The death on Sept. 26 of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine and often recognized as an icon of the sexual revolution, occasioned much commentary on the role of Mr. Hefner and his magazine in the changing mores of American culture since that magazine’s founding in 1953. What follows is a brief Current Comment in America from May 1, 1965, drawn from our archives. The editors stand behind this strong critique of Mr. Hefner’s magazine, and also continue “to smile very cynically” at those who supported Playboy while “orating about free enterprise and the virtues of the American Way of Life.”
Hugh Hefner, a Chicago man, keeps sending us copies of his magazine, Playboy. Apparently he wants us to comment on it. But since it seems that Mr. Hefner's chief purpose in publishing is to turn a dirty joke into a philosophy, we have never found anything that demanded comment by us.
For readers who may be curious, let us explain that Playboy regularly prints a page of smutty stories, some smutty cartoons and a bawdy story from the classics. There are also several pages in color of photographs of nude or nearly nude women, posed in a way that suggests that Mr. Hefner is suffering from an infantile breast fixation.
What makes Playboy distinctive, however, is "The Playboy Philosophy." This is a series that has now reached its 22nd installment. In it, Mr. Hefner appears as the herald of "The American Sexual Revolution." His message is that all of us, married and unmarried, can live happily in an amoral sexual paradise, if we will only shed our puritanical inhibitions.
...and the American Way
Yet Playboy has a monthly circulation approaching three million. Persons as distinguished as Jean-Paul Sartre and Mortimer Adler have contributed interviews and articles to it. Hollywood actresses who, if not distinguished, are at least well known, have appeared (c'est le mot juste) in its photographs.
And Big Business supports it handsomely. In the May issue, for example, we found full-page ads from Firestone tires, Van Heusen clothes, Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch beer, Tareyton, Pall Mall, Viceroy and Winston cigarettes, U.S. Rubber, Timex watches and several leading brands of whiskey. If this is what businessmen mean by a sense of responsibility to the community, we are going to smile very cynically the next time we hear one of them orating about free enterprise and the virtues of the American Way of Life.