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The Legend of Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner became a legend by leading the hedonistic lifestyle of which most men can only dream. He built a publishing empire that was both taboo and respected. Hefner was somehow able to convince famous women to bare it all in Playboy between newsworthy interviews, cartoons and essays. While this was no small feat, his real gift was to elevate the girl next door to celebrity status. Hugh Hefner passed away on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles at the age of 91. In keeping with his legend, it was no small coincidence that Wednesday is often referred to as "hump day."

Hefner, the pipe-smoking hedonist garbed in his telltale silk pajamas, poses in 2003, 50 years after Playboy’s first issue. (Photo: ANN JOHANSSON / Ann Johansson / Special To The Chronicle 2003)

Although Hefner's life was well publicized, one can only imagine the stories he took with him to his grave. The whispers spoken in the grotto or stories of famous people who checked in to the mansion and never seemed to check out were sealed forever in his silk smoking jacket. Hefner was the consummate playboy who lived in the limelight and knew that discretion was the better part of valor.

I suspect most men who grew up during Hefner's era remember their first Playboy magazine. It was more or less a right of passage. In fact, I still have my first one from April 1990 when Lisa Matthews was the centerfold, a term that has since vanished along with Hef's empire.

Playboy Magazine, April 1990. (Weird Long Beard Press)

I was 16 years-old and nervous as I stood in front of the magazine stand at a local delicatessen. I had ordered a sandwich, grabbed a bag of chips and took a Sports Illustrated from the rack before placing the Playboy stealthily behind it. I went to the cashier and she was a gorgeous girl not much older than me. She rang up the items and when she saw the Playboy, she paused. I can still feel how red my face was with embarrassment as she looked at me and blushed. She took the magazine behind the deli counter and asked the proprietor if I was old enough to purchase the Playboy. He looked toward me and said, "I guess if he's old enough to walk in here by himself, he's old enough to buy it." The gorgeous cashier came back and smiled and put all of my items in a bag. I walked out of the deli and was elated. I couldn't wait to look at the magazine, but I had to devour my hero sandwich first.

There were many women who became household names after appearing in Playboy. Jenny McCarthy Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith among them. The search for the next Playboy centerfold may have been a precursor to the zest of American Idol as the Playboy bus went from town to town looking for the next star. Hefner's vision was poetic. The international playboy scours the globe looking for most beautiful woman only to find she was right next door. Of course there was no one who grew up on my block that ever looked like Lisa Matthews. 

Lisa Matthews, Playboy Centerfold, April 1990. (Pinterest)


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