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Hefner's pad on Chicago's North State Parkway has become a considerable tourist attraction, with guided tours available to anyone who has a minimum of pull. It is also the monument to a major American business success story. Unlike other Chicago businesses, the enterprise is not founded on steel, grain or transportation, but on a magazine. One of the great publishing successes since World War II, Playboy was started in 1953 with a 70,000 press run, now has a 4,000,000 circulation.
The magazine has many things to offer, but the basis of success is the nude or seminude photograph that Hugh Hefner has made respectable in the U.S. prints. America was undoubtedly ready for it anyway, but Hefner seized the moment. He was the first publisher to see that the sky would not fall and mothers would not march if he published bare bosoms; he realized that the old taboos were going, that, so to speak, the empress need wear no clothes. He took the oldfashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazine, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture. It proved to be a surefire formula, which more sophisticated and experienced competitors somehow had never dared contemplate.
The Ultimate Life. Apart from the nudes, Playboy offers fiction, reportage and interviews, reasonably amusing and bawdy cartoons, some dirty jokes, and discussions by sociologists and theologians. Above all, in vivid color and enthusiastic text, the ultimate life of material and sensual pleasure is abundantly demonstrated for some imaginary man about town. Latest male fashions are on display; so are sleek cars, sumptuous stereo sets and fine wines and foods, with instruction on when, how and to whom to serve them. There is always the suggestion that sex is part of the successful life, that good-looking women are status symbols. Says Paul Gebhard, executive director of Indiana University's Kinsey-founded Institute for Sex Research: "Hefner's genius is that he has linked sex with upward mobility."
Not content just to picture all these pleasures, Hefner has brought many of them to life, sort of. He operates 16 Playboy Clubs. He has opened a Caribbean Playboy resort in Jamaica and has started construction of a $9,000,000 year-round resort near Lake Geneva, Wis. Last year "HMH" enterprises sold $2,400,000 worth of products, ranging from tie clasps bearing the bunny insigne to bunny tail wall plaques.
Hefner has also experienced some commercial failures, including Show Business Illustrated, which folded after nine issues with an estimated loss of $2,000,000, and Trump, a Mad-like humor magazine. On the other hand, the newly formed Playboy Press is thriving; last year, it sold $1,000,000 worth of books, most of them containing reprints from the magazine. At present, Playboy's staff is moving into larger quarters in Chicago's venerable Palmolive Building, leased for 63 years for $2,700,000. Thanks to eager press-agents, the building's famed beacon, whose beam can be seen 500 miles away, has been renamed the Bunny Beacon.