I have conflicting emotions about the passing of Hugh Hefner. The founder of Playboy Enterprises, publisher, pornographer, man about town, and hero to millions has gone to that great grotto in the sky. For as long as I can remember, Mister Hefner, Hef to his friends, promoted a lifestyle highlighted primarily by his insistence on wearing pajamas to work. Comfort being the prime motivator in the kingdom he created, Hugh Hefner lived a life of glorious excess right up until his subscription expired at the age of ninety-one.
He began publishing his "men's magazine" in 1953 at the age of twenty-seven. Playboy reflected the fantasy world of a twenty-seven year old man: “We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” That quiet discussion lasted for three generations, with so many lives impacted by the words and pictures found inside those slick covers. Kids of those generations had their puberties rocked by that soft focus planet of impossible lifestyle adorned with impossible women.
And everyone I ever knew who had more than one issue that wasn't hidden under a mattress would tell me that they weren't looking at the pictures. They read Playboy for the articles. Last year, when the magazine decided to take those folks at their word and publish a magazine free of nude women, the experiment lasted less than a year. Apparently a quiet discussion of Picasso, Nietzsche, and jazz without the sex didn't sell.
Still, up on some hill in Los Angeles, the Playboy Mansion kept its ethereal glow. A man who made a point of being photographed with the subjects of his pictorials spun a web of mystery and intrigue. How could this lifestyle be maintained fifty years down the line? What sort of magical world was generated by a diet of "party jokes" and Pepsi? What sort of time vortex allowed that version of the American Dream to exist for so very long.
I suppose you could acknowledge Hugh Hefner's strength of vision. Giving the people what they wanted? Maybe, but he hung around long enough to be eulogized as an entertainment mogul, head of the Playboy Empire. An empire built on a discussion of Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz and sex. But mostly the sex. Hugh Hefner stomped on the Terra, in silk pajamas and a smoking jacket, but stomp he did.