If even half the revelations about Hugh Marston Hefner in the 10-part A&E series, Secrets of Playboy (which premiered on January 24) are true, his picture, adorned with bunny ears, should be in a dictionary to illustrate the phrase “sexual predator.”
Far more than Margaret Sanger, Alfred Kinsey or Betty Friedan, Hef (as he styled himself) was the progenitor of the Sexual Revolution, which shaped our society more profoundly than any other social movement in the 20th. century.
Hefner took smut from plain brown wrappers and seedy cinemas to the glossy centerfolds of a magazine which could be purchased at the corner drug store.
The native Chicagoan was an unlikely figure for the leader of a revolution. In place of a bearded Bolshie skulking in a cellar, Hef was a perpetual adolescent in a round bed guzzling Pepsis.
Despite his pretentions, the world’s most successful pornographer was an intellectual featherweight. Instead of Das Kapital, Hefner published something called the Playboy Philosophy (in 25 installments, no less), which allowed him to feel like Friedrich Nietzsche while sounding like Larry, Moe and Curley.
Hefner mainstreamed pornography, legitimized sex outside marriage, paved the way for legalized abortion and helped to separate sex from love, commitment or even caring.
Under his malign influence, we went from making love to having sex to hooking up. Far from celebrating sex, as he claimed, he turned it into a degrading, dehumanizing, soul-deadening act.
In the end, he was the victim of his own success, by opening the floodgates to hard-core porn which could be downloaded on a home computer.
Playboy’s initial circulation in December 1953 was 70,000 copies. By 1975, it had climbed to 5.6 million worldwide. When it ceased print publication in the spring of 2020, the granddaddy of skin magazines had a circulation of an anemic 206,483.
Hefner gave his customers what they wanted and plenty of it — photos of naked women with come-hither smiles in a variety of poses.
The pipe-smoking libertine, who died in 2017, claimed to have bedded over 1,000 women. It’s unknown how many were conscious at the time.
According to the series, which consists mainly of interviews with Hefner’s victims and employees, life at his Los Angeles mansion included daily orgies, nonstop drug use, debasing acts, coercion, assault, overdoses and suicide. Details are not for the faint of heart.
One resident “girlfriend” described the potentate of silk pajamas as a “vampire,” who drugged, debauched and sucked the life out of dozens of young women. “He really believed he owned these women.”
God gave us a sex drive that’s at once pleasurable, powerful and potentially perilous. Sex can be life-affirming or life-destroying. The Sexual Revolution was actually an anti-sexual revolution, and Hefner was its ringmaster.
Former residents speak of group sex, quaaludes handed out like M&Ms, rape, bestiality and something called Pig Night – a weekly ritual where pimps would round up the ugliest prostitutes they could find for sex with Hefner’s guests.
Residents and staff testified to Hefner’s prodigious appetites. It’s reported that the man of the mansion was always in search of new highs. Ex-girlfriend Sondra Theodore reveals: “You couldn’t satisfy him., He wanted more and more and more” — typical addictive behavior.
While feminists regularly excoriated Hef for “objectifying women” (they had no idea), they welcomed his support for abortion and gay rights, which he gladly gave. Hefner was for anything that demolished sexual restraints.
Monuments abound to the man who died in 2017 at age 91. That year, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 110 million Americans – a little less than one third of the population — had at least one sexually transmitted disease.
On PornHub, customers annually view 4.3 trillion (that’s trillion, not million) hours of X-rated videos. Slightly less than half of all marriages end in divorce. Men who are used to airbrushed perfection find it hard to settle for reality. A majority of 18-to- 44-year-olds have cohabited at some point in their lives.
The Playboy ideology has made America is a lonelier, sicker, more dangerous place – a society so obsessed with sex that it’s never contented.
Despite our culture’s sex-saturation, we refuse to take sex seriously. The beauty, the charm, the commitment have gone out of so many relationships.
Ultimately, the Sexual Revolution wasn’t about liberation or even hedonism, but exploitation – the strong preying on the weak. Hefner’s lifestyle illustrated that perfectly.
Thanks to the revolution he led, our society is like Hef himself at the end – a decrepit satyr, sad and lonely, wobbling from room to dusty room of the Mansion, vainly in search of that which will put the zest back into life.
The fig leaf is gone, revealing something as alluring as a drooling vulture.