34 CZAR OF THE BUNNY By BILL DAVIDSON Last November the students in a graduate course called Business Policy I trooped into a Harvard classroom for mid-term exams. They expected questions about such orthodox matters as the policies of U.S. Steel and General Motors. Instead, the entire examination was devoted to the operations of a thirty-fiveyear old entrepreneur named Hugh Marston Hefner, whose principal stock in trade is exhibiting the human female in various stages of undress. One of the students aptly titled his essay "The House That Flesh Built." Hefner is best known as the editor and publisher of Playboy magazine, but he has recently launched several other enterprises which depend on the basic philosophy he once set forth in a publishing directive to his staff: ALL THE NUDES THAT'S FIT TO PRINT. Playboy's chief contribution to American culture is built around photographs and cartoons of naked young ladies, usually with enormous bosoms. The jokes are of the bordello variety ("Hurry up, honey, I'm double-parked"), the essays are on such subjects as the history of bathing (with photos of buxom nudes stepping out of archaic bathtubs). All this would lead you to believe that young Mr. Hefner is obsessed with sex; he is—but in a nonsexual sort of way. He is almost totally cash-register oriented, much like the late Cecil B. De Mille, to whom a sex orgy in a religious movie was a box-office commodity. In every issue of Playboy, for example, there is a so-called PLAYMATE OF THE MONTH feature. This is a large foldout color photograph of an unclad young lady, usually with a prodigious superstructure, contorted into some attitude of come-hitherness. The playmate is shown fully clad in subsidiary photographs, allegedly working in a bank, a business office or the like, to perpetuate a Hefner-inspired myth that these are all "just wholesome girls-next-door." Actually, most of them are professional models or aspiring show girls, whose agents have sent Hefner reams of undraped photos of their clients. (Actresses Jayne Mansfield and Stella Stevens, for example, began their careers by displaying their charms as Playmates.) In Hefner's office, I saw him leafing through dozens of these portfolios. He kept grunting and commenting, "Too flat," or "Too big in the rear." The scene had all the warmth of a restaurant proprietor selecting sides of beef for his establishment. By his own admission, Hefner was surrounded by a "wall of restrictions" until he was twenty-six years old, and when he busted loose with Playboy he did so with a vengeance. There remains, however, an air of contrivance about the whole thing—as when a baseball-club owner works out with his team. With Hefner, this transformation has involved the building of a Casanova legend about himself. When he founded Playboy he adopted as its trademark a lecherous, worldly-wise male rabbit in impeccable evening clothes, surrounded by a host of admiring female bunnies. This is the picture of himself that Hefner— with the help of publicity agents— has projected. He, too, is constantly surrounded by "bunnies"—his name for the scantily clad maidens who serve as waitresses, hostesses and hatcheck girls in his Playboy Clubs, a chain of nightclubs stemming from his Playboy magazine concept. His coat of arms, which decorates all the enterprises in his far-flung Bunny Empire, has become a silver rabbit's head rampant on a field of black. This image of Hefner as the urbane czar of the Bunny Empire has prompted movie star Tony Curtis to schedule production this summer of a film based on the life of Hugh Hefner. Tentatively titled Playboy, the film will star Tony Curtis as Hefner, and will be distributed by Columbia Pictures. The czar of the Bunny Empire would hardly attract a glance from a Hollywood casting director if he applied for the role himself. Hefner is a tall, thin, intense young man who looks more like a smalltown grocery clerk than the epitome of sophisticated prurience, which he is supposed to be. His press agents insist that he must appear in public at all times with one or two magnificent-looking, busty young females on his arm, and he dutifully complies; but I observed that, more often than not, his bunny-of-the-evening was left to sit forlornly by herself while Hefner discussed business with other males. When I questioned one such abandoned bunny about this, she said, "Well, that's show business." Show business it is, and Hefner is onstage almost constantly, acting out his role. On-stage there is Hefner the urbane gourmet, whipping up exotic casserole dishes and cocktails for some beauteous creature in his $400,000 pad. Off-stage, more often than not, he sits alone in his office munching his favorite dish, plain fried chicken and mashed potatoes and sipping his favorite drink, a country-boy mixture of bourbon and cola. On-stage there is Hefner, the connoisseur of classical music and cool jazz, played to electronic perfection on his multithousand-dollar, stereophonic, twenty-speaker-mounted-in-acousticallyperfect globes-in-the-ceiling hi-fi equipment. Off-stage, according to his associates, he knows nothing about classical music and little about cool jazz, and would rather listen to the 1949 records of Frankie Laine, whom he once imitated when he sang with a band in college. On-stage there is a faultlessly attired Hefner, dressed in the expensive tailormade clothing which he recommends for all playboys; off-stage is a somewhat sloppy Hefner in carelessly fitted readymades and beat-up moccasins, flitting about his office with his large Adam's apple protruding from his unbuttoned collar. On-stage Hefner is charming, considerate and willing to discuss such subjects as nudity and puritanism on a high intellectual level. Off-stage he is argumentative and querulous, and is incessantly scolding his staff with lengthy memoranda. In effect, there are two Hefners—the debonair leading player in the Playboy pageant, and the businessman who has stumbled on a product people want to buy. Which is the real Hefner? A friend says, "The businessman, of course. He has discovered a sophomoric weakness in our society, and he is exploiting it. The weakness is a desire on the part of the American male to participate in a juvenile, look-but-don't-touch sort of wickedness. It's not La Doke Vita that Hef is selling, as some people say. It's cut-rate, mail-order sophistication which American sophomores, many of them middle-aged, think they can buy for a six-dollar subscription to Playboy or a fifty-dollar gold key which will admit them to the Playboy Clubs." Hefner tends to dispute this analysis, and would have you believe that his formula somehow is in the forefront of the fight against Communism—of all things— and for the American way of life. "What we're selling," he told me, "is good, healthy, upbeat revolt against the things that have been ruining America. Our philosophy is that you should work hard and play hard, and strive to get into the sophisticated upper crust. The nudity is the revolt against the puritanism that overtook us in those grim days after the 1920's and stifled creative expression. The emphasis on hi-fi, sports cars, good food and drink, good entertainment, good literature and music is to stimulate our young men to educate themselves so they can make enough money to enjoy these benefits. In this way we can help overcome the educational gap between ourselves and the Russians. Our mission is to make this the Upbeat Generation instead of the Beat Generation, and thus perform a service for America." It took a long time for this missionary zeal to inflame Hefner to the point where he published his first nude Playmate, and thus begin his campaign of salvation for the United States. In fact, the flame burned weakly until his twenty-sixth year. His original ambition was to be a cartoonist, and in his office he keeps a sixty-nine volume scrapbook detailing the story of his life, the first several volumes of the story being told in cartoons drawn when he was a teen-ager. The cartoons, strangely, are not about Hugh Hefner, but about a youth named Goo Heffer who attends an institution of learning called Stinkmuch High. There are no girls in these early cartoons. In later volumes the cartoons give way to photographs with long captions written by Hefner himself—and there are plenty Hefner in his role of worldly-wise bon vivant. "Our philosophy," he says, "is that you should work hard and play hard and strive to get into the sophisticated upper crust." His own effective method: "To publish a magazine that would thumb its nose at all restrictions. . . ."
1962_04_28--034_SP Czar of Bunny World
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