Playboy…A Lifestyle


By Sam Garfield

Feb. 20, 1955

(Chicago) –Alfred Kinsey wrote the book on human sexuality, but it’s Hugh Hefner who enjoys the final word on the subject. And he can bank on it.

Kinsey’s research told us that men and women’s sexuality appear to be shaped by social and cultural forces. And one of those forces may be Hefner’s Playboy magazine. A little more than a year old, Playboy is a long way from hitting puberty, but the glossy men’s magazine Hefner started from his South Side apartment on a $600 loan, the one featuring the fresh-faced, bikini-clad, girls-next-door in living color, is making a big name for itself. And not just in barbershops or under the beds of teenage boys. Circulation is well over 100,000, and Hefner recently said no when a Chicago group wanted to buy the slick monthly for $1 million.

Hefner is a true believer in Kinsey’s data –that there’s a huge gap between public codes and private behavior when it comes to sex. In other words, people say one thing about sex publicly but practice another. And Playboy’s success appears to validate Kinsey’s findings…in an eye-appealing format. So, who is this young publisher and why is his magazine so popular?

Raised in a Methodist, Puritan family in Chicago, Hefner attended the University of Illinois and later took graduate courses in sociology and psychology at Northwestern. At Illinois, he edited the humor magazine Shaft and introduced a popular featured called “Co-Ed of the Month.” At Northwestern, Hefner raised some eyebrows by penning a research paper comparing the statistics in the Kinsey Report and U.S. sex laws. Hefner concluded that the current U.S. sex laws should be loosened.

This appears to be part of Hefner’s youthful dream and the engine that is creating the Playboy philosophy: Relax, enjoy the fun life has to offer. Hefner is no stranger to publishing. He’s worked at several magazines, including Esquire; he started his first magazine in 1936 when he was 10; a penny a copy. Hefner’s target audience is young men who desire a sophisticated, unencumbered lifestyle. His inaugural issue –December 1953, featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover– let everyone know right from the start that this was a new kind of men’s magazine. Hefner doesn’t want the True, Argosy, or Stag men; he’s going after the more debonair fellow (at least the ones who think they are) –the gentlemen who read New Yorker or Esquire (while they smoke their pipes, I’m sure). Just look at Playboy’s logo –a rabbit in a tuxedo. Quite sophisticated, don’t you think?  It’s a whole new ballgame, Hefner is saying; time to play the field.

Playboy is on to something; its first issue sold 52, 000 copies. (Hefner’s people say the magazine’s circulation will reach more than 600, 000 by the end of next year.) Hefner set the magazine’s tone in the very first Playboy: “We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” The issue even had stories on cooking and fashion. This was followed up in the months to come by dating tips, the perfect automobiles for single men, and primers on international travel. And lots more…all aimed at the posh lifestyle. This doesn’t quite fit the Argosy man, does it?

Hefner believes while the beauties on the cover will lure the reader in, it’s the quality of writing that will keep the readers coming back. Playboy, its publisher says, is more than a girlie magazine: Its articles on jazz, fine wine, and excellent fiction represent the new standard for men’s magazines.

They tell me Playboy’s “Miss February 1955” is the beauty Jayne Mansfield. I don’t subscribe to Playboy but my barber does. Come to think of it, I could use a trim.

 Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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