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Interview: Hugh Hefner

By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  August 15, 2010

That's kind of the dream ofPