, “Long a two-of-everything consumer, Hefner has lately extended the principle to his romantic life…. Somehow the arrangement continues to work.” Does it?
HEFNER: Not as well as it did before the press started playing around with it. Some of the gossip columnists in Hollywood have made it sound as though Barbi is being replaced, which isn’t the case at all.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t any involvement with more than one girl at a time bound to cause complications?
HEFNER: It depends on the relationships, I think, and what sort of understanding you have with the girls involved. There’s always the chance of someone’s being hurt in any romantic situation, and if you care about the feelings of others, that can produce conflicts and tensions — some of them self-imposed, some imposed by circumstances. I’m aware that any woman with whom I’m involved may have needs or desires that are different from my own, and when that happens, you have to adjust the relationship accordingly.
PLAYBOY: Does the subject of marriage ever come up?
PLAYBOY: How do you handle it?
HEFNER: By simply being open and honest about it. But I have the advantage of being preceded by my reputation, which announces that I’m not apt to be getting married in the near future and that my lifestyle isn’t apt to dramatically change as a result of any new relationship. So in most cases, a girl has different expectations with me than she might with another man, and that makes it easier for me to avoid disappointing her.
You know, I tried marriage once a long time ago, right after I got out of college, and I took the idea of being married very seriously. I don’t enter into anything halfheartedly. I expected to be married to the same woman the rest of my life, but even then the misgivings were there, the feeling that something was missing; I knew it was less than what I really wanted, but I thought that was one of those things you had to settle for. My marriage was like the jobs I had before I started Playboy — the kind of compromises most of us make in the adult world. And, like those jobs, the marriage wasn’t a happy experience.
It had nothing to do with Millie, my ex-wife. She’s a great lady. We’re still close friends and we have dinner together regularly with our two children: our daughter Christie, who’s a Phi Beta Kappa at Brandeis; and our son David, who’ll be graduating from high school this June. It turns out Hefner’s a family man. How about that? I sure love those two kids. But when the marriage was over, I felt like I had broken out of prison. I obviously wasn’t ready for marriage then, and maybe I never will be.
PLAYBOY: Is it even a possibility?
HEFNER: Of course. But I do enjoy the advantages of bachelorhood without most of the disadvantages. I don’t have to do my own cooking and cleaning, and I don’t have very many lonely nights. I’m not saying my lifestyle is the one that’s right for everybody. There are legitimate reasons for getting married; but there are also legitimate reasons for not getting married, and in my case, those are rather dominant. I have this keenly developed sense of personal freedom, a portion of which you inevitably give up when you accept the responsibilities that go with marriage. It would mean that I’d be living much of my life according to a preconceived set of expectations that — at this time, at least — I’m not willing to accept. I think most people wind up living their lives according to other people’s expectations and forgetting about what it is they really want for themselves. All that would drive me up a tree.
PLAYBOY: In other words, you’re selfish.
HEFNER: Everyone is, and should be. It’s just that we all have different ways of expressing our self-concern — some of it enlightened and some of it hurtful — to ourselves and to others, as well as to society at large. “This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think there’s considerable merit in that, and it was a favorite quote of mine as I was growing up.
I expressed some of my views on enlightened self-interest in The Playboy Philosophy, and some of the critics claimed I was advocating a form of selfish hedonism, which isn’t the case at all. What I’m saying is that every one of us needs a personal sense of identity and self-worth in order to function satisfactorily in society. If you haven’t worked out your own needs, how can you successfully deal with anyone else’s? If you don’t like yourself, you’re not going to be able to like those around you. As one who has learned to like himself just fine, I think I’ve taken an important step in getting myself together as a person. It’s amazing how, once you take that step, a lot of the need to throw your weight around disappears, because if you’re content with who you are, you don’t need to prove anything — to yourself or to your subjects.
PLAYBOY: Right, Hef.
HEFNER: One of my little jokes.
PLAYBOY: Then why did you make us kiss your Playboy ring when we arrived at the Mansion?
HEFNER: I heard you’ve got a kinky thing for jewelry.
PLAYBOY: The public has heard, in numerous stories about your personal life, that you have a kinky thing for a lifestyle that’s one continuous round of champagne and caviar, communal sex with wall-to-wall women, water beds, baby oil, vibrators, mirrors on the ceiling and video-tape equipment for instant replay.
HEFNER: Sounds OK. But you ought to come to one of my wild parties.
PLAYBOY: Frankly, in the weeks we’ve spent at both Mansions, we haven’t seen anything wilder than a couple of your pet flamingos humping on the lawn in L.A.
HEFNER: Sorry I missed that. But for real excitement, you should take a dip in the fish pond when the carp are spawning. You know, Art Buchwald, who’s a friend, once wrote a very funny column about the first time he stayed at the Chicago Mansion. He had all these wild expectations, and he described how he ended up spending all night playing gin rummy with me and some of the guys. He went downstairs to the pool, he said, and it was empty. He checked the steam room and there, barely visible through the haze, was what he thought must be one of the Bunnies who live in the house. It turned out to be Shel Silverstein.
Buchwald spoofed the Playboy mystique, but other reporters have seemed genuinely disappointed not to find a full-scale orgy taking place in the ballroom on their arrival. They’ve dismissed the tales of revelry in the Mansion and attempted to create an image of Hefner as a square rather than a sybarite.
PLAYBOY: Which image is the true one?
HEFNER: The truth is somewhere in between.
PLAYBOY: You have two dozen Bunnies living in the Chicago Mansion, plus visiting Playmates and others aspiring to be Playmates or posing for various pictorials for Playboy. Doesn’t that create any problems?
HEFNER: Nothing we can’t handle.
PLAYBOY: Guests who stay at the Mansion — celebrities, writers working on assignments for the interviews, personal friends — must expect some fun and games with these girls.
HEFNER: Gloria Steinem did an article-interview on me for McCall’s a couple of years ago in which she described a writer arriving at the Mansion being asked by a Playboy executive if he would like a Bunny sent to his room. A few minutes later, the executive supposedly called the writer’s room and asked, “Well, how was she?” That was a complete fabrication.
My male guests usually know me well enough to be aware that whatever happens in the house is a matter of individual initiative and the personal preferences of the people involved. The sort of impersonal exploitation suggested by the story in McCall’s is completely foreign to me. It’s simply not my style.
PLAYBOY: Do you find that that sort of misrepresentation occurs very often in stories about you and Playboy?
HEFNER: I think writing about Playboy and the lifestyle of its publisher is rather like a Rorschach test. Our society suffers from so many hang-ups related to the enjoyment of sex and materialism that writers frequently produce pieces that are more a projection of their own prejudices and fantasies — or those of their readers — than they are about us.
