Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH HUGH HEFNER
INT: How would you define the American dream.
HUGH HEFNER: It is related to personal freedom, economic freedom, political freedom.
INT: How do you think that that concept has evolved.
HUGH: Well I think that it is there in the original founding fathers of the .... constitution. I think it is a global dream now. I think to some extent the reinforcement of it comes from Hollywood. There's a lot of it comes from, from, I think that our best export is America, is actually the American dream and I think that it's in contemporary terms, in terms of this century it's an immigrant dream, and that come directly from Hollywood, most of which was founded by immigrants, and it reinforces you know that belief in that dream of personal freedom is alive and well around the world now.
INT: How do you think that the pursuit of happiness that was written in the American constitution has arrived as a concept, where does that come from.
HUGH: Well I don't know the historical origins of it. It's certainly something that I strongly endorse. It is not entirely consistent with our religious heritage. the religious heritage sort of suggests implicitly and explicitly that you pay your dues and you get your reward later on, that's a little inconsistent with the notion of personal, happiness. I am a strong believer in a set of values that are rooted in the notion of happiness and personal fulfillment, and you know all the old cliches about a quest for truth and beauty.
INT: Would you say that the American dream therefore has a rather schizoid identity.
HUGH: Oh well I think. I don't know if the dream does but I certainly think that America's very schizophrenic, there's no question. I think you see and it is as American as apple pie, you see the conflict between the notion of personal freedom as espoused by the founding fathers and the puritan values that were there before, and that that conflict is, is what America is all about, and we see it even, you know even as we come to the end of the century.
INT: Going back to the 1940's and 1950's after the second world war, how aware were you of the cold war. What did the cold war mean to you.
HUGH: Very aware it, I think that to some extent, see you know, I was in the service right out of high school, during world war two and I came out like a lot of other fellas, believing that somehow we had, we had fought in a war, the last really moral war and that we would celebrate that in some form. I felt quite frankly having been raised during the depression and looking back at the roaring twenties, the jazz age, which was a very magic timer in my mind because it was something that I had missed. I expected something comparable after world war two and we didn't get that, all we got was a lot of conformity, and conservatism and when I was in college at the university of Illinois the skirt lengths dropped instead of going up as they had during the roaring twenties and I knew that was a very bad sign, and it is symbolic and reflective of a very repressive time, and some of that was laid the feet of the cold war. It was the time of the House on American Activities committee, the time of McCarthyism, and it had a big impact on me. I was as I say a student at the university of Illinois, Larry Parks the actor who played Al Jolson in the Jolson story in the forties came from the university of Illinois and he was one of the people who were singled as being a little left of center, during that period and his career and a lot of other careers were destroyed by them. I was very ... of him, and I think that it to some extent radicalized me. I was a, I was raised in the thirties as in a republican household but I was a Roosevelt democrat and to some extent what came after the war was almost a, you know it was a conservative backlash to the liberalism, politically the did exist during Roosevelt's time in America.
INT: You're a student of psychology, is there a relationship between authoritarian systems.
HUGH: I think that if you, if you are going to, and it's all very much in Orwell in 1984. you really don't create an authoritarian society unless you control the personal choices including the sexual choices of the people. So I think that sexual oppression and dictatorship go hand in hand.
INT: To what extent do you think that the cold war lent legitimacy to that kind of moral -
HUGH: I think that the cold war and the fear of nuclear holocaust were used. Some, some of the fears were very understandable, but it was used by some of the darker parts of our own society to support the military and to change this into at during that period a very conservative political climate, so that to some extent I felt during that period that we had become, as a country, a part of what we fought the war to be the enemy ourselves.
INT: How would you describe the Playboy philosophy.
HUGH: Well I think the Playboy philosophy is very, very connected to the American dream, it the political philosophy that I've always, that I grew up with and that I espoused in the editorial series, was really personal freedom, political freedom, economic freedom. With the emphasis on the personal. The notion that we indeed did and do own our own minds and bodies, and that anything from church or state that limits that is inappropriate and inconsistent with the ... society that America is supposed to be.
INT: Do you think that making that kind of statement put you in any kind of risk, any possibility of retaliation by
HUGH: (Guffaw) I already suspected it, I lived it for sure, of course.
INT: In what way did you live it.
HUGH: Well I think that from the very beginning it wasn't simply, what made Playboy so popular was not simply the naked ladies, there were naked ladies in other magazines, what made the magazine so popular was, even before I started writing the philosophy, there was a point of view in the magazine, it prior to that you couldn't run nude pictures without some kind of rational that they were art. I made them into, I put them into a context of a positive or what I perceived as a positive attitude on male female relationships. I suggested that sex was not the enemy, that violence was the enemy, that nice girls like sex. The centerfold itself, the girl next door centerfold, in a very simplistic way was rooted in that philosophy, that that sex is OK, it's a natural part of life. a very radical idea in America, and I paid dues very early on the post office that had been the arbiter of communication in America since the comstocka in Victorian times, still believe that, despite some court decisions to the contrary, believe that they had a right to define without consideration of the courts, what they, what you could send through the mail, so they didn't want to give me my sector mail, my sector mailing permit, sectored mailing permit, that all magazines need to survive. We had to go to court to get that. and then they found other ways, I was, I was on the enemies list during the Nixon era because I was supporting and donating funds to more liberal democratic, democrat causes, but the being on the list really began in the very early days in the middle fifties along with a lot a great many other Americans although I didn't know it at the time, I was being watched by the FBI and they had a record of what I was doing , in 1960 when we opened the first Playboy club, Chicago officials that key clubs that had been operating in Chicago for twenty five years were suddenly illegal. We had to go to court to win that case. In 1963 they decided that a very innocent pictorial on a movie by Jane Mansfield was obscene, we had to fight them in court to win that case. In 19 after the enemies list came out in 1975, 74 they concocted a phony drug case against me because my secretary had been involved with a guy who was a street dealer, and literally fabricated evidence to convict her in the hope that somehow do something with me. And then in the early 1980's when America and England became more politically conservative, we lost our casino licenses in England and our casino license in Atlantic city. Not on the basis of anything but that was really going on there, but because the climate had changed, and to some extent the fact that the first amendment protects me in America in the magazine. But the very fact that we were able to operate for so many years with liquor licenses and with casino licenses which require the approval of the powers that be is probably in itself quite remarkable. So I fought the good fight, but have always felt that was part of the territory. I didn't start the magazine as a crusade but there's always been a little bit of the crusader in me, and you know, you need dragons to slay, without the conflict and the controversy I think that what I managed to do less, and I take a great deal of pride in the accomplishment.
