Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INT: Do you think that The Beatles or Dylan were perhaps not as cynical as they too were innocent in their own way.
HUGH: Yes, yes I was a huge, huge Beatles fan, and I think as a matter of fact the resurgence of the release of the documentaries and the wonderful documentaries and the collections, this resurgence of Beatlemania is from my point of view a good thing.
INT: Why were they so popular in America in 1964.
HUGH: Well I think they spoke with a voice and again represented a kind of freedom in a in a in a way that that the young people could embrace and at the same time they kept changing their image so that it stayed fresh throughout the decade the amount the impact that that single group has is really quite remarkable when you think about it, because of you know it was the music and all of that influence but also the fashion styles, going from the kind of ... look to the tie-dye psychedelic thing. The influence in terms of the acceptability of drugs. I mean it defined the decade.
INT: Why do you think that drugs have become such a feature of American life.
HUGH: Well I think that .. was part of the experimentation, you know the questioning of authority, and once again it's like a pendulum you're likely to get extremes, what is interesting of course is the drug experimentation in the, in the sixties that we think of as a radical time is nothing compared to what is going on now, with the really dark and horrendous drugs that are used. And our response to that was to deal with it in a kind of authoritarian sort of way that tended to destroy, or really tended to support and feed the very thing that we we're trying to destroy. what we have now in our drug, in our countries drug attitudes is very similar to prohibition, but worse, you know we've managed to destroy a major part of the inner city by keeping the economic potential in drug sales and we're paying the price for it.
INT: There was a war in Vietnam, what were your thoughts about the war and how did you take up your position.
HUGH: Vietnam was something that we were very strongly opposed to from the very beginning. It was I thought an immoral war, the people that we supported were no better than the people that we were fighting, and it was the first war that was fought and lost on television. one of the things that's unique about the sixties is that we got our first president in 1960 elected by television and by the early seventies a war that became so unpopular, because it was on the Saturday, it was on the six o'clock news every night.
INT: John Kennedy, how would you rate him, did he symbolize a new excitement.
HUGH: Kennedy and Camelot represented a dream. Now whether or not you know what might have come from that, if he hadn't been assassinated who knows, but what he was saying was certainly the right kind of things, and the fact that he was a little free and loose in terms of the bedroom etc was never a great concern to me because I, Kennedy was one that screwed around , Nixon was the one that screwed the country, and I think that is a little more serious.
INT: How did you react to Kennedy's assassination.
HUGH: Devastating, devastating. I think that it is fascinating how a single man can make a difference, such a difference. It was true of King and it was true of Kennedy, even though Kennedy lived a very short time. Just because he inspired the people, brought them together in a common hope and dream and you see how dark the country became afterward. It was the darker side of the sixties, followed thereafter particularly of course, you know after his death and then the death of Martin Luther King, and then the death of Bobby Kennedy. We were killing all of our, not only our own, but the best of us, so the symbolic, not only did we lose leaders, but the symbolism of it, followed then by the revelation of Watergate with Nixon and I think we really had lost our innocence and we have not recovered from it, we don't trust, on a political level we don't trust anybody any more. Certain amount of that of course is a good thing, I mean the whole premise of America is after all a suspicion of government, that's what our constitution is really all about, to protect us from the excesses of power.
INT: When you came up with playboy magazine who were you thinking of, what was your audience. Did you have a plan, a market led strategy at all.
HUGH: Well my market strategy was to put together a magazine that I myself would enjoy as a reader. I edited the magazine for myself. it was a handbook for the urban male, and it was a kind of second-generation variation of what I saw in Esquire in the thirties, and that Esquire had given up during and after the war. But much more clearly focussed, it was aimed at a post war generation of young men, and it spoke with such a specific voice, a voice that was not available elsewhere, that that it caught immediately, or you know I wouldn't be here and we wouldn't be talking about it, because I had no money when I began the magazine. I literally had no money. I borrowed $600 from a local bank as a household loan and then went to a loan company and put my furniture up as collateral and got another $400 from them and then went to anybody and everybody that you know friends, relatives and got a few hundred dollars here and a few hundred dollars there. Total investment of $8000 and that's what the Playboy empire was built on, and you don't do that, it's one of those things that you know it's just impossible but I was the right guy in the right place at the right time and I caught on immediately.
