Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner passed to the other side at the ripe old age of 91at his home in Holmsby, California yesterday.
As I scrolled my social media timeline, there was a noticeable, palpable atmosphere of utter apathy, and even disdain, for the man who published his first issue of the men’s magazine back in 1953. However, underneath that ether of apathy, there was yet another element present when speaking of the late Hefner, ignorance.
So, it is up to those who are aware of the many times he risked everything to help empower those who the system would readily do away with to bring his accomplishments to life.
In this age of protest and unrest, it struck me as odd that many believed Hefner to simply be an amoral pornographer, an inaccurate moniker if there ever was one. Additionally, some brothers were lambasting his legacy as if he was some delusional polygamist in soiled overalls in a desert shack somewhere.
Quite simply, if it weren’t for efforts made by Hugh Hefner on behalf of the black man, woman and child in America, the country would be far worse off than it is.
I understand the weight of that statement considering the tumult that permeates the news cycle on a daily basis. Hef was instrumental in several movements for social justice, as well as pivotal moments of philanthropy as well.
He published the first issue Playboy in December 1953, featuring republished photos of Marilyn Monroe from a calendar shoot she did four years earlier. That first issue sold over 50,000 copies. From there it was clear that Hefner’s business model was on point. However, perhaps realizing that he couldn’t just stuff his magazine with nude photos and no editorial content, Hef sought out some of the best writers, and most controversial subject matters, he could find.
The science fiction short story “The Crooked Man”, written by Charles Beaumont, was one of his earliest controversies. The story was about straight men being persecuted in a world where homosexuality is the norm.
In response to the deluge of angry letters, Hefner responded: “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society then the reverse was wrong, too.”
So, basically, Hefner supported gay rights via science fiction in 1955. That was only one of many great science fiction pieces published in Playboy, which also included the controversial Fahrenheit 451 by Bobb Bar. As a heterosexual male, he was light years ahead society in that regard. He was also instrumental in launching the careers of Dick Gregory and single-handedly pulling jazz music into the mainstream.
His love of black music, and support of black artists, was well known. James Brown once performed “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” for Hefner on his long-defunct Playboy’s Penthouse. And Playboy After Dark television featured black music greats as well. Hefner was televising black people in the ’50s and ’60s. Meanwhile, we were begging for inclusion on some networks just as recently as five years ago.
His jazz and soul guests of honor are a pantheon of acoustic negritude of the highest order; Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr, Ike & Tina Turner, and Nate King Cole are just a few of the many that walked across the stage.
Spurned by a broken heart, the result of an admission of adultery from his first wife, Hefner birthed the mythical image of the devil-may-care bachelor; with all night parties, scantily clad women and binge drinking. Though this is how many will recall him, but he was much more than that.
A staunch proponent of free speech, Hefner would face great resistance from conservative, religious and feminist sectors of American society, many of whom felt he was nothing more than a pimp and a peddler of filth. But those labels didn’t hinder Hefner from doing his best to make the world a better place.
In the late ’60s, as the Vietnam War waged on, he is said to have loaned his private jet to Elvis Presley to fly Vietnamese orphans to the United States. The late, great Dick Gregory once revealed that Hefner gave him $25,000 to post as a reward for information about the murder of three civil rights workers in Meridian, Mississippi.
Additionally, he supported Martin Luther King Jr in word, and financially as well. Hefner also provided funding for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and is credited with helping fund the first rape kit via his Hugh Hefner Foundation.
He also provided a much-needed mainstream outlet for black writers whose voices would have been segregated or silenced by other publications. Roots author Alex Haley conducted his first interview with Miles Davis, another favorite of Hef’s. The words of Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis Jr, Malcolm X and Dr. King found a home within the pages of Playboy as well.
Once upon a time, independently-owned Playboy-branded nightclubs could be found in many major cities across the country. He made headlines for his dedication to diversity by forcibly buying back clubs in Miami and New Orleans that discriminated against African-Americans at a great loss.
Source: The Shadow League