PLAYBOY: In an article for Esquire, Rust Hills marveled at the private world you’ve managed to create for yourself — a controlled environment in which, in contrast to the world outside, everything works. Is he right?
HEFNER: Nothing always works. But mine comes about as close as humanly possible for a total environment as complex and ambitious as the one I’ve created. Hills saw that the Playboy Mansion is more than just an elaborate pleasure palace; it’s a place in which I can both work and play without unnecessary interruptions or inconvenience. Man is the only animal capable of controlling his environment, and what I’ve created is a private world that permits me to live my life without a lot of the wasted time and motion that consume a large part of most people’s lives.
The man who has a job in the city and a house in the suburbs is losing two or three hours a day simply moving himself physically from where he lives to where he works and back again. Then he has to take the time and energy to go out for lunch in some crowded restaurant, where he’s more than likely dealt with in a rushed and impersonal fashion. He’s living his life according to a preconceived notion — certainly not his own — of what a daily routine ought to be. I’ve eliminated that problem by having my office, personal staff and a conference room here on the premises. In addition, I have a video-phone hookup with the Playboy Building a few blocks away, which permits me to hold instant minimeetings with fellow Playboy executives when necessary.
The details of most people’s daily regimen are dictated by the clock. They eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a time generally prescribed by social custom. They work during the day and sleep at night. But in the Mansion it is, quite literally, the time of day that you want it to be. I happen to be a night person, so if I want to begin my day in the late afternoon, as I often do, I can. The round-the-clock services of the Mansion permit me, or any of my guests or any of the Bunnies, to order breakfast at midnight or dinner at noon if we wish. With our video-tape equipment, I can watch a TV special when it’s actually aired or the following day, if I prefer. A pool table, pinball machines and other electronic games in the game room, a bowling alley, gym, swimming pool and steam room are all available to anyone in the house at any time of day or night. We also have a library of feature films on hand for our guests that ranges from Disney to Deep Throat. Norman Mailer observed, after staying at the Chicago Mansion, that it was like being in a spaceship “outward bound and timeless,” and I think that captures the feeling of the place very nicely.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t your fascination with fancy electronic gear more than a matter of personal convenience? In one interview, you were quoted as saying, “Next to beautiful women, I like gadgets best.”
HEFNER: Next to beautiful women, I like beautiful women’s gadgets best. The electronic equipment simply makes life more enjoyable as well as more efficient — providing everything I need for work and play right here at my finger tips. OK, I admit that I’m also intrigued with the James Bondian gadgetry that can enhance any man’s mid-20th century lifestyle. But where Bond used his gadgetry for death and destruction, mine is intended for living and loving.
PLAYBOY: Tom Wolfe called your ultimate gadget — that rotating, vibrating circular bed — “the center of the Playboy world.” Is it?
HEFNER: It’s certainly the center of my world when I’m in Chicago, since I work in it, play in it, eat and sleep in it.
PLAYBOY: Is there really any advantage to a round bed?
HEFNER: Well, it gives me something to do with all those round sheets in the linen closet.
PLAYBOY: Much of the control you exercise over your environment — including the electronic gadgetry that’s built into and around your bed — has been made possible only by the technological advances of the past 20 years.
HEFNER: That’s true. And I think that increasingly, others will be applying advances in electronic technology to the same ends. Marshall McLuhan predicted that improved methods of electronic communication will make it possible for more people to avoid the inconvenience of separating where they work from where they live and to turn their homes into electronic entertainment complexes. Our homes will become the centers for most of our activities. In that respect, I suppose you might say that the controlled environment of the Playboy Mansion is the shape of things to come. But you’re going to have to find your own Bunnies.
PLAYBOY: Why is control so important to you?
HEFNER: I’d like to hear the arguments on the other side. What virtues are there in being without control? One of the greatest sources of frustration in contemporary society is that people feel so powerless, not only in relation to what happens in the world around them but in influencing what happens in their own lives. Well, I don’t feel that frustration, because I’ve taken control of my life — and I’m even lucky enough to have some influence outside it as well.
PLAYBOY: Some people might wonder whether it’s possible to get the most out of life when the private world you’ve created seems to cut you off from so much of the rest of it.
HEFNER: Physical insulation isn’t the same as psychological isolation. A private world that manages to minimize wasted time and motion actually permits greater attention to individual interests and matters of greater importance. During one period in the Sixties, when I rarely ventured outside the Chicago Mansion, I developed a reputation as a Howard Hughes-style recluse. We’ve both chosen to live in self-contained, separate physical worlds, but Hughes has purposely cut himself off from all contact with other people, and the Playboy Mansion was conceived as an environment in which I could more readily enjoy the company of others.
When Playboy first started, I was a familiar part of the social scene on Chicago’s Near North Side. Then the magazine began growing so rapidly and I got so totally immersed in it that I found it more convenient to live at the office than to go home to an apartment. That arrangement worked for a while, but by the end of the Fifties I’d decided I needed a place to escape to when the work was done—a house elegant and elaborate enough to make me want to leave the office routine occasionally, and that turned out to be the first Playboy Mansion.
The concept worked so well that within a year I was doing almost everything in the Mansion. I moved my office and a secretary in and, with the arrival of the Bunnies, my social life was increasingly concentrated there, too. The house soon became a favorite hangout for friends, associates and visiting celebrities. Instead of going out for a few drinks in some crowded, smoke-filled bar, we relaxed and rapped in front of the fireplace in the main room, ordered our favorite food and drink from kitchen and bar facilities superior to most of the restaurants in town, played pinball or pool in the game room, took a swim or a steam, or unwound in the romantic comfort of the underwater bar, which can be reached most easily by sliding down a fire pole from the floor above. The pole was typical of the playful innovations I introduced as a contrast to the grand turn-of-the-century elegance of the house. Such a place should also have secret passageways, I figured, and since there weren’t any, I added them. The Mansion ended up working so well that going out came to seem like a useless exercise. What the hell was it I was supposed to go out for?
PLAYBOY: Perhaps to visit places that couldn’t be brought to you.
HEFNER: Places hold no interest for me. A friend recently suggested driving up from L.A. to San Simeon, the old Hearst castle. He thought I might be interested in seeing how another famous editor-publisher had lived. But I don’t relate to Hearst, and the grandeur of his old domain is now something for the tourists. What I’m interested in is relationships with people. Visiting the most beautiful or historic spot in the world would have no meaning for me unless it were shared with someone I cared about. Visiting Paris just to see the sights would bore me. But if a girl I was romantically involved with were there and couldn’t come to me, I’d go halfway around the world to be with her.