INT: Do you still see that class of prosperous young urban male still in existence.
HUGH: Oh yes sure, absolutely, I mean but certainly society has changed a great deal, I think that the major thing that simply as a business that the nature of communication has changed, there are just so many other people, voicing through so many other forms of communication, a variety of opinions, that didn't have, that simply did not exist in 1953 when I started the magazine. that diversity and that change in technology is the nature of things now and that's why we are so dramatically into. The magazine is and will always be the heart and soul of who we are, but increasingly we are in global television, we are in the internet, we're now getting five million hits a day on the internet, and we're about to begin a pay service that will become an electronic version of the magazine and it's a global phenomena.
INT: The end of the nineteen sixties the feminist movement started, did it take you by surprise.
HUGH: Well I think that the fact that it was so dramatic, now you're talking about the sexual revolution.
INT: Feminism in particular.
HUGH: The feminist part caught me completely by surprise. I had been, I had been promoting the basic premises that became the sexual revolution from the very beginning and from early 1960 with the Playboy philosophy and other ... fiction, promoting the concept of the sexual revolution, so that part was not a surprise at all. The fact that the women movement came along was a natural part of the sexual revolution, because the sexual revolution began as more of a male phenomena, although it was obviously intended for both sexes. So the fact that there would be a comparable and complementary quest for personal identity and freedom with women is very understandable. The fact that it then turned antagonistic to the male part of the sexual revolution was, I found very strange indeed, and it reflects to me, less about the women's movement that about that schizophrenia that exists in term of our sexual attitudes in America. It must be remembered that there was a previous sexual revolution and there was a previous women's movement. This is really act two, women got the vote at the beginning of the nineteen twenties and not coincidentally at the very same moment we also got prohibition, there's a and it's not unique to the female of the species and it's not unique to America. There is that schizophrenic feeling about our own play and pleasure and it's a conflict, you know it's a part of the notion of being suspicious of our own nature. It is rooted in the notion that the devil is in the flesh and that somehow or other the mind and spirit on the one hand are in conflict with the body, and I think that if one takes that attitude, one is in big trouble, because it is the harmony of who we are that you need before you can find some harmony between other members of society and of some harmony between us and nature on the planet, and right now we don't have any of that.
INT: Bearing in mind that you targeted Playboy magazine at the young urban male, are you surprised that women might have felt rather excluded from that view.
HUGH: Well I don't know, in other words I think that you have to recognize that by it's nature, magazine publishing tends to be one of the most focussed forms of, and that of any kind of communication, and that is probably more true today than ever before. there are many more women's magazines much more successful, and they have been around some of them since before the turn of the century. So the fact that that the magazine aims at men might be appropriate would seem to be a given. That it may be resented in some quarters, I mean when you thing about it in those kind of terms, what does it really say, I mean it seems to suggest that only one point of view on human sexuality and on living is acceptable, and of course that is a part of the authoritarian agenda, that's part of the puritan notion. Puritanism is not there for the puritan, by it's nature Puritanism is there as a set of values that you must live by, however you feel about them and that of course is the authoritarian scary part of it. The fact that women in their quest for a liberation should also include in their agenda the notion of taking some of the personal freedom away from another part of society is very puritan, and you can call it a radical or liberal or left agenda, but of course it isn't and the labels become very confused. And once again you have to go to Orwell to see how the labels of things change the perception of things, I mean that's what Orwellian Newspeak was really all about, the notion that you could change the labels and the language of things and you would change the perception, and we have seen that certainly in terms of sex in really dramatic form in the last twenty years in which sexual images that were perceived in the past as simply pin-up pictures were then perceived and called exploitation and then eventually called pornography, and they are the same innocent pin-up pictures, and I think that that is the way you change the perception of things and you change of course the perception of sex itself, when you begin to define it as sexual harassment and date rape and increasingly you start to think that sex is really