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Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American…

Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream

by Steven Watts

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A biography of Hugh Hefner is not complete without delving into the Playboy Mansion, the rotating round bed and the infamous grotto …I understand that. A biography of Hugh Hefner is not complete without looking at Mr. Hefner’s personal sexual philosophy … I get that too. This book offers just a little too much of all that. Titillating? Not so much … parts of this book could have been called The American “Wet” Dream.

Okay, with that rant out of the way, the rest of book was extremely interesting. His childhood and college years, his relationship with his first wife and all the experiences that eventually translated into Playboy Magazine were interesting. His “mission statement” for the magazine and his dedication to making it newsworthy, intellectual and always current was enlightening. There is no doubt that the introduction of Playboy changed the sexuality of the times. Mr. Watts did an admirable job in conveying all the information.

Overall it was a interesting book about an even more interesting man.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
It is easy to criticize Hugh Hefner for sometimes having poor judgment or questionable taste (though compared to his many imitators and competitors, he's a veritable paragon of these virtues). But in this book, equal parts business biography, intellectual history, and sensationalism/scandalmongering (but in the best sense of the terms, only in that he honestly tells about the more shocking aspects of his subject's life when they are relevant to the bigger picture), Steven Watts gives a fuller, more nuanced account of the man and his life, and his place in and influence on American culture.

He begins with with the background leading up to the creation of Playboy magazine during the Eisenhower era, and follows Hefner's personal life and the development of the company through the succeeding decades. from early support for equal rights for blacks (the Playboy Clubs in New Orleans and Miami were the first such establishments in the South to be integrated) and women (the Playboy Foundation, the company's charitable/activist arm, assisted in the Roe v. Wade case), to battles against radical feminists in the late '70s and anti-obscenity zealots during the Reagan administration, and beyond.

Interestingly, Watts discusses Ayn Rand's influence on Hefner---The Fountainhead was one of his favorite books during the period of Playboy's founding, and she was later interviewed in the magazine---but incorrectly labels her a conservative based on her support of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign (failing to mention, for instance, her opposition to Ronald Reagan because of his association with religious conservatism and the so-called "Moral Majority"). Indeed, Hefner's twenty-five installment "The Playboy Philosophy" which ran in the magazine during the early '60s was obviously inspired by her ideas---in it, he advocated individualism, enlightened self-interest, and capitalism. Unfortunately, however, his grasp of Rand's philosophy was somewhat superficial---he had a much clearer idea of what he was against than what he was for. If he had understood and practiced these ideas more consistently, he might not have been so baffled when he came under attack from both sides of the political spectrum during the late '70s and throughout the '80s. Still, when Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Barbara Ehrenreich ally themselves with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson against you, you know you must be doing something right.

On the whole, Watts paints a portrait of a man who is surprisingly intellectual and principled, even ethical. He of course shows Hefner's influence on the sexual revolution ("Part of the sexual revolution is bringing rationality to sexuality," according to Hefner, but here again he was more clear on what he was against than what he was for), but more broadly on postwar American culture, with his emphasis on personal freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom. As Watts demonstrates, Playboy is not just about sex and crass materialism---it is about romance, class, and living well in general, with world-class literature and journalism in addition to (usually relatively) tasteful nude pictures of beautiful women. It might seem counterintuitive at first to think of Hefner as a representative of the American dream, when his own lifestyle is so far outside the norm of American life---but he, through his business enterprises, really did a lot to shape what the American dream has come to mean, and Watts places him in the tradition of the subjects of his two previous biographies, Henry Ford and Walt Disney, in tracing the development of American culture through the twentieth century. ( )
  AshRyan | Dec 16, 2011 |
I personally identified with H.H. Being one of my role models, I found this book not suprising in the sense that everything I judged him by was spot on, accurate, and clear cut. Steven W. satisfied my own questions about Hefner's character. Self evidence is a beautiful thing. Rather lengthy, but throughly engaging in any atmosphere comprehensive wise. At times exciting to read. ( )
  Poetbyday | Mar 16, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0471690597, Hardcover)

Amazon Exclusive: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Mansion

1. He has been keeping an exhaustive “scrapbook” of his life since adolescence, which now consists of over 1800 volumes and takes up much of the third floor of the Mansion.

2. His favorite weekly event is Monday’s “Manly Night,” a gathering of longstanding male friends for an evening devoted to eating, trading friendly insults and stories, and watching old films.

3. Hefner became obsessed with backgammon in the 1970s, playing in tournaments at the Mansion that attracted world-class players and lasted for hours, sometimes days.

4. He was deeply traumatized during his college days when his fiancé confessed that she was involved in a sexual affair.

5. He nearly choked to death in the late 1970s after ingesting a small sex toy during a raucous lovemaking session with his girlfriend. She dislodged it with the Heimlich maneuver.

6. Hefner was a strong backer of the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, contributing money and booking African American entertainers for his television show and the Playboy Clubs.

7. The Mansion library still prominently displays a large ceramic bust of Barbi Benton, Hefner’s girlfriend from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

8. The Mansion staff is inundated with requests for invitations to Hefner’s big parties. Some are from celebrities who want to bring their friends, and many are from young women who send photos of themselves in skimpy clothing and provocative poses. Nearly all are turned down.

9. Every bathroom at the Mansion is equipped with a bottle of baby oil, bottle of aspirin, and Jergens cherry-almond skin lotion. During big parties, many of them also have bowls filled with condoms.

10. Hefner has all of his meals brought to him in his bedroom suite at the Mansion. Even when the Mansion is filled with dozens of guests enjoying an elegant buffet meal for movie nights on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, he eats in his room before joining the crowd.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:11 -0400)

Argues that, in the process of becoming fabulously wealthy and famous, Hefner has profoundly altered American life and values. Hefner, from the beginning, believed he could overturn social norms and take America with him.

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