Magazines: Think Clean

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Kinseyan Revelation. "The whole thing," says London Observer Columnist Katharine Whitehorn, "is a midwestern Methodist's vision of sin." She is absolutely right. Hefner's parents, Glenn and Grace, had been childhood sweethearts in Nebraska before they married and moved to Chicago. Glenn, an accountant who is now treasurer of Playboy, was and is a regular Methodist churchgoer; so is Grace. In his early years, Hefner was the kid across the aisle in school who was always scribbling sketches. He liked to write up the doings of local kids for a neighborhood newspaper, and drew 70 cartoon strips about ornery Western outlaws, an interplanetary space traveler and a diabolical villain named Skull.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army for an uneventful two years. Discharged, he enrolled in the University of Illinois, largely because of another student there named Millie Gunn. While at Illinois, Hefner read Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. It came as a revelation, and he wrote an indignant review in the campus humor magazine. "Our moral pretenses," he said, "our hypocrisy on matters of sex, have led to incalculable frustration, delinquency and unhappiness. One of these days," he promised, "I'm going to do an editorial on the subject."

Aim for the Libido. After 2½ years, Hef graduated from college, married Millie and, with his cartoons tucked underneath his arm, canvassed the Chicago publishing world for a job. Nothing doing, so he took a job with a Chicago firm that produced and printed cardboard cartons. It was, says Hefner, the closest thing to journalism he could get. Eventually he landed a job with the subscription department of Esquire magazine. But when, after several months, he asked for a $5-a-week raise, he was turned down. He went to work briefly for a publication called Children's Activities, but he decided it was time to start his own magazine—and not for kids. In 1953 he hocked his furniture for $600, scraped together $10,000. He later persuaded a talented designer, Art Paul, to become his art director. Most other magazines for men concentrated on the outdoors, so he shrewdly decided to take up where Esquire had left off in catering to indoor tastes. Hefner first wanted to call his magazine Stag Party, but a sheet with a similar name protested. Then Eldon Sellers, now an executive vice president with the company, suggested Playboy.

Inspired by Esquire's popeyed little man about town, "Esky," Hefner picked a bunny to symbolize the new enterprise—because rabbits are the playboys of the animal world. The first issue in December 1953 told readers that "we plan to spend most of our time inside. We like our apartment." Hefner also bought rights to the famed nude calendar pictures of Marilyn Monroe, then at the height of her career, and published them for the first time off a calendar. The 48-page issue sold 53,991 copies; even Hef was surprised.

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