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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

King Leer: the architect behind Playboy magazine

Oct 29, 2019 10:39AM ● By Randal C. Hill

He has been described as vulgar, adolescent and exploitative. But, like him or not, Hugh Hefner and his "Playboy" magazine were responsible for many a tectonic social shift in 1950s America.

Hefner was born in 1926, the older of two sons of straight-laced Methodists. As a boy, he wrote horror stories and drew cartoons but applied little of his 152 IQ to academic pursuits. After spending two years in the Army, Hefner earned a psychology degree at the University of Illinois, where he created a campus humor magazine called "Shaft."

Chaste until age 22, he married high-school classmate Millie Williams and began what he later labeled “a deadening slog into 1950s adulthood.” He went to work for "Esquire" and "Children’s Activities." In the meantime, he was busy planning his own magazine, a man’s “lifestyle” periodical to be called "Stag Party."

However, a Stag publication already existed, so after considering "Top Hat," "Gentleman" and "Bachelor," Hefner switched the name to Playboy. To get started, he borrowed $8,000 (about $60,000 in today’s money). Hefner also paid $500 for an unpublished 1949 nude calendar photo of Marilyn Monroe.

He assembled the first Playboy on his kitchen table. The debut issue—featuring a clothed Monroe on the cover (and unclothed inside)—hit newsstands in December 1953 with a run of 53,000 copies. Unsure that there would ever be a second edition, Hefner had purposely left off a publication date on the cover. All copies—offered at 50 cents each—sold out quickly.. By 1957, Hefner was raking in $4 million annually.

Playboy became the ultimate guidebook for the unattached young male urban sophisticate. The magazine featured literate articles, in-depth interviews with people of importance, and a centerfold of a busty, unclothed young woman.

Hefner took unabashed delight in viewing his periodical as an emblem of the rapidly growing sexual revolution and an escape from long-standing American puritanism and social intolerance. Along the way, the now-divorced Hefner built a global empire that came to be worth $200 million.

Hefner never lost interest in beautiful young women. In 1989, he surrendered his bachelorhood once more and married Kimberley Conrad, the 1989 Playmate of the Year who was 38 years his junior. The couple divorced in 2010. On New Year’s Eve 2012, Hefner, age 86, married again to 26-year-old beauty Crystal Harris.

Hefner paid $75,000 for a mausoleum drawer adjacent to Marilyn Monroe’s in Los Angeles’ Westwood Memorial Park. In 2009, he told the LA Times, “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is an opportunity too sweet to pass up.”

The drawer was put to its intended use after Hefner died on September 27, 2017. He was 91.