Brief History: Playboy

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    Playboy has long been a part of the American man's private life. On Jan. 10, the magazine became a more private part of Hugh Hefner's life as the publication's founder announced plans to buy the remaining Playboy Enterprises stock he did not already own in a $207 million deal. The purchase, he said, would allow the company to "[return] to its roots" as a private entity.

    Those roots took hold in 1953 in a Chicago apartment when Hefner set about starting his own magazine after being denied a $5 raise as an Esquire copywriter. He raised $8,000 (including $1,000 from his mother) to produce Playboy's first issue. The main hook: nude photos of Marilyn Monroe. It sold 54,000 copies, and the magazine was an instant hit. As its popularity grew, Playboy tried to maintain an air of sophistication, with fiction from authors like John Updike and Vladimir Nabokov bumping up against topless centerfolds. Despite helping spearhead the 1960s sexual revolution, Playboy felt the heat from newer, racier publications like Penthouse and, later, Hustler. Hefner briefly toyed with more explicit pictorials but chose to stick with a more tasteful approach. Heading into the 1970s, an estimated one-fourth of college men bought Playboy. The company went public in 1971, and the magazine's circulation peaked in 1972 at more than 7 million.

    But those glory days are long gone. The proliferation of online pornography and upstart men's mags like Maxim and FHM severely weakened Playboy. Debt of $115 million prompted Hefner's buyout of the company's stock. The brand has now shifted its energy toward licensing clubs, mansions and even bedsheets around the world--especially in growing markets in Asia. Sure, it's a far cry from nudes and Nabokov, but Hef's betting the bunny never loses her appeal.