|Gloria Steinem in her Playboy Bunny costume, 1963|
As a feminist, I can't say he was a hero of mine. I read Gloria Steinem's undercover description of what it was like to be a Playboy Bunny, and it wasn't pretty. On the other hand, he supported a woman's right to choose.
Hefner stood up for the First Amendment in more ways than the obvious one: publishing an interview with Malcom X lead to his first obscenity trial. He also helped get NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) off the ground with a donation and editorial support, and later held fundraisers for the Marijuana Policy Project at the Playboy mansion (hostessed in 2009 by Adrienne Curry and Fairuza Balk).
It was also in Playboy where former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders commented about then-Health and Human Secretary Donna Shalala's indefensible stance against medical marijuana, saying, "She has a Ph.D. in political science. That's the kind of science she practices." Bill Gates outed himself as an LSD user in Playboy, and Rush Limbaugh told the magazine in 1993 he smoked pot only twice in his life and it made him nauseous. (Others dispute the claim.)
I recently viewed the Amazon biopic series on Hefner, produced by Playboy Enterprises. It surprised me by revealing that his first girlfriend cheated on him with another man, devastating him and causing him to question monogamy. (So he acted as Shahryar did?) Episode 6 addresses Playboy's commitment to civil liberties, heightened by the hiring of editor Arthur Kretchmer, who's interviewed recalling, "Some of us were smoking dope." (Meanwhile, Hef was downing prescription Dexedrine to keep up with his grueling schedule.)
Bobbie Arnstein, who committed suicide after receiving a 15-year prison sentence. Hefner was in genuine tears when he read a statement condemning the US Government for hounding Bobbie to death. But it's also thought that she was troubled over an inferiority complex heightened by constant comparison with the Bunny Brigade.
Of course Hefner owed his success to the women who willingly graced the pages of Playboy over the years. The Marilyn Monroe estate's Twitter feed reminded us that she helped launch Playboy, by appearing on its first cover. Inside was that classic, exuberant nude of her, taken years earlier and purchased by Hef from a calendar publisher for $800.
The early centerfolds were quite beautiful, I thought, but I can't look at them today: each one has the same, unnatural body (no hips and oversized boobs; worse, little or no pubic hair). The biopic also reveals how competition from other girlie magazines forced Playboy into rancher realms.