Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream

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"In Mr. Playboy, historian and biographer Steven Watts argues that, in the process of becoming fabulously wealthy and famous, Hugh Hefner has profoundly altered American life and values. Granted unprecedented access to the man and his enterprise, Watts traces Hef's life and career from his midwestern, Methodist upbringing and the first publication of Playboy in 1953 through the turbulent sixties, self-indulgent seventies, reactionary eighties, and traditionalist nineties, up to the present. He reveals that Hefner, from the beginning, believed he
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"In Mr. Playboy, historian and biographer Steven Watts argues that, in the process of becoming fabulously wealthy and famous, Hugh Hefner has profoundly altered American life and values. Granted unprecedented access to the man and his enterprise, Watts traces Hef's life and career from his midwestern, Methodist upbringing and the first publication of Playboy in 1953 through the turbulent sixties, self-indulgent seventies, reactionary eighties, and traditionalist nineties, up to the present. He reveals that Hefner, from the beginning, believed he could overturn social norms and take America with him." Throughout, Watts offers singular insights into the real man behind the flamboyant public persona. He shows Hefner's personal dichotomies - the pleasure seeker and the workaholic, the consort of countless Playmates and the genuine romantic, the family man and the Gastby-like host of lavish parties at his Chicago and Los Angeles mansions who enjoys well-publicized affairs with numerous playmates, the fan of life's simple pleasures who hobnobs with the Hollywood elite.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watts, a history professor turned biographer, analyzes the life and times of Hugh Hefner in this fascinating biography. Relating Hef's departure from Esquire magazine and subsequent role as editor-in-chief of Playboy, the story offers readers new insights into the life of one of the most renowned entrepreneurs of the 20th century. Ray Porter gives a rousing, commanding reading that exercises his captivating voice. His strong voice contains a certain journalistic integrity that holds the listener's attention, and his unbiased tone allows listeners to draw their own conclusions about Hefner. A Wiley hardcover (Reviews, July 28).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Hugh Hefner started Playboy magazine in 1953 using purchased photos of Marilyn Monroe, and including the article "Miss Gold Digger 1953" about women who "manipulate the legal system for alimony." Hefner positioned the magazine as respectable, with articles by celebrated writers, interviews, and advice columns, accompanied with photos of nude models and ads, all combined to help promote a notion of "the good life." And so it was in his publicly lead private life, complete with famous people, naked women (he was allowed to date other people, his girlfriends were not), and a home in the "Playboy mansion." Watts outlines the man and magazine's influence on the country's notions of personal liberation, sexual freedom, and material abundance. Clocking in at over 500 pages, this is not a gossip book but a well-documented biography written with access to Hefner's over 1800 scrapbooks, the company archives, and interviews. Watts finds Hefner comparable to the subjects of his other books about Henry Ford and Walt Disney in that all were major contributors to aspects of the American dream. Recommended for public libraries and cultural studies collections.
—Lani Smith

Kirkus Reviews
Detailed assessment of the debatably enviable life of America's bachelor. Examining Playboy archives (Hef is something of a pack rat) and Hefner's own journals, Watts (History/Univ. of Missouri; The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, 2005, etc.) constructs a nuanced portrait of Hefner's life that also serves as a panorama of hip culture from the 1950s onward-Sinatra, JFK and many others put in appearances. Watts convincingly argues that Hefner anticipated a number of distinct trends that transformed American society, including postwar consumerism, feminism (whose adherents, generally speaking, castigated Hef) and, of course, the'60s sexual revolution. Watts unearths the narrative of Hefner's childhood in Chicago in the '30s. Within his deeply religious family, he was doted on by his mother and neglected by a mostly absent father, creating "a child who was extraordinarily self-absorbed." Certainly, Hefner was fascinated by sexuality and how its acknowledgement was forbidden, but as he noted later, "Pop culture was my other parent." As an unhappy young man with fond memories of his high-school popularity, Hefner synthesized these personal interests into the legendary 1953 "homemade" first issue of Playboy. (An early nude picture of Marilyn Monroe demonstrated his acumen.) Hefner described the magazine as "a pleasure-primer styled to the masculine taste," and it took off. By the '60s, Hefner was engaged in controversy, via his "Playboy Philosophy," and expansion, as the famed Playboy Clubs helped him build a business empire that reflected his sybaritic lifestyle in his notorious mansion. Circulation peaked in the swinging '70s (as did an ugly drug controversy); the'80s were less kind, as the brand seemed dated. Hefner resembles a chameleon in Watts's mostly sympathetic portrait, variously appearing as a prescient social critic, an early supporter of civil rights, a generous Gatsby figure and a cranky, obsessive sex addict. The author captures the transitions in American society, though he's repetitive in details and themes, and rather tame, if tasteful, in depicting the sexual exploits that always surrounded Hefner and his empire. Probably the last word on the man behind a million adolescent fantasies. Agent: Ron Goldfarb/Goldfarb & Associates
The Barnes & Noble Review
Two-thirds of the way into Steven Watts's new biography of Hugh Hefner, the infamous publisher summarizes his brainchild's mission. "What the book is first and foremost: a lifestyle magazine devoted to how one spends one's leisure time." Thankfully for Hefner, Watts, and readers of this biography, there's so much more to the story of Playboy and what was for a time its vast commercial empire and cultural reach. Watts, a University of Missouri history professor, entertainingly explains the influence of Hefner over the last six decades, when he and Playboy both shaped and reflected American society. The story, Watts insists, goes beyond sex and consumerism. "The question of how and why the publisher of a risqué men's magazine was able to garner such influence, and even prestige, has perplexed many observers." Watts' answer: "[O]ver the last half century Hefner has played a key role in changing American values, ideas, and attitudes. From the beginning, his enterprise was about more than dirty pictures.... It comprised a historical force of significant proportions." Launched in 1953 (and featuring among its enticements nude photos of Marilyn Monroe), and the publication quickly became popular and influential. Hefner adopts the mantle of a revolutionary fighting the Establishment: "We dared to suggest that there were other ways of living your life." From the beginning, Watts writes, "The magazine became a kind of cultural litmus test for judging the positive or negative direction of modern American culture." Needless to say, not everybody appreciated the publication or the Hef-embodied Playboy lifestyle. Conservatives, religious groups, and feminists said he represented the decline of Western civilization. As Watts says, "Few Americans have aroused greater controversy in ascending to fame and fortune." --Cameron Martin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616797980
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/6/2008
  • Pages: 696
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

STEVEN WATTS is Professor of History at the University of Missouri. He is the author of four books, including The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century and The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life.

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Table of Contents

Introduction The Boy Next Door 1

Pt. I Beginnings

1 A Boy at Play 11

2 Boot Camp, College, and Kinsey 34

3 The Tie That Binds 49

Pt. II Ascent

4 How to Win Friends and Titillate People 69

5 Hedonism, Inc 85

6 The Pursuit of Happiness 105

7 An Abundant Life 123

8 Living the Fantasy 143

Pt. III Triumph

9 The Philosopher King 169

10 The Happiness Explosion 187

11 Make Love, Not War 206

12 What Do Women Want? 228

13 Down the Rabbit Hole 250

14 Disneyland for Adults 272

Pt. IV Malaise

15 A Hutch Divided 297

16 The Dark Decade 323

17 The Party's Over 346

18 Strange Bedfellows 367

Pt. V Resurgence

19 The Bride Wore Clothes 391

20 All in the Family 407

21 Back in the Game 426

Epilogue: Playboy Nation 447

Notes 455

Index 515

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