PLAYBOY: During the Sixties, when you spent virtually all of your time in the Chicago Mansion, didn’t you ever feel like just taking a stroll around the block or a drive in the country?
HEFNER: When I felt like it, I went out. It’s that simple. Obviously, I didn’t feel like it very often, because there were often weeks, and sometimes months, when I didn’t go out at all. I remember one winter, Chicago had a record snow-fall. I thought that was too good to miss and since I couldn’t bring it inside — at least not without melting — my girl and I took a midnight walk and wound up building a snowman in front of the Mansion. When we got back, we learned that the news had spread through the house like there’d been a prison break—”He’s gone out! Hef’s gone out!” There were a lot of jokes of that sort—even around here — about my lifestyle, but life is always a matter of choices. I’m painfully aware that there simply isn’t enough time in one short life to do all the things I want to do, so I’ve tried to eliminate the distractions, inefficiencies and inconveniences that get in the way of whatever I’m doing. That’s really what the house is all about.
PLAYBOY: Then what made you decide, in the late Sixties, to widen your horizons — build your private plane, take trips, buy your West Coast Mansion?
HEFNER: I think a lot of men begin to reevaluate the pattern of their lives in their middle years, whether they’re married or single, successful or unsuccessful, and I decided that what had worked very well for me earlier in the decade wasn’t satisfying any longer. I was fortunate enough to be able to dramatically change the pattern of my life when I wanted to. That’s another example of the importance of staying in control of your life. The company had grown so big that one man could no longer hold onto the reins as tightly as I had. I began to delegate an increasing amount of authority to my key executives, and that wasn’t easy, because Playboy has always been such a personal enterprise.
I agreed to host a new TV series, Playboy After Dark, to be taped in Los Angeles, because I knew that would force me out of the house and into new areas of activity. In addition to its obvious promotional values, the TV show was intended as a first step in Playboy Enterprises’ West Coast diversification into motion-picture, television and record production. We bought the private plane to provide prompt, comfortable transportation between our Chicago headquarters and our expanding enterprises throughout the country and the rest of the world.
The plane is a logical extension of the concept behind the house: We ordered a stretched version of a DC-9 from Douglas Aircraft, with additional gas tanks to give it international capability, and had a custom interior designed that turned it into an airborne apartment. In that way, whatever time is spent in transportation isn’t wasted, since I can do anything aboard the Big Bunny that I do in the Playboy Mansion. Well, almost anything. We don’t have a swimming pool or a bowling alley on the plane.
I’d had an apartment on top of the Playboy office building in Los Angeles for several years, but with more of our activities centered there, I decided to get a house. What I found was something even more than I had envisioned—an elegant English Tudor home, set on five and a half acres of ground just a block and a half from Sunset Boulevard in Holmby Hills, that became Playboy Mansion West. I now spend almost as much time there as I do in Chicago.
PLAYBOY: What’s the attraction?
HEFNER: I don’t think anything I could say would adequately describe the place. The main building was inspired by a mansion in England called Holmby House; it’s built of stone, with slate roofs and leaded windows. The grounds are handsomely landscaped, with rolling hills, a variety of trees, plants and flowers and what is reputed to be the largest redwood forest in Southern California. We added a tennis court and a swimming pool, with adjoining ponds and waterfalls, and introduced exotic varieties of fish, birds and animals as a finishing touch. It isn’t as large as the Chicago Mansion, but it’s even more impressive because of the elegance of the architecture and the grounds. There’s a separate guesthouse, a green-house and a game house, with an outdoor bar and buffet area done in the same stone as the main building. But the most popular spot on the estate is a grotto we built, as a part of the pool, that can be entered by swimming through a waterfall and includes an elaborate series of Jacuzzi baths that are enjoyed more as a center of social activity than for their therapeutic value. In short, the West Coast Mansion is a veritable Shangri-La, and rumor has it that you really do start aging perceptibly after leaving the grounds.
PLAYBOY: As a guy who earned rather than inherited his money — who started out as a middle-class working stiff — don’t you ever take a look around you at all this incredible luxury and wonder if it’s too good to be true, feel that it’s all a dream and maybe you’ll wake up and it’ll all be gone?
HEFNER: I still have a certain sense of wonder at all that’s happened, but that adds to my enjoyment of it. I don’t think I’ll ever become jaded by the success or the life I’m leading; it’s simply not my nature. As a matter of fact, I feel like a kid in the world’s biggest candy store.
PLAYBOY: Must you be so blasé?
HEFNER: I could pretend to be blasé, but I’m having too good a time. Playing it cool, affecting that hip sense of weariness with it all that’s so fashionable these days, would be foreign to me. If my enthusiasm strikes some people as unsophisticated, that’s their problem, not mine.
PLAYBOY: A good deal of your enthusiasm is directed, during your leisure hours, toward games — backgammon, Monopoly, pinball, cards and a dozen other such pastimes. Why?
HEFNER: When I finish with my work, I like to lose myself in games of various kinds with friends. If my game playing is enthusiastic, it’s because that’s the way I approach almost everything I do. I enjoy the competitive nature of game playing, as well as the social contact that goes with it. Most of my friends are serious game players, too. Backgammon is what we’re really into now, as you know. It’s a great game — relatively simple in concept and easy to learn, but quite sophisticated in its strategy once you begin to really get involved in it. It’s a much faster and more exciting game than chess and, unlike cards, it’s an open game — played on a board where everyone can see the moves — with the opportunity for considerable interplay.
A couple of friends and I recently started a private club in L.A. called Pips — after the triangular-shaped areas on the board where you move your pieces — and the major appeal of the club, along with an excellent restaurant, bar and discothèque, is backgammon. Pips has become, in the few short months since it opened, the most popular celebrity hangout in town, just as backgammon has become the most popular game.
PLAYBOY: You said most of your friends are serious game players. Being serious about games seems a contradiction in terms. Isn’t it rather frivolous to devote as much time and energy as you do to that sort of thing?
HEFNER: The ability to enjoy such frivolous pastimes is part of what life ought to be all about. The notion that work is socially redeeming, but that play isn’t, is a puritan hang-up that still persists in our society. After the meetings, dictation and editing are done, I’m ready to relax and play — whether it’s in my rotating bed or in the game room with the gang.
PLAYBOY: Or in your rotating bed with the gang?
HEFNER: You’ve been peeping.
PLAYBOY: Your guest registers at both Mansions read like the proverbial Who’s Who of show business, sports, politics, journalism, art, science, law and even religion. Do you consider yourself a celebrity buff?
