Hugh Hefner, founder and longtime publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Playboy magazine, has passed away Wednesday at the age of 91.
Hefner was a copywriter in Chicago for Esquire who worked in a number of other capacities in the magazine industry in the early 1950s. He decided to launch his own men's magazine. He initially was going to call it Stag Party, but a rival magazine, Stag, threatened a lawsuit so Hefner changed the name of the magazine to Playboy. It launched in 1953 using nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe from an old calendar shoot that she had done in the late 1940s before she became a famous actress.
The magazine (which somehow was able to sell itself as sophisticated despite its nude models in every issue) was so successful that Hefner soon developed a whole brand based on the Playboy image, including that famous Bunny logo.
Playboy Enterprises was founded and Hefner launched a series of Playboy Clubs around the country, where the servers wore cocktail dresses and bunny ears. Hefner lived the life to match his magazine's title. His famous "Playboy Mansion" (originally in Chicago, before Hefner moved to Los Angeles in 1974 and bought a mansion there to become the new "Playboy Mansion") was home to many lavishly decadent parties over the decades, although the parties toned down as Hefner got older.
The peak of Playboy's circulation occurred with the November 1972 issue of the magazine. It had a staggering circulation of over 7 million readers...
As Playboy has been challenged by many different sources over the years (magazines with more hardcore photographs, like Penthouse, pornographic videos and most recently, "lad" magazines like Maxim and FHM), its circulation has dipped under a million (Playboy Enterprises makes most of their money from licensing their name and their logo to products all over the world). In 2016, they even stopped having nudity in their magazines, but they returned the nude photographs in 2017.
Hefner always prided himself on Playboy having a strong selection of fiction (Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was serialized in Playboy in 1954, a year after it was first published) and cartoons. One of the most famous regular cartoons was Little Annie Fanny, by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder...
Other cartoons, like this one by popular Playboy cartoonist, Doug Sneyd, were regular features in Playboy until 2016.
Hefner was a great fan of comic book artwork and helped employ a number of notable cartoonists over the years.