Playboy magazine was founded in 1953 by Hugh Marston Hefner (b.1926). To raise money for the venture he mortgaged his furniture at two different banks (neither of which knew about the other loan) and sold $10,000-worth of shares in his new enterprise to social acquaintances. All that he risked was $600, borrowed from his brother.
Hefner described his target audience as “that select group of urbane fellows who were less concerned with hunting, fishing and climbing mountains than with good food, drink, proper dress and the pleasure of female company”.
With its centrefolds of nude women, and columns of opinion, fashion, and advice on sex, Playboy helped reshape the social attitudes of the post-war generation.
In the early 1960s, the huge success of the magazine led to the creation of a chain of Playboy clubs and resorts all over America and in London, Montreal and Jamaica.
Both the magazine and the company were stinking rich during the 70s. The circulation of Playboy peaked with the November 1972 issue which sold 7,161,561 copies.
If you look back at centrefolds from the early 70s, you will find they are a little more explicit than those before and those that followed. This was largely due to the ‘pubic war’ – The pictorials in other men’s magazines left little to the imagination, and there was pressure on Playboy to follow suit.
The first appearance of pubic hair in Playboy was in an August 1969 pictorial featuring an actress. The first Playmate followed suit in January 1971. It was a BIG deal at the time.
There were other firsts from Playboy; The first Playmate to sign her centrefold (October 1975), the first Playmate data sheet (July 1977) and the last Playmate to have a staple through her navel (September 1985).
Playboy was rich, rich, rich – it even owned a black DC-9 called the Big Bunny that Hef and Barbi Benton used to jet around the world and back and forth between his LA and Chicago mansions.
The plane had a galley, a living room, a disco, movie and video equipment, a wet bar, and sleeping quarters for 16 people. In the mid-70s the company sold the plane and moved to Los Angeles full-time.
Playboy was profitable in large part because of its huge circulation and its casinos in London, which were bringing in tens of millions of dollars in annual profits.
Its success declined in the 1980s owing to the rise of competing men’s magazines and feminist protest.
Hugh Hefner passed away at home in Los Angeles in September 2017, aged 91.