HEFNER: Unashamedly so. But most of us are, no matter what degree of success we have achieved. I grew up in the Thirties and Forties, and film stars were my idols as a kid, so the celebrities of show business have special meaning for me. They’re the closest thing Americans have to royalty, and the biggest of them enjoy much the same prestige.
PLAYBOY: Among the celebrities you’ve entertained are George McGovern, Ringo Starr, Rudolf Nureyev, John Kenneth Galbraith, Liz Taylor, Timothy Leary, Ralph Nader and Linda Lovelace. What do you have in common with such a diverse list of people.
HEFNER: Some are close friends who stay at the house whenever they’re in town. Others are just casual acquaintances I know socially or with whom I share some common interest. In terms of common interest, I remember an evening of serious conversation with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and fellow clergymen Bishop John Robinson, Dr. Harvey Cox and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jesse has become a close friend in the years since King’s death, and the Mansion is something of a sanctuary for him when he feels the need to get away from it all.
On another occasion, about a year before his marriage to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, Tiny Tim spent a nervous evening here asking my advice on women. He obviously didn’t take it.
PLAYBOY: The Rolling Stones stayed for four days at the Chicago Mansion during their last American concert tour. What can you tell us — for publication — about that legendary visit?
HEFNER: Mick and the boys spent most of their time with us conversing on important social issues of the day over brandy in the library. And for relaxation, we played a few games of chess.
HEFNER: Won’t buy that, eh? Well, let’s just say that a good time was had by all — starting in my Roman Bath and ending four nights later with an impromptu concert by the Stones and Stevie Wonder in the ballroom. When the tour was over, the Stones told the press that the high point of their eight weeks in America had been the time they spent at Hefner’s house in Chicago.
PLAYBOY: Does that kind of informal concert happen often?
HEFNER: Well, Buddy Rich is a guest in the Chicago Mansion whenever he’s in town, and one evening he brought his entire band over as a surprise. They set up their stands at one end of the ballroom and did an entire show for us. On another evening, we were throwing a party for some visiting dignitaries from Morocco when the entire cast of Hair came in singing Aquarius. They wound up naked in the pool doing most of the score from the show.
Most of the musical moments at the Mansions aren’t that elaborate, of course. Harry Nilsson entertained us around the piano with several of his songs at a party last New Year’s Eve. Tony Bennett did the same thing on a different occasion. Shel Silverstein — who is one of my closest friends and stays at one of the Mansions as much as he does on his own houseboat in Sausalito — regularly regales the Bunnies with his songs, a number of which have been inspired by incidents that took place here.
PLAYBOY: Including Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball?
HEFNER: No comment.
PLAYBOY: Tom Jones has been an occasional guest of yours; has he ever performed at either Mansion?
HEFNER: Not musically.
PLAYBOY: Got any more hot items for the gossip columnists?
HEFNER: Well, let’s see. I don’t want to compromise Chuck Percy’s reputation, and I don’t know what this may imply in terms of his Presidential chances in 1976, but on a recent visit to the Chicago Mansion, the Senator challenged me to a game of ping-pong — and lost decisively.
PLAYBOY: That’s not quite the kind of story we had in mind.
HEFNER: Oh, no? Well, Masters and Johnson, the noted sex researchers, spent a night here prior to their marriage, and they stayed in separate — but adjoining — bedrooms. Norman Mailer and Budd Schulberg once spent a long weekend in the same two adjoining rooms, but their relationship didn’t work out quite as well. On the second night, I had to referee a verbal bout that threatened to turn physical. When Mailer invited Schulberg to step outside for some old-fashioned fisticuffs, Budd — the soberer of the two — declined with the observation that he had once refused to fight with Hemingway, and if he hadn’t fought Hemingway, he wasn’t going to lower his standards now and fight with Mailer.
Most of the time around here, though, it’s make love, not war. Warren Beatty, another noted sex researcher, spent a considerable amount of time at the Chicago house when we were both actively involved in the McGovern campaign; but I see him more regularly now at the L.A. Mansion, where he can usually be found heading in the general direction of the Jacuzzi, being a well-known lover of water sports.
PLAYBOY: Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Russian poet, stayed at the Chicago Mansion during one of his visits to America. Did you get along?
HEFNER: Well, we spent several hours debating the relative merits of our two systems of government. But he departed early the next morning, disgruntled because he hadn’t been able to interest any of the Bunnies in further cementing Soviet-American relations.
PLAYBOY: You haven’t mentioned the big parties you throw for a few hundred friends every week or so in either Chicago or Los Angeles. Do the stars come to gaze at one another on these occasions?
HEFNER: And at our Bunnies, and at the Playmates — and vice versa. But our biggest turnouts — in terms of show-business celebrities, at least — are the popular closed-circuit telecasts of sporting events that I host several times a year. Last summer in the L.A. house, we screened a Muhammad Ali fight, and half the male stars in town were there, plus a few female fans as well. Groucho Marx and George Raft were on hand, representing the old Hollywood; Bill Cosby, Jack Nicholson, Burt Bacharach, Joe Namath, Jim Brown, Tony Curtis, Bob Culp, David Steinberg, Jimmy Caan, John Derek, Clint Eastwood, the ever-popular Warren Beatty, Harry Nilsson with Sally Kellerman, Ryan O’Neal with Ursula Andress, Don Adams with Don Rickles — everybody was there. Tommy Smothers looked around at the room of familiar faces and said, “If somebody set off a bomb in here tonight, you’d have to start show business all over again.”
PLAYBOY: In another interview, you said you enjoy your reputation almost as much as you do your lifestyle. What did you mean?
HEFNER: I meant that I enjoy the public’s fantasies about the way I live almost as much as the way Ireally live. And I can’t deny being amused at the mixed reactions I arouse, often in the same people. Even if they put me down, they eat it up. They want to know what’s going on in those Mansions. What’s it like on that plane? What does he really do with those Bunnies? There’s even a story going around about the stars on the cover of the magazine representing the number of times I’ve made love with that month’s Playmate.
PLAYBOY: The version we’ve heard involves the girl on the cover.
HEFNER: I hate to spoil all those fantasies, but the number of stars designates nothing more than the geographical edition of the magazine. I think it’s been of great value to Playboy, though, that the boss isn’t a faceless chief executive but a guy people can fantasize about and see as a representative of the good life the magazine promotes.
PLAYBOY: A number of your personal tastes — for simple clothing, food and drink — don’t exactly fit that image.
HEFNER: Playboy has never taken the position that there’s only one right kind of neckwear or music or one right way to live your life. The magazine promotes not what people should be doing to look hip but an attitude that has to do with savoring life however you choose to go about it. I’m a living testimonial to that. It would be an affectation for me to wear things I didn’t enjoy because I felt I ought to. And Pepsi happens to be what I like to drink. As a matter of fact, I like Pepsi so much that I used to polish off 25 or 30 bottles a day, and I started worrying about putting on weight, so I began smoking my pipe, thinking that would cut down my drinking.
