Mae West once said that “you only go around once but if you do it right then once is enough.” Well frankly I can’t think of anyone who got it right his first and only time around better then Hugh Hefner.
Much is being written about Hefner’s cultural impact, which has been huge. His impact on the changing of sexual mores of this country has been tremendous. While Playboy magazine will forever be most lionized for its centerfolds of incredibly beautiful, fully nude women, the publication has featured numerous short stories and articles by some of the best authors of the twentieth century (not just Norman Mailer). A great lover of Jazz, Playboy was also renowned for its music criticism and his annual Playboy Jazz Festival – first held in Chicago in 1959 and not to be held again until 1979, when it became an annual event – has become an institution.
Perhaps more than anything, Hefner was a great lover of the movies. He of course launched Playboy with a nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe. Interviews with film directors were a constant feature and some of the short stories in Playboy became the source material for movies. Steven Spielberg’s first made-for-TV feature Duel was based on a short story by Richard Matheson that appeared in Playboy. Hefner himself donated generously to the University of Southern California’s School for Cinematic Studies and helped raise the necessary funds to restore the iconic Hollywood sign.
There are two movies relating to Mr. Hefner that I do plan to cover in my blog sometime in the near future. One is a film that Hefner produced, Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of Macbeth starring John Finch and Francesca Annis. Filmed shortly after the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate, this version of the Bard’s Scottish play was quite controversial for its graphic violence and nudity. As Lady Macbeth, Annis recites her dream soliloquy in the nude. A box office failure at the time of its release (well, the play is said to be cursed) it none-the-less is a hypnotic masterpiece that much like Rosemary’s Baby sucks us in and gives us the feeling that we’re in some kind of a dream.
The other is a film that Hefner did not produce nor did he approve of, yet he figured prominently in it. This was Bob Fosse’s final film Star 80. Based on the Village Voice article “Death of a Playmate” by Teresa Carpenter, it told the true story of Dorothy Stratten (Muriel Hemingway), 1980’s Playmate of the year who is murdered by her husband (Eric Roberts in an unforgettable performance) when he is not granted entrance to the world of celebrity that Stratten is. Hef is played in the film by Cliff Roberts and while his depiction hardly seems critical of Hef the famed publisher didn’t like having one of the darkest moments in Playboy’s otherwise quite lofty history being depicted on screen. I can’t really blame him but I still think Star 80 is a great, overlooked though extremely challenging film.
Check out both films and look for my articles about them. Hef, we love you.