So Long, Hugh Hefner
photo: August 9, 2000

“Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dreams.” – Hugh Hefner

FLASHBACK… and that time I shared the “Living” section of the LA Times with Hugh Hefner and President Bill Clinton.

No need to regale you with what Mr. Hefner did. Less is said about what he faced from the U.S. government. After all, in the 1950s, America was pure, pure, puritanical about sex when Hefner decided to shake gender roles to their foundations.

Scholars had a different view. An excerpt from Playboy and the Making of The Good Life in Modern America, by Elizabeth Fraterrigo

Playboy’s reach made it an authoritative arbiter of beauty and sex appeal–“hotness” in contemporary parlance–and it has playeed a tremendous role in driving the culture to embrace narrow standards of physical attractiveness and sexual expression. … The comodification of sex is not new, of course. … Women’s endorsement of mass-mediated images of sexual attractiveness is nothing new, either. What is new… is the widespread diffusion of a once-marginal form of sexual representation–the “porn aesthetic”–and its elevation as a standard by which women are measured, along with many young women’s sense that by embracing such things as pornography, strip clubs, and Girls Gone Wild videos, they can experience the same agency and power as men.

I grew up watching Gloria Steinem, who went undercover as a Playboy Bunny. But I always felt women had a choice to be a Bunny or not and they shouldn’t be castigated for it. Felt the same way when I was confronted by a N.O.W. protester at the Miss America Pageant.

Choice goes both ways even for feminists. As usual, I find myself being a #badfeminist.

Hugh Hefner forever changed American culture.

This fact infuriates a lot of people.

If Mr. Hefner hadn’t come along, America would have created someone else to do exactly what he did.

What is less known is his civil rights work. According to reports, Hefner gave Dick Gregory $25,000 to help pressure the FBI to look for three civil rights workers.

… The comedian wasn’t able to get the full $100,000 but he was able to get $25,000 thanks to a phone call to Hugh Hefner. “Hefner understood what those rednecks didn’t: that things had changed,” he told British GQ in 2011. That you could no longer argue that you’d ‘killed three Jews’. Or ‘killed three blacks’. What you’d done was, you’d killed three fellow human beings.”

Gregory drove to Meridian and announced a $25,000 reward for any information on the location of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. The next day, the FBI put out their own $30,000 reward. However it was Gregory who would receive a tip. “I received a letter quite some time ago that practically pinpointed the spot where the bodies were found,” he continued to tell Mississippi Eyewitness shortly after the bodies were found. “I gave this letter to the FBI and the FBI denied that the letter was any good. But they never denied the location stated in the letter.”

There is the Playboy Jazz Festival, which starred black musicians like Miles Davis during the Jim Crow era; a time when Hefner also integrated Playboy Enterprises.

A colorful article in The Sun reveals something else. One bunny’s experience

“Voluptuous breasts weren’t important, but all bunnies had to have a great smile and nice legs were given preference.”

It was Larry Flynt and Bob Guccione who would take what Hefner started–focusing on “the girl next door”–and turn it inside out to bring us the pornification of American culture.

Enter the web, which finished Playboy as Hefner had envisioned it.

The normalization of nudes has morphed into something else since the web was born. One of the most insidious things that developed was women changing their bodies to look like what men see on videos and online. It’s a subject I tackled in my memoir.

We’ll see what his son does with Playboy.

The era of Hugh Hefner is over.

It ended long before he died.