How Hugh Hefner Created An Empire And A Hero Named Hef

By | November 29, 2016

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Hugh Hefner and his girlfriend Barbi Benton on board his private jet, the 'Big Bunny,' at London Airport, July 1970. The couple are on a holiday tour of Europe. (Photo by V. Thompson/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hugh Hefner, the Playboy founder and figurehead who died in 2017, achieved success by living the life he glamorized. A magazine offers a world view, and a lifestyle magazine -- whether it's Cosmopolitan, Maxim or Playboy -- describes a fantasy life. Sophistication, prosperity, beautiful women, intellectual stimulation and, yes, plenty of sex: this was the goal laid out for the readers in the pages of Hugh Hefner's Playboy, and this was the persona established by the editor-publisher himself. The world of Playboy Playmates, Playboy clubs, casinos, the Playboy Mansion, the Playboy jet, the Playboy Jazz Festival, and the largest men's magazine in the world featuring important coverage of important people -- in many ways, the man they call "Hef" was living out the fantasies of his youth. As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1992:

Much of my life has been like an adolescent dream of an adult life. If you were still a boy, in almost a Peter Pan kind of way, and could have just the perfect life that you wanted to have, that’s the life I invented for myself.

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Hugh Hefner was born in April of 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of two devoted Methodists. It's safe to say that publication was in his blood from a very young age. Hugh attended Steinmetz High School and although he didn't have straight A's he was somewhat of genius with a reported IQ of 152. Here his talents first began to shine when he founded a school newspaper which fueled his interest in publication. Soon after he made a comic book about teen who lived in a universe that he created. 

From his early days, Hef was demonstrating two traits that served him well: Creativity and self-mythologizing. Hef created a world of his own that people found intriguing -- and in this world, the hero's name was Hef.