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The Life of Hugh Hefner: American Businessman, Entrepreneur, & Legend

Left: Hugh Hefner Right: 2017 Graduates Ethan Linhart dressed as Hefner and girlfriend Sara Reineke pose in the courtyard

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Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017)

Developing an Industry

It is one thing to revolutionize an industry, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in technology, or Walt Anderson, who revolutionized the food industry in 1921 when he opened the first White Castle. It’s another thing to create an industry. In 1953, Hugh Hefner was a simple copy-writer for Esquire Magazine, but after he was denied a $5 raise, he packed his things and headed out to the Big Apple with dreams of starting his own publication. Having founded a school newspaper in high school, he was familiar with the challenges of starting from scratch. He knew that for his magazine to be successful, the first issue would have to be progressive and scandalous. He set his sights on a photo of Marilyn Monroe, which was printed in color front and center on the cover. It was an immediate success, and his first issue sold more than 50,000 copies.

Making a Name

The Playboy logo, a rabbit wearing a bowtie, is an iconic trademark of Hefner’s brand. It also helped him distinguish his brand from others. Catering to the sophisticated, educated man, Playboy targeted men with fundamental beliefs similar to his, and advocated the truth of human sexuality. Regardless of the statements made by his magazine, it was ultimately the photographs that sold millions of copies per month.

The Objectification Controversy

Playboy has been the target of critics since its first publication. Many have issues with its objectification of women and in some cases directly target Hefner because of it. In 2016, Playboy took a new direction and implemented a non-nude policy. Regardless of his beliefs, Hefner saw the opportunity and created a multi-million dollar industry, which (especially after his death), makes him respectable as an entrepreneur.

His Role in the Civil Rights Movement

Many remember Hefner as a civil rights advocate. He promoted black artists, writers and athletes, tackled issues like segregation and advocated for the LBGT community. He said, “I would like to be remembered as somebody who has changed the world in some positive way, in a social, sexual sense, and I’d be very happy with that,” His civil rights advocacy was explored in a 2009 documentary, “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel.” Playboy magazine regularly had lengthy interviews with high-profile African-Americans like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.  Playboy included the articles of the struggle of African-Americans and made a stand against the Jim Crow north and south by allowing African Americans, such as Dick Gregory (who also died this year) to perform in their clubs.

The Women in his Life

Hefner was married three times throughout his life, having four children with two of his wives. He married Millie Williams in 1949 and they had two children, Christie and David. He married his second wife, Kimberley Conrad, in 1989. They too had two children, Marston and Cooper. Although they separated in 1998, it wasn’t until 2009 that they finally divorced. In December of 2009, Hefner met his final wife, Crystal Harris, while she was covering the December issue. They married in 2012 and remained married until he died. Hefner considered these women very important to him and believes they had a positive impact on the course of his life.

Laid to Rest

Hefner was laid to rest in the Corridor of Memories Mausoleum on Saturday, September 30. His crypt is to the immediate left of Marilyn Monroe’s. He bought the crypt in 1992 for $75,000, saying that “spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.” Hefner has always felt a connection to Monroe, as they were born the same year and it was her photograph on his first issue that made him the man he was.

 

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