PLAYBOY: Did it?
HEFNER: No, I just acquired another bad habit. As for my plain tastes in food, I simply enjoy fried chicken more than pheasant under glass. It’s a hang-up of mine, probably a result of retarded eating habits in my misspent youth.
PLAYBOY: Is it really true, as we’ve heard that when you went to Maxim’s in Paris, generally considered one of the world’s finest restaurants, you dispatched an aide to the kitchen beforehand to provide them with your personal recipe for fried chicken?
HEFNER: It’s true. My aide spent the afternoon showing them how to prepare Southern fried chicken the way I like it, and with all due credit to Maxim’s, it was delicious. It tasted just like Colonel Sanders’. You must understand that at that point, we’d been traveling for a month through Africa, the Greek isles, Italy, Spain, England, and so forth, and by the time I got to Paris…it sounds like a song: “By the time I got to Paris, she was risin’.” Anyway, by then, I was pretty horny for some home-cooked chicken.
PLAYBOY: Did Maxim’s ever recover from your visit?
HEFNER: Apparently they took it rather well, because later they tried to sell me the restaurant. But I didn’t like the chicken that much. I guess the real bottom line about food is that it’s just not important to me. I’ve been known to go for two days without it. All it gives me is the energy I need to do what I really get pleasure from. Do I need to spell that out?
PLAYBOY: Is it a four-letter word?
HEFNER: Four letters, sounds like…. And besides being fun, it’s not fattening. I should have mentioned that in The Playboy Philosophy.
PLAYBOY: In areas other than food, drink and clothes, you could hardly be accused of simple tastes. Your lifestyle is so extraordinarily lavish, in fact, that some people regard it as an embodiment of the philosophy of conspicuous consumption.
HEFNER: Well, there’s no denying that I’m one of the nation’s major consumers — or that I haven’t tried very hard to conceal that fact — but my feeling, frankly, is that I earned it and I have a right to do with it exactly what I damn please. And I’d feel the same way about it even if I didn’t also spend a good deal of what I’ve made on the causes I happen to believe in. But beyond what anyone thinks of me, there’s an implicit assumption I can’t accept in the hostility some people — particularly among the affluent young left — feel not only toward conspicuous consumption but toward materialism itself, and the assumption is that it’s evil. They make no distinction between the ills wrought by materialism — corporate greed, urban blight, pollution, artificial obsolescence and the like — and the benefits of materialism, which include, thanks to technological progress, a longer and healthier life and a better ability to feed and clothe the people of this planet.
They also fail to appreciate the fact that, thanks to the benefits of materialism, their own lives — however simply they choose to live — are very different from, and very much better than, the simple life led by those in the underdeveloped countries of the world. If a kid gets hungry in Taos, he can wash dishes somewhere and make enough to get by on. Or he can hock a watch to pay for a meal — or a doctor. Or if worst comes to worst, he can always go home to San Francisco. The kids in Burma and Tanzania don’t have those options. I also don’t see too many of these idealistic young kids throwing away their motorcycles and their stereos, or using the money they spend on jeans and flowered shirts to buy food and clothing for the poor instead. I’m not saying they should; but they should examine their own values before condemning other people’s, and they should realize that by rejecting materialism itself rather than the excesses of materialism, they’re throwing out the baby with the bath water.
PLAYBOY: Many of these young people you’re talking about seem to feel that Playboy accepts materialism as unquestioningly as you say they reject it.
HEFNER: We’ve never believed — or implied — that money can buy happiness. But we don’t feel it’s the root of all evil, either. It’s all in what you do with it. Money can certainly be used exploitively and for destructive ends; the Watergate campaign funds are a perfect case in point. But it can also be used to enhance life — for oneself and for others — and that’s what we’ve tried to promote in the magazine and the way I try to live myself. I’m fortunate enough to live very well, indeed, but it’s not the money that matters to me; it’s not even the things I can acquire with it. It’s the pleasure — and the personal freedom — it can provide for me and for those I care about.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t there any level on which the money itself — the fact that you made it yourself and that you’ve made as much as you have — is gratifying to you?
HEFNER: Certainly. The financial part of my success isn’t meaningless to me. But it’s much more meaningful to me that the thing I decided I most wanted to do when I was in college — to start and edit a magazine of my own that I could believe in — is exactly what I’ve been able to do. And I take great satisfaction in the fact that this has been the most imitated magazine of my time, that it’s had so many different impacts on our social and sexual values. All these things are much more meaningful to me than the dollars I’ve earned.
People who are major business successes, with whom our net worth would be all we have in common, hold very little interest for me. I have very few friends in business, and sitting around with the head of a huge steel company talking about how we got to the top would bore me shitless. I know there are men for whom it would be important to make an extra half billion dollars so they could rise from being the 64th richest man in the world to the 23rd richest man. But I’ve never had any interest in making Playboy Enterprises as large as General Motors. What I’ve really sought is to create a unique and exciting company that also shows a nice enough profit so that we can do what we want to do without worrying about money.
PLAYBOY: Two years ago, you decided to finance future expansion and diversification by going public. After keeping Playboy an almost completely personal enterprise for so long, it must have been a painful decision to sell stock to the public.
HEFNER: Not at all. I only went from 80 percent ownership down to 70 percent ownership, so it wasn’t exactly like selling out my control. But you’re right to the extent that it wasn’t a decision that came naturally to me. I’d equate it with my decision in the late Sixties to start delegating more authority. They were both made reluctantly but for the good of the company. When we went public, it was because I felt it was a proper step to assure greater growth.
PLAYBOY: To judge from how the stock has fared, Playboy’s position in the market isn’t very good.
HEFNER: I don’t think the stock market reflects the true value of the company. We just happened to go public immediately before a dramatic bear mood hit the market, and as far as I’m concerned, the drop in the stock is related to the period of recession, inflation and poor political leadership that has caused the market to fall so much, rather than to any problems in Playboy, which is a very healthy and expanding enterprise.
Playboy is entering what is going to be a very exciting period of growth in all kinds of entertainment and leisure-time activities. Among the projects we’ve planned are controlled-environment residential villages located on the grounds of our hotel properties and offering hotel services. In the last five years, we’ve also invested $50,000,000 in our new resorts in Wisconsin and New Jersey; they’re both expected to add considerably to the appeal of Playboy Club membership and to produce a very nice profit.
