Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, died at age 91 on Sept. 27. Loved, reviled, admired, despised, seen as an icon of sexual liberation and a pornography promoter, few people stood in middle ground when discussing him, his empire and his life.
My dad was one of those millions who bought Playboy for something other than the words, and then hid the magazine, figuring the kids would never find it.
He was wrong. And not very good about his hiding places. I found his stash and actually did read them. The naked ladies didn’t mean much. I did not, and do not, look like them, and never associated with anyone who did. I don’t recall feeling personally slighted by the photos. I just never made any real connection to them.
What mattered were the words: the poetry, fiction, short stories and essays by the influential and still unknown. Renown writers I later studied in high school wrote for the magazine: Joseph Heller, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez contributed to Playboy. Women’s writing appeared as well: Ursula Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates and Germaine Greer. And there was The Interview, where the famous, the illustrious and the controversial agreed to a let-it-all-hang-out-sit-down: Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump, Miles Davis, Bette Davis, Stanley Kubrick, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Siskel and Ebert…the Interviews comprise a time capsule of history as no other print publication ever captured.
If I write well today, it’s because I was influenced by those early readings, and I am grateful for them. I don’t know how the history of the sexual revolution will handle Hugh Hefner, whether he will be embraced or excluded, but this is one writer happy to acknowledge his daring, at least as far as the written word is concerned.