Playboy’s Hugh Hefner had long Chicago history – Marketing/media News

on Sep29

28 September 2017 | 5:00 pm

Hugh M. Hefner, the native Chicagoan and founder of Playboy Enterprises, who died yesterday at 91, was asked two decades ago to cite his proudest accomplishment.

“Hard to think of anything that’s any more important than to change the social sexual values of our time,” he replied in an interview with Advertising Age. “And that is what I take great pride in. . . .People can live together openly now. That was impossible in the ’50s.”

Not only the sexual revolution, Hefner prodded midcentury America to embrace the civil rights movement, jazz, abortion rights and ultimately gay equality—and oppose the Vietnam War.

Hef was the sort of man who read Ad Age, and the Crain’s sister publication even played a cameo—but potentially pivotal role—in the successful launch of Playboy in late 1953.

As Marilyn Monroe’s film career ignited, Hefner noticed an Ad Age story about a suburban Chicago calendar manufacturer owning five-year-old nude photos of the suddenly famous actress.

Making a cold call in his 1941 Chevy, Hefner acquired rights for $500—nearly depleting the $600 startup loan secured by the furniture in his Hyde Park apartment, according to Gay Talese’s 1980 history of the sexual revolution, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.”

INAUGURAL ISSUE

Playboy was launched from Hefner’s kitchen table and moved into offices at 11 E. Superior St.—across from Holy Name Cathedral. The first issue was undated because Hefner didn’t know if it would be followed. But on the strength of Monroe’s appearance, first-issue orders jumped to 70,000 from Hefner’s 30,000 target.

Hefner’s parents, native Nebraskans, were lifelong monogamists, according to Talese. His father, Glenn, was an accountant and helped audit the books, while claiming never to have looked at a nude photo in Playboy. The only magazines he read, he said, were Fortune and BusinessWeek.

​ Hefner had been voted the third most likely to succeed in his Steinmetz High School class of 1944. He did broadcasts for the Chicago Board of Education and drew cartoons for the school paper, a practice he continued for the Daily Illini at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

SENSE OF THE MARKET

In the late 1960s, sensing market shifts not long before Playboy’s circulation peaked at 7 million, the company began investing in film and TV production. It made “Macbeth,” directed by Roman Polanski, and then “And Now for Something Different.”

In 1975, Hefner told Rance Crain, then editor-in-chief of Ad Age, “I don’t know whether you have been reading about the Monty Python group in the last few months, but they are about to become the hottest comedy phenomenon in America.” The films, however, lost money.

An usher in his youth at the Rockne Theatre on Division Street near Austin, Hefner said had it not been for Playboy, he would have gone into pictures.

​ “I am essentially an editorial guy,” he told Crain. “One of the reasons for getting involved in TV and film production is that I feel the various forms of communication, whether the printed page or electronic or visual, are getting closer and closer together. . . .Whether that means electronic magazines in the future, I don’t know—but whatever it means, we’ll be prepared in terms of having some savvy and know-how.”

ON THE WANE

But Playboy’s halcyon days were waning. Circulation had dropped below 6 million, on its way to 3.2 million by the late 1990s. The company’s stock fell 90 percent, to $2.25, between 1971 and 1975. Playboy hotels had lost $10 million during the period, and its clubs and movie and record divisions were also unprofitable.

​ Hefner mentioned to Crain test runs for new publications, such as sports and crime magazines and a women’s market counterpart to Playboy. They never panned out.

In 2000, an honorary street sign for Hefner was approved by the City Council after women’s organizations objected to spotlighting “the world’s biggest pornographer.” Hefner, then 74, attended the installation with his 22-year-old girlfriends, twins Mandy and Sandy, at Michigan and Walton, site of the former Playboy Building.

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