We’re also considering a number of new magazines — fresh concepts, all of them very different from Playboy and Oui — that promise to tap fresh markets for us. The film division, which has several major theatrical features in the works, has acquired the rights to That Championship Season, which won not only a Pulitzer Prize but the Tony awards for best play and best director on Broadway. And ABC led off its fall made-for-TV movie season with Deliver Us from Evil, one of three major television features we’ve completed—all of them produced under budget and all of them turning a nice profit.
PLAYBOY: You lost money on your first film, Macbeth. Didn’t that chasten you?
HEFNER: It was only disappointing commercially, not artistically. It was well reviewed, and it was voted best picture of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, so I’m certainly not sorry we made it. The film business is always a crap-shoot in which only a small percentage of films make money, but it’s a calculated risk I’m happy to take, because, on a long-range basis, film making is going to be an increasingly important form of expression as society moves beyond the print era, and I want to be personally involved in Playboy’s development of expertise in that field. In the not-distant future, when cable television, cassette video tapes and even electronic publications become major forms of mass communication, Playboy will have the experience to take advantage of those markets.
And we’re in the process of shifting the emphasis in our Playboy Clubs to match the changing lifestyle of the last decade—from the traditional night-club atmosphere to more informal dining and drinking and to more contemporary entertainment of every kind for young singles and couples in search of enjoyable alternatives to the tube and the movie theater. We’re also redesigning and expanding the facilities in many of our Clubs, and several of them — in Montreal, Detroit and, most recently, Los Angeles — have been moved to new locations that reflect the shifts in urban centers of social activity.
But the most important news for our members is that I’m going to be more personally involved than ever before in the policies of The Playboy Club, and there will be an even greater emphasis on catering to our clientele — just as we emphasize our readers’ interests when we’re editing the magazine — that should make our Clubs, resorts and hotels among the most popular gathering places on the contemporary scene in the years ahead.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about the proliferation of Playboy imitators in the past year or two, and the fact that some of them are obviously trying to copy more than your magazine?
HEFNER: They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I guess I’ve been flattered more sincerely — and more blatantly — than any other magazine publisher in history. Playboy has inspired an unprecedented number of similar publications since we started 20 years ago. The first of any significance was Escapade, followed by Nugget, Dude, Gent, Rogue and Cavalier. Each enjoyed some initial success, then floundered—to be replaced, more recently, by Penthouse, Gallery, Genesis, Coq, a black version titledPlayers and several dozen foreign variations on the theme, such as Lui in France, Playmen in Italy, etc. The trouble with most of these magazines is that they try to compete by shamelessly copying our own publication instead of offering readers something fresh and original.
Penthouse is a prime example. It was going to be called Playgirl until lawyers warned its publisher, Bob Guccione, of the danger of trademark infringement in using a title so similar to Playboy’s. So he settled onPenthouse, a name closely associated with Playboy — our first TV series was titled Playboy’s Penthouseand Playboy Club showrooms are similarly named — but not close enough to be actionable.
The primary feature in each issue of Penthouse is a pictorial rip-off of our own Playmate of the Month, imaginatively retitled “Pet of the Month” — which, in turn, inspired such derivative spin-offs as an annual Pet review, “Pet of the Year” and a Pet calendar.
This copycat concept extends to other editorial features as well — including the Playboy Interview andPlayboy Forum, which Penthouse picked up without even bothering to retitle. Recent issues have included a kinky comic strip, a la Little Annie Fanny, while Guccione’s personal cartoon contribution is pseudo Feiffer — an unreasonable facsimile of Jules’ distinctive style and format, without any of his wit or insight.Penthouse even has a small symbol — a key instead of a Rabbit — which it places at the end of each story and article. Such inspired innovation. The only thing missing is a “What Sort of Man Reads Penthouse?” ad; and, believe it or not, some of the other imitators even include a copy of that, along with an attempt to duplicate the art and design of our interviews that prompted Time to refer to one recently as “Playboy plagiarism.”
Of course, the most blatant rip-off of all is Gallery. After taking offices across the street from the Playboy Building and hiring several lower-echelon Playboy staff members, they produced a first issue that attempted to duplicate Playboy exactly, page by page. Unfortunately, the result looked less like the original than one of the numerous Playboy parodies produced by the college humor magazines.
PLAYBOY: Considering the debt that Penthouse, Gallery, Genesis and the rest owe to Playboy, how do you react when their publishers tell interviewers that Playboy is old-fashioned and that their own magazines are more in tune with contemporary standards?
HEFNER: I think it’s very funny, but what else can you expect them to say? Because they concentrate almost totally on the most obvious aspects of Playboy’s appeal—the permissive sexual orientation and the nude pictures—these magazines are actually the old-fashioned ones, harking back to pre-Playboy days when sex was separate from the rest of man’s interests. Actually, I think the appeal of Penthouse is the implied naughtiness of the Victorian-porn approach it takes in its kinky letters section and its nude photography. It’s so old-fashioned that it has the virtue of nostalgia going for it.
PLAYBOY: Considering the limited nature of its editorial content, how do you explain the favorable press coverage Penthouse has received in the past year?
HEFNER: The one thing Guccione does well is publicize his publication. He mounted an effective newspaper ad campaign a couple of years ago that used our Rabbit trademark as an attention-getting device and created the idea that Penthouse was out to give Playboy some real competition. Guccione further dramatized the idea with personal attacks on Playboy in the press. It’s an obvious technique, but the media went for it. There’s no denying that Guccione is a talented promoter, and he’s also a good photographer; he’s just not a very good editor.
PLAYBOY: In a recent interview with Guccione for Screw, the interviewer suggested that there’s a love-hate relationship underlying his compulsion not only to compete with Playboy but also to follow your footsteps in other areas—with a Penthouse key club in London, a resort hotel, a Penthouse book club, a line of Penthouse products and a recent announcement of plans to get into motionpicture production.
HEFNER: The compulsion seems to extend to his personal life as well. He’s attempting to create a very familiar public image for himself. I’m waiting for the announcement that he’s moved into his own Penthouse mansion. But I don’t really object to this energetic impersonation of his; if I were he, I’d want to be me, too.
PLAYBOY: What made you decide to publish Oui, which might seem to some like Playboy imitating itself?
HEFNER: I wanted to try some new ideas, variations on the theme, that wouldn’t make sense in Playboy but might in a new, slightly more frivolous, far-out magazine. Oui is international in its editorial emphasis, which appeals to me, because I think nationalism is a dangerously outmoded idea, and we ought to start thinking of ourselves as one people living on this little planet together. Oui is a copublishing venture withLui, the best of the Playboy imitations in Europe; but Oui will be going its own way, unfettered by old boundaries—not only geographical but social and sexual as well.