INT: You describe a society which is very conservative, what is your position on race and civil rights.
HUGH: My views on tolerance and race from my parents. my mother in particular, but both my parents were very idealistic people. As a matter of fact I accepted their values on every area except sex, they were raised in a very oppressive typically puritan farm families in Nebraska. So that was really the only area that I really had problems with my family. I think that the sexual revolution grew to some degree out of you know the civil rights movement and I was actively involved in it from the late fifties on, when we held our first jazz festival in Chicago in 1959. We donated the funds from that to the urban league, and when I formed the Playboy foundation in 1950 in 1965 it became the activist arm of the Playboy philosophy. I started doing the philosophy in 1963, the end of 1962 actually and then formed the foundation. The foundation became as the magazine and the company prospered, a way of putting our money where our mouth was, and by the early nineteen seventies we had donated several million dollars to a variety of controversial causes. Many of them related to sex laws, sex research with Mathers and Johnson and the McKensey Institute and the civil rights movement. In the process also we helped to fight the series of cases that lead eventually to Rowe versus Wade and legalized abortion. I met Martin Luther King for the first time, in fact the only time, a short time before his death, and he was in Chicago to try to meet with Mayor Daley and to segregation was still, then and now a part of the Chicago scene, in the schools.
INT: To what do you ascribe racism in America.
HUGH: The phenomena there is something in us that on the one hand bonds us with like people but somehow makes us suspicious of other people. and it is one of the sad things of humankind and unfortunately nationalism and organized religion feed it. It turns into a kind of them and us phenomena and it is particularly pathetic and sad when it comes to religion because most organized religion, most of the fundamental premises of religion are very similar, they tend towards a single god in some form and that religion can then turn in to the source of animosity and hatred and bigotry, is one of the great ironies I think.
INT: The nineteen sixties were a period of great change, what do you think overall were the causes of this change.
HUGH: Well I think we came out of a very conservative time in the fifties, part of it raised by the political climate at the time but also reflected in conservatism, in lifestyle and I think that a new generation was growing up that was responding to that. To some extent you see a kind of cause effect that is like a pendulum, it swings back and forth. I think that the conservatism that occurred in the nineteen eighties was a direct reaction to and response to the liberal changes that took place in the sixties and seventies and I think that's the way of things. With all of this kind of thing we get two steps forward and one step back and you know one hopes were coming out of the tunnel again. Always we find reasons to thwart and work against the personal freedom with some other explanation. During the fifties it was the cold war much of the repression that occurred, the sexual repression in particular that occurred during the eighties, they related it to Aids. The politicization of the disease it was cause and effect backwards, because it's not really the disease that caused the conservative agenda, the conservative agenda was there already and we have had in America a rather dramatic rise in the Christian right, in America. they actually elected Reagan and gave us for one of the first times, starting in my lifetime a rather unholy alliance that existed between religion and the state, and that in turn gave us the Mise commission and the Mise commission was nothing more than a cross country witch hunt that had nothing to do with, with research related to sex and there are many other evidences of it, I can't, it's very difficult for me to believe - when I was a kid I grew up, fascinated with Darwin and fascinated with the monkey trial in the nineteen twenties, the fact that, that controversy would still exist. That creationism would still be perceived in some quarters as a viable perception and there would be controversy as there is in American schools, with evolution on the one hand, with science on the one hand and religious state of superstition on the other, in the form of creationism is strange, but this is the nature of the way we are, we and I don't just mean America I mean, I mean the world, we you know we have in this century you know reached the moon and the stars, our technology and our science is at such an incredible level and in so many other ways we are still superstitious savages in the jungle with some of our social and religious values.
INT: How much importance do you ascribe to music in influencing changes in the 1960's.
HUGH: Well I always think, quite frankly that pop culture is a lot more important than a lot of people realize. I think that the major influence certainly in terms of influencing people in this century has been the mass communication that includes, and that is what is unique about America about this century. What is unique about this century is transportation and transportation of ideas and with movies, radio, television now the internet, and the recording of sound and music, I think that these are the major influences at least as much as the political leaders, and I think that, I was fortunate enough top be raised in a, in a very romantic time in terms of music, and the music itself simple reflected the much more romantic time. as we've become more cynical and lost some of our innocence, we have seen that incredible phenomena during this century, the music reflects it to some degree, but there is a fascination now with retro and I did a little of that ... hero three or four issues ago, ... Playboy 2000 said in effect that everything old was new again. Look to the best of where we've been to define who we want to be in the century ahead. Because we have a tremendous opportunity now, the disappearance of the wall, the Berlin wall and the other boundaries and walls between people, and the arrival of the technology with the internet and global television. We have a tremendous opportunity to try to start solving some of our overwhelming problems with population related environment, related to the hatred that exists between countries and religions, so we have a tremendous opportunity, but the dangers are very clearly there.