History of Playboy Magazine Part 1

About the history of Playboy magazine, how it was founded by Hugh Hefner and controversy around it.

PROBING THE PERIODICALS

PLAYBOY

History: Hugh Marston Hefner (born Apr. 9, 1926) once recounted that his life as a shy introvert altered totally after he read Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male while attending the University of Illinois in Urbana. Hefner, who had had a strict Methodist upbringing, suddenly saw puritanism as a farce and recognized the hypocrisy of American sexual repression. Several years later, this revelation would result in his founding America's greatest magazine-publishing success--Playboy.

In 1949 Hefner graduated from college. After completing one semester of postgraduate work in psychology at Northwestern University, he held a number of minor posts in publishing companies, including a job at Esquire. Within four years he was ready to launch a new genre of men's magazine. Previously, most of these magazines had been outdoors, macho-oriented publications that featured he-man fiction. Hefner decided to strike out in an entirely different direction, accenting the cosmopolitan and intellectual male (as Esquire did), while associating sex, not with a woman standing on a street corner, but with a girl-next-door type. His declared purpose was to break through the stifling sexual attitudes of the 1950s with an unabashed celebration of healthy heterosexuality.

While still on the staff of Children's Activities magazine, Hefner, working at the kitchen table in an apartment shared with his wife and infant daughter, put together the first issue of Playboy. Although he relied heavily on reprinted material, he also wrote some original articles and fillers. Having raised $10,000 by selling stock to his friends, Hefner bought a series of nudes of Marilyn Monroe for $500 from a Chicago calendar company. With Marilyn on the cover and also featured as the "Sweetheart of the Month"--without her permission--Playboy made its debut in December of 1953. Through the years other actresses, including Kim Novak, Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot, and Bo Derek, would follow Marilyn on Playboy's pages. The first issue sold 53,991 copies at 50c each (collectors now pay as much as $400 for one) and immediately established the magazine and promised financial success.

Those first years saw Hefner working with Ray Russell as editor and Art Paul (who designed the rabbit logo for Playboy's first issue) as art director. Circulation grew, but Hefner continued to rely on article and photograph reprints. When Auguste Spectorsky, a best-selling author, came aboard as editorial director, the magazine began buying original stories and producing its own nude photographs. It also became more sophisticated, and circulation hit the 800,000 mark by the end of 1956, thus surpassing that of the formerly most widely read men's magazine, Esquire.

Hefner, while realizing that written content was essential, knew that the photographs of naked women were selling his magazine. During the first few years. Playboy's nudes "had a rather self-conscious fallen look . . . . like the girls in other girlie magazines," Hefner admitted. But in 1955 he set a new style by choosing a rather average-looking "girl next door" as a model. "Janet Pilgrim," as she was called, looked "ordinary in a wholesome sort of way." In fact, picture policy during the 1950s was rather tame by today's standards; even photos of bare nipples were usually excluded. Yet problems arose. The post office had to be battled, and occasionally there were charges of obscenity. In 1963 Hefner fought the courts over the printing of a picture showing Jayne Mansfield lying in bed revealing a naked breast. (The case ended in victory for Hefner because the jury was deadlocked, and after a mistrial was declared, the prosecution did not pursue it.)

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