In its first year of publication, Oui was aimed primarily at the male audience we were already familiar with and felt would respond to the innovative appeal of such a magazine. But the innovations have only just begun and, increasingly, Oui will be aimed at women as well—contemporary readers of both sexes who share a joie de vivre and take real pleasure in the liberation of our traditional roles and lifestyles in society. We printed a record number of the first issue — 750,000 copies — and sold almost all of them in the first two weeks on sale. The circulation has grown to 1,500,000 copies per month in the first year, so the future of this new magazine seems very bright, indeed.
PLAYBOY: Oui certainly seems to have a promising future, but that’s only one aspect of Playboy Enterprises. Do you think the entire company is likely to be as important in the next 20 years as it’s been in the past 20?
HEFNER: As good as the first 20 years have been, the next 20 are bound to be better. People are going to have more leisure time than ever before, so a company devoted to leisure-time activities — especially one with Playboy’s strong identification in that market — seems certain to be increasingly important. And just as clearly, the magazine is going to have even more influence in the future than it does today. Circulation is at an all-time high — far greater than any other men’s magazine in history — and its impact on our manners and morals probably won’t be fully appreciated for some time to come.
Playboy will continue to play an important part in promoting social and sexual freedom for the individual, because those who suggest that the sexual revolution has already been won are naive. Our society is more sexually schizophrenic than sexually liberated. We’re going through a painful and difficult transitional period in which many people have started to come to grips with their own sexuality, but we still live in a country where most adult sexual activity is illegal, and the voices of suppression are still being heard—and heeded.
PLAYBOY: Are you thinking of the recent Supreme Court decisions on obscenity?
HEFNER: Of course — as well as the apathetic and, in some instances, even favorable reaction of a press that is otherwise so sensitive to the suppression of our freedom. What can you say about a society that permits explicit images and descriptions of pain, violence and death, yet attempts to prohibit explicit images and descriptions when what is involved are acts of pleasure and love? I find it incredible, in 1973, that the Supreme Court of the United States can justify surrendering to what it calls “local communities” the right to decide what is pornographic and therefore illegal. Already one state supreme court—in Georgia — has decided that the movie Carnal Knowledge, written by Jules Feiffer and directed by Mike Nichols, isn’t artistically redeeming enough to escape being banned as obscene. What it amounts to is that the Nixon Court, which is supposed to be loaded with what he calls “strict constructionists” of the Constitution, has ruled that the First Amendment’s absolute protection of free speech and press doesn’t really mean what it says, that certain kinds of speech and writing aren’t necessarily free at all — speech and writing that has to do with sex. The Court has decreed that the ruling elite of every local community has the power to determine what everyone else in town may read or see.
PLAYBOY: There were rumblings, soon after the decisions, about “cracking down” on Playboy and the other men’s magazines.
HEFNER: There were, indeed, but so far they haven’t come to much — primarily, I think, because the Supreme Court decisions weren’t aimed at Playboy. They were aimed at hard-core, which has nothing to do with what we publish and never will. But there’s still harm in trying to suppress it. If there is an adult audience for this kind of material — and I make the distinction between adults and children — then how dare we say, in a supposedly free society, that adults can’t go to a theater and see whatever they want to see, or to a bookstore or magazine stand and buy whatever they want to read? The primary ones hurt when you censor aren’t the publishers or the editors but the people whose rights to that material are suppressed.
I find it very disturbing that some intelligent and learned people don’t understand that. I read an editorial inThe Wall Street Journal about the decisions, suggesting that maybe the Court was right and talking about “the rights of the majority in a democracy.” Well, totalitarianism by the majority is not what America is all about. The greatness of America isn’t that it grants majority rule; it’s that it protects the freedom of theindividual, the freedom of those who might want to read or see something that isn’t popular with the community. Too many magazines and newspapers take the attitude that this small limitation on someone else’s liberties is a price worth paying to get rid of the porno theater down the street, which they don’t patronize anyway. Well, they’re being very shortsighted, and they remind me, quite frankly, of the good citizens of Germany who felt it didn’t have anything to do with them if the Jews had their rights taken away.
The issue here is not obscenity; the issue is censorship. And what kind of bizarre notion is it that the depiction of sex is either too sacred or too profane to be protected by the First Amendment? Well, I send this message to the boys at Time and Newsweek and the country’s newspapers, who should have the intellectual capacity to recognize what this is all about, but who, for whatever reasons, look the other way and play into the hands of the enemy. Because there is an enemy out there. This country — indeed, the whole world — consists of two opposing forces: us, and those who would force their own values and attitudes on us. Totalitarianism has been the major evil in this world since the beginning of civilization, whether it came into power in the name of religion or a supposedly better nonsectarian society. The whole concept of this country was based on opposition to that kind to totalitarianism.
PLAYBOY: What actual effects do you think the Supreme Court decisions will have on sexual explicitness in the media?
HEFNER: That’s hard to predict. But it’s going to be difficult in the Seventies to find 12 people on a jury who will unanimously agree on what constitutes pornography; and that, whatever it is, it should be suppressed by law. In Binghamton, New York and in Florida, they tried to ban Deep Throat and couldn’t get a jury to agree; that type of thing is going to be happening a lot. The market for pornography isn’t going to disappear. We’re going to have some variation on what we had with alcohol during Prohibition, and all we’re going to get from that is even, more corruption in local politics. It’s too early to say for sure how this is going to work out, but whatever happens, my reaction as a citizen is one of outrage.
PLAYBOY: What’s your reaction as an editor-publisher? How will Playboy be affected?
HEFNER: Except for those communities where some prosecutor is foolish enough to think that he can make a name for himself by going after us, they shouldn’t affect Playboy at all. And let me tell you that anybody who does try to ban Playboy under these decisions is going to look nothing but foolish, because he’s going to lose. You don’t win these cases against Playboy. Nobody ever has. Our reputation is too solidly established. I can say without any sense of glee, as a matter of fact, that Playboy is actually going to benefit commercially from these decisions, because if the more sexually explicit publications are suppressed, then the sexually oriented portion of Playboy is obviously going to have even greater appeal. Suddenly, we may find ourselves right back in the sexual avant-garde, and I don’t welcome that, because I don’t welcome censorship. But I’ve been fighting that kind of sexual oppression for 20 years, and I’m not going to back out of the fight now.
PLAYBOY: What, specifically, do you plan to do?
HEFNER: The main thrust of our reaction will be in the courts. I don’t welcome such problems, but if they arise, we’ll use whatever legal resources are necessary, not only when cases directly involve Playboy but by funding other anti-censorship activities through the Playboy Foundation.
