Most of us know Hugh Hefner as the man behind Playboy magazine; a lover of blonds, bunnies and bacchanalia. But Brigitte Berman’s new documentary, “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,” shows another side of the world’s luckiest man, shedding light on his career as a puritan slayer, racist slayer and ladykiller.
In the age of internet porn and ground-shaking changes in the publishing industry, Hefner at 84 finds himself fighting to privatize Playboy Enterprises. Here, he talks about his childhood, getting Marilyn Monroe for the cover of the magazine’s first issue, feminist detractors, monogamy and looking for love.
In the movie Rev. Malcolm Boyd says that love is your Rosebud.
I think that no question that is true. The quest for love is indeed my Rosebud. It was not there in the home, much of the early life, I’ve been trying to fill the gap. I think that’s true of most people. Most people’s lives are decided in the early years of their childhood.
And your home life at the time was the conventional American family?
I think so except that, you know, they were typical midwestern Methodist folks with a lot of repression. There was not a lot of hugging and kissing. And I escaped early on, as did my younger brother, into these fantasies fueled, by and large, from the movies.
Can you talk about getting the photos of Marilyn Monroe for the cover of– the first issue?
I only talked to her once but not related to Playboy. I talked to her finally, before her death, about posing and she had just done a movie, "Something's Got to Give," that was never completed that included a nude swimming scene.
She gave us permission to use still photographs that I had seen and I was talking to her about the possibility of doing the cover. It starred Dean Martin and she had problems with the studio. It was remade, I think, later on with Doris Day.
So what exactly is the Playboy philosophy?
I spent about three years writing it. By and large, simply stated, it is a response to puritan repression, a suggestion that life should be a celebration and one should pursue one’s own dreams.
And of course a lot of the philosophy also had to do with rejecting the notion of sexual repression. I would make a strong case for the sexual revolution, but indeed when I was writing the philosophy in 1962, '63 and '64 and in '66 it became a reality.
Do you live by that philosophy?
You are criticized by feminists for turning the female body into a commodity?
I think it’s misguided. I think it’s a reflection of a puritan element that exists in most things that are American. I think that there was a puritan element within the women’s movement.
When women got the vote, the suffragist movement walked hand in hand with the prohibitionist movement in the early change in the 20th century. That puritan element is a part of the women’s movement and not a surprise. Plus, it is a part of the fabric of America. Even I’m descended from puritans — William Bradford was the Massachusetts Bay Colony governor. I’m a 10th-generation descendent of William Bradford.
Do you believe in monogamy?
Well, it’s obviously man made, so whether you’d call it natural or not, I don’t know. I think it works very well for raising children. I think one of the problems, of course, is we live a good deal longer than we used to now. So one requires a little something more out of a couple living 70, 80, 90 years.
Can you love all the women you’ve been partnered with?
I think there are varying degrees – you talking about girlfriends? I certainly cared for all of them but not to the same degree. There’ve been major relationships in my life, some that were not so important.
Do you think there’s a limit on our capacity to love?
I don’t know how to answer that question. It obviously depends on the individual, but there are obviously some limits to everything.
Let's talk about attempting to reinvigorate the Playboy brand by taking it private?
I would bring in partners that were in compatible businesses and had a great deal of money.
You’re offering 40 perdent over share price. Is this an astute business move, or is this more an endeavor of the heart.
It’s obviously a business move.
But you’re offering so much over share price. You’ve been quoted as saying, “If I sold it, my life would be over.”
I think the press has completely misinterpreted about what’s going on here. There is no thought about selling the company.
A similar attempt to take Cablevision private was ruled illegal self-dealing going private. Do you think you can pull this off?
This is not what we’ll be talking about. Let’s talk about the documentary if you want to talk about anything.
Have things gotten better, are we more liberal or more puritanical?
I think, without question, overall in the period that Playboy’s existed, or in my lifetime, there’s been a dramatic change towards more liberal attitudes and a better healthy attitude. In the more recent past there has been some backlash.
The major changes, the more positive changes, occurred in the latter '60s and throughout the '70s. Then there was a backlash to that in the 1980s, but I think we’re coming back a little bit out of that now.