Hugh Hefner On Writing, Voice and Magazine Success

BY TYLER MOSS

In the August 1964 Writer’s Digest, former WD Editor Kirk Polking profiled Playboy and its 38-year-old founder, Hugh Hefner, who had celebrated the first decade of his ground-breaking publication the year before. On Sept. 27, 2017, the pioneering publisher passed away at 91 years old. In his memory, here are some of the best quote’s from Polking’s piece:

On the Playboy Bunny

Searching for a way to personalize his magazine idea, Hefner hunted around for some kind of symbol: “I started thinking in terms of an animal. The rabbit had a kind of sex connotation and putting him in a tuxedo at the same time, gave him a touch of sophistication. I thought it would be a humorous and a charming symbol. Shakespeare suggested, ‘What’s in a name?’ I suspect there’s a good deal in it. We came very close to calling the magazine Stag Party—the notion being that we could change the concept of Stag Party and it would be on the emphasis of entertainment for men. We almost went to press with that title on it and the rabbit at that point was going to be a stag. … Changing the title at the very last minute, almost at the moment we were on press, sounds as if it were a kind of haphazard operation to begin with, and in simple truth, it was. There are many things about Playboy, particularly in those beginning years, that should break every rule in the game, and we have no business sitting here talking today.”

On Finding New Voices

“We are concerned,” says Hefner, “by the tendency among some magazines today to place less emphasis on the non-established, non-agency-represented newcomer. As far as I’m concerned, this is the future of writing. The short story form has been hurt badly enough, both by some strange things that have happened inside of it in the last 30 years, and by the good talent being drawn off into advertising and television, that I think it’s beholden upon us and others in the field to do everything possible to motivate new people to sit down and write.”

On the Playboy Ethos

“Everybody else was telling me what we were standing for and I felt I’d rather be damned for the things I really believe, than for somebody else’s notion of what Playboy represents. … It isn’t a matter of being pure pleasure-bent or Hedonists by any means. It is a matter really of objecting rather strenuously to the Puritan aspects in our American heritage in which you have a tendency to feel guilty about pleasure, quite literally—not only sex, but also even the accumulation of wealth. We are a beautiful guilt-ridden society in which we think the material benefits are great, but there’s something wrong with the fact that we think so. I think that’s nonsense. I don’t suggest living for today is the only answer. I suggest that the wise man lives for today and tomorrow. A phrase I have used often in the past is that a person should work hard and play hard too. Life is more than simply a vale of tears and is to be enjoyed. You get one time around and if you don’t make the most of it you have no one to blame but yourself.”

On Magazine Success and Staying Relevant

Hefner things it is possible for the casual reader who may have been drawn into the book originally by the girls and jokes to “graduate” into the fiction and articles and get hooked on those and stay with him. “People usually talk about the girls,” he says, “but obviously we didn’t invent girls. We may have bent them in the middle and put staples in their navels, but they’ve been here a long time. The real reason for Playboy’s success is that there has been a tremendous shift in attitude between this and the last generation—it seems to me—a tremendous difference—and a great gulf in point of view exists between those two generations that are only 23 years apart. … We were the first magazine to give a voice to this new attitude and it is that, I think that makes the magazine successful. … Magazines are very much like people in many ways. It’s possible to get hardening of the arteries, to get old and die. Playboy, in its essence, is a very contemporary book. If the staff that I have and if I, myself, do not remain contemporary and of the times in our point of view, then obviously we will be replaced in the future by someone who is.”


Tyler Moss is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest. Follow him on Twitter @tjmoss11.

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