the ugly part of life. Now that is not to recognize it, not to say that it is perfectly obvious that sex can be exploited, sex has it's darker side, but I think that the moral values. One of the things I tried to do with the philosophy was to suggest that the one area of human activity that we don't have truly moral perceptions on is sex. We were raised in a time in which what was called moral in the sexual arena was simply a set of thou shall nots, taboos that were not necessarily good for the people, and in a all other areas of human activity, what is called moral is what benefits people and is good for people, and I hope that we can begin to, and what I called back in the sixties, a new a new morality, that we begin to find a form of situation ethics that would define sexual values not as a set of absolutes but a things that really were good for people and would permit a more human humanizing and loving interconnection between people. Because sex is more than simple procreation. Sex is also a form of communication a form of love, we need sex. I think that sex in a very real way is the most civilizing force on this planet. If there weren't two sexes, if you didn't have that bond between those two sexes, it would be a very cold and frightening place. Sex after all is the beginning of family and tribe and civilization, and we have to celebrate it in a positive way and try to define a set of sexual values that don't perceive that sex itself and the attraction between the sexes is, is somehow equivalent to violence, because after all sex and violence are the polar opposites. One is the life force, the warming force and the other is death and destruction and war and murder.
INT: How would you describe your own role in the sexual revolution in the 1960's and onwards.
HUGH: Well I think that I was very influenced by the, I think to some extent the sexual revolution part two, that came after world war two, began really for me with Kinsey, and the research that he did in the books that he published, which were very unpopular, in particular the second book, was scandalous because it involved women, but it made a tremendous impact on me. The first book came out when I was in university in Illinois and I wrote an editorial about it at the time, and then mentioned it, mentioned the second book in my introduction to the first issue of Playboy. I do think that there were other things going on at the same time and you see those interconnections, but I do think that we were one of the first to voice a set of values, a point of view that in turn became the sexual revolution, so I guess I'm one the founders of that portion of it and I take a great deal of pride in that, but I think it's related to other things that were going on at the time, one can see the change in censorship laws related to some books in the sixties, in the fifties, and I think that you could look to rock and roll as a, as a part of what this is all about, I think the arrival of Presley a couple of years after the beginning of Playboy. ... to a new set of, more possibilities with personal sex, and when I started doing the philosophy. in 1959 Arnold Gingridge who was the editor of Esquire at the time did an editorial in which he talked about an arrival that he anticipated called the new Victorianism, and he thought it was going to be a more conservative time and he welcomed it, but he was a little older than I was and I think that the generation gap was, was showing at the time, and there is something else that you can't separate at the time also, the pill was invented in 1960 and could you have a sexual revolution without the pill. It's all sort of kind of interconnected.
INT: You were in Chicago in August 1968 because obviously you lived there at the time of the democratic convention, what are your memories of that particular time.
HUGH: Well the ... mansion was a very popular hangout for the celebrities and the political people and the media, it was the so it was kind of the center, or one of the centers of things during all of that and, and at the very beginning of the convention, I think it was actually on the Sunday of that week we saw on television that there was going to be a gathering at Lincoln Park, on the other side of Chicago and that's just a couple of blocks from the Mansion, and so Max Learner a very good friend of mine and Jules Pipper the satirist and a couple of friends and I went on out to see what was going on and went on down to Lincoln Park and ran into the beginnings of what turned out to be a police riot, the police had taken off their badges, their badge numbers and they were involved in crowd dispersal and they whacked a lot of heads, and of course later on about two or three days later it moved downtown into grand park and ....
INT: What's it like to be caught up in a police riot.
HUGH: A little scary. We were in our own neighborhood, as I say about a block or two from the mansion, but once we saw what was happening we, we headed home and they caught us when we were about a block from the mansion, they didn't really know who we were, a squad car bristling with cops with guns drawn cut us off and jumped out and I got whacked across the backside, didn't, didn't move me into a more conservative position, it helped to further radicalize me._