When I heard that Hugh Hefner died last week at the age of 91, the first thing I did was crawl into the closet and pull out my collection of Playboy magazines stored away in shoe boxes. I figured a proper tribute would be to glance one more time at the man’s life’s work, regardless of the fact that I had already looked at them twice that morning.
Granted, ogling a photo spread of Pam Anderson or Jenny McCarthy is a bit different visual experience than looking through a typical family scrapbook to reminisce over photos of deceased relatives like Aunt Martha or ‘Crazy’ Cousin Leonard. But it did generate typical deep, emotional thoughts such as, “Gee, I wonder what Miss September of 2009 is doing now.”
I really don’t want to get into a debate with anyone over what’s morally right or wrong when it comes to displays of nudity. If I did, first thing you know we would start yelling stuff at each other like, “My god can beat up your god!” That would quickly escalate into a bonking, bopping, and poking bout like Larry, Curly, and Moe arguing over who threw the first pie.
Nevertheless, I must admit one spiritual thought that crossed my mind the day Hefner died was “So, where does Hef fall within the religious spectrum of eternity? If a guy has heaven on earth, does it eliminate that option for the next life?”
When Hefner published the first issue of Playboy magazine which featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover in 1953, I was only four years old. Yet, being a male, even at such a young age I began plotting how I could get my hands on an issue.
While other four-year-olds were manipulating the pieces on a Mr. Potato Head, I was tinkering with the family’s camera, already preparing for a future Playboy photographer’s job.
For many boys throughout adolescence, the very word ‘Playboy’ conjured up images of naked women. It would have for me also, except I had never seen a naked woman, so there were no images in my brain to conjure.
The closest that I had come was while watching the 1933 original film of ‘King Kong’. The female star Fay Wray comes very near to experiencing the first on-camera wardrobe malfunction when Kong removes half her dress and she struggles to escape his hairy clutches.
Contrary to many of my friends, when I was a boy I did not dream of growing up and becoming a fireman or a policeman. Instead, I always concluded my daily prayers by asking “... and please, Lord, let me be adopted by Hugh Hefner someday.”
As I recall, all the guys that I hung around with as a kid would have sold their souls to obtain an actual Playboy magazine. All, that is, except Rodney Green who apparently was dropped on his head as an infant and decided early in life to become a missionary priest in Borneo.
I have read articles written by men who criticize Hefner and his lifestyle. But I say that these men are simply jealous. In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “. . . life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone ...” Well, Hefner’s life certainly looked “fuller” of good stuff to me.
One could even say that Hugh Hefner appeared to be living a life of heaven on earth, so you can’t blame other men for being jealous. They probably also resented the fact that Hef did not miss any opportunity to rub it in, posing with his arms embracing a bevy of beautiful women every chance he got. And what man wouldn’t if he could?
In contrast, if the rest of us less fortunate souls posed for pictures with the products of our profession, it would result in photos like a farmer cuddling prize cabbages or a baker nuzzling golden-brown loaves of bread—not quite the same, wouldn’t you say?
Feminists were among the most vocal critics of Hefner and the women who posed in Playboy. They said that they cheapened women and put the focus only on physical attributes, overlooking female achievements in various other professions.
That is simply not true. And to prove it, I recall one issue of Playboy that featured nude photos of a teacher, an accountant, and a dental hygienist. So there!
During a television appearance, one feminist suggested to Hefner that, to be fair, he should appear on stage wearing a Playboy bunny costume. That might be fair, but definitely would have resulted in an image you couldn’t unsee!
Probably the most inexplicable criticism is that Hefner lived an unhealthy lifestyle. The facts say otherwise. Hef in his omnipresent pajamas was still going strong at the age of 80—and that was on a steady diet of martinis, pipe smoking, and Viagra!
I’m not about to start spending my days lounging around in pajamas. But I am adding pipe tobacco to my wife’s grocery list.
Before criticizing Hefner’s life too harshly, remember what the Bible says: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ goods”—and, oh my, what goods Hef had!
Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire. He recently published a book titled “Tortoise Crossing – Expect Long Delays,” which is a collection of 100 of his favorite columns. It is available on Amazon.com.