Effusive Hugh Hefner tributes ignore Playboy founder’s dark side
The man who created Playboy, who has died aged 91, has been remembered as an American icon but others recall a controlling, emotionally abusive manipulator
As celebrities shared their memories of Hugh Hefner, who died on Wednesday aged 91, some of the most fervent elegies came from the Playboy playmates who lived in his famous or infamous mansion.
Hef changed my life, said Kendra Wilkinson, a former girlfriend who lived with him in his later years. He made me the person I am today. I couldnt be more thankful for our friendship and our time together. I will miss him so much but he will be in my heart forever.
The Hefner in these remembrances a naughty, avuncular mentor was strikingly different from the man who exploded on to the publishing scene in 1953.
The mens magazine he founded was the first that sought to take nude photographs mainstream and the uproar from readers, censors, critics, and celebrants was deafening. At the center of the roar was Hefner himself. He fought free-speech battles in courts, defied segregation, drew accusations of exploitation, and lived a life of seemingly breezy bachelorhood as publicly as possible.
But the same forces Hefner helped unleash would come to make his commercial empire seem pass.
While the magazine continued to publish celebrated writers, it dwindled in cultural relevance as competitors, like Hustler, became racier, and, especially, as endless variants of porn available online. The financial toll claimed Playboys resorts, clubs, and record label, while the magazine scrambled for a compelling identity. In 2015, Playboy announced it would no longer publish nude pictures, only to reverse itself early this year.
By the time Hugh Hefner died on Wednesday, he and his critics belonged to a bygone age.
In his waning years, Hefner was thought of less as a revolutionary and more for the spectacle of his May-December relationships with a succession of Playboy playmates.
Those who deemed him a purveyor of smut had long since been sublimated by the sexual revolution Hefner helped release. And feminists, who were soldiers in the same sexual revolution as Hefner but who belittled him for placing men at its center, had moved on to bigger targets who made Hefner look tame by comparison.
There was a time when these clashes riveted the country and made Hefner feel as though he were under siege.
These chicks are our natural enemy, he wrote in 1970, ordering a hit piece in his magazine on feminists. What I want is a devastating piece that takes the militant feminists apart. They are unalterably opposed to the romantic boy-girl society that Playboy promotes.
His most famous bugbear was Gloria Steinem, who in 1963, as a freelance journalist, published a riveting account of her undercover stint as a Playboy bunny. The two-part series depicted Playboy clubs, where ordinary men paid to mingle with bunnies, as frat pads where women were wage-slaves for lewd and abusive customers.