PLAYBOY: Though you’ve been actively involved for many years, as you point out, in fighting censorship and supporting causes related to sexual freedom, it’s been widely reported that your interest in broader political issues dates from the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, when a cop gave you a whack on the rump with his night stick.
HEFNER: Some people might like to think it took a swat on the ass to make me socially conscious, but the fact is that I’ve had a deep concern over social issues most of my life. The magazine has reflected that clearly enough over the years.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever considered acting on your political beliefs by running for office?
HEFNER: I’ve been asked that before, but I really don’t have any personal political aspirations. I don’t think I’d be emotionally well suited to the life of a politician and, quite frankly, I think I can probably do more as a private citizen—through the magazine’s editorial policies and the Foundation’s philanthropy.
PLAYBOY: In the Philosophy, you wrote that America was undergoing a “moral rebirth.” Would you still say that?
HEFNER: I wrote that during the Kennedy years, when optimism seemed appropriate. There have been a lot of times since then when it was difficult to be optimistic, but in the past year my mood has been a good deal more hopeful. I feel strongly that the whole Watergate affair, for example, is one of the best things that’s happened to America in recent years. It shows that even at the highest level of power, it’s impossible to keep such total corruption under wraps. That’s a dramatic demonstration of the great strength of our system.
We’ve always had petty corruption at the state and city levels, and occasionally—thanks to Teapot Dome and Spiro Agnew—at the Federal level as well. All these scandals have had to do with people taking money that didn’t belong to them. But Watergate was corruption of a far more ominous kind and on an unprecedented scale. It was a conspiracy to subvert the democratic process. These men felt they were justified in what they were doing, regardless of the law, because they thought they knew what was best for the country and that their cause was just.
It’s the same attitude that was shown over and over again by Nixon’s reactions toward the various Congressional and Presidential committees that spent millions of dollars analyzing such problems as obscenity, drugs and civil disorder. In each case, Nixon heard the results, then promptly rejected them because they didn’t fit his own prejudices and his own political self-interest. But I don’t see why anybody is surprised by these failings of character in Nixon’s Presidency. Watergate was simply the culmination of the man’s entire record in public office.
PLAYBOY: Who would excite you as a Presidential candidate in 1976?
HEFNER: How about me?
PLAYBOY: You said you weren’t interested.
HEFNER: Well, if there were an honest draft and I felt the nation really needed me… Uh, I’m kidding.
HEFNER: If that isn’t obvious, you’d better delete it from the interview.
PLAYBOY: We’ll take care of it. But other than you, can you think of any likely prospects?
HEFNER: There isn’t any one particular candidate who excites me at the moment. But the solutions to our problems as a society aren’t going to come from finding some hero to lead us to better times. The whole nature of our political system, and its separation of power, is predicated on the notion that no one individual should have too much power. Yet that’s just what was happening to the Presidency until we caught the emperor without any clothes on.
PLAYBOY: Even if steps are taken to curb Presidential power, what’s to prevent the same thing from happening again when the lessons of this experience are forgotten?
HEFNER: Nothing. That’s why a free press is so fundamental to a democracy. It’s the free press of this nation — the newspapers, magazines, radio and television — that refused to let go of the Watergate scandal, that refused to be intimidated by the Nixon Administration’s systematic attempts at repression, that refused to accept as scapegoats the half-dozen men originally on trial for the break-in, that eventually led to the exposure of the involvement of the highest men in our Government and established the atmosphere that made possible the Congressional and Justice Department investigations that may finally bring the true villains to justice. The only safeguard against a repetition of this sort of thing is a free and diligent press that will sound an appropriate warning if such demagoguery ever rears its ugly head again.
PLAYBOY: Do you think Playboy has made any contributions to that end?
HEFNER: I certainly do. In a series of articles, interviews and editorials, we attempted to alert the people to the dangerous and truly totalitarian men who had come into power with the Nixon Administration. The last Presidential election was the first in which I became deeply involved personally, because I could see the ominous directions in which our country was headed under the leadership of these men. Unfortunately, the people didn’t listen — not enough of them, anyway. We lost the battle; but, with Watergate, we’ve won the war.
That’s why it’s so important for all of us to speak out against every form of tyranny — as we’ve tried to do, personally and editorially, over the years, from opposition to the war in Vietnam to legal support for victims of reactionary laws governing the private sexual behavior of consenting adults. That’s the only way in which a free and democratic society can survive.
PLAYBOY: You said earlier that Playboy will be even more influential in the next 20 years than it has been in the past 20. But what about your own plans? Are you going to be running the magazine and the company until the 40th anniversary?
HEFNER: Somewhat longer than that, I hope. Voluntary retirement is difficult for me to imagine. Playboy magazine is still the heart of all I do, and I don’t want to let go of more than I have to. I mean, I love it almost like a person. If I didn’t care so much, it would be easy to step back and say, “OK, you’ve done it. Great. Now go do something else.” But I can’t. Working as hard as I do, I feel occasional frustration about the demands it makes on me, but that’s about the only thing that ever brings me down. At the end of a difficult day, I can still relax with my friends, doing what I want to do and feeling like a million dollars.
PLAYBOY: Or even 200,000,000.
HEFNER: Nobody feels that good.
PLAYBOY: In view of the fact that Playboy Enterprises is such an extension and expression of your own vision, do you think it will continue to be as successful after you’re no longer running it?
HEFNER: After I’m no longer running it? That’s a delicate way of putting it. You mean after I’m “gone”? What can I say? Obviously, there’s a long-term preparation going on to make the company independent of the energy and expertise of any one person. In any case, you have to recognize that my vision is shared with a lot of talented people who work for me, as well as with millions of people in our society, or else we wouldn’t be so successful. There’s no reason to assume that Playboy is going to pass from the scene when I do — unless, of course, I decide to take it with me.
PLAYBOY: Time once called your concern about your place in history as monumental as Lyndon Johnson’s. How do you think you’ll be remembered?
HEFNER: I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that. You should ask somebody more objective — like my mother.
PLAYBOY: Come on.
HEFNER: Well, I think I’ve been a fairly important influence on contemporary sexual attitudes. Beyond that, not very important.
PLAYBOY: That sounds overly modest.
HEFNER: True. Actually, I think I’ll rank second only to Jesus Christ. I just can’t seem to find that middle ground.
PLAYBOY: Try once more.
HEFNER: Well, if we hadn’t had the Wright brothers, there would still be airplanes. If there hadn’t been an Edison, there would still be electric lights. And if there hadn’t been a Hefner, we’d still have sex. But maybe we wouldn’t be enjoying it as much. So the world would be a little poorer. Come to think of it, so would some of my relatives. Let’s go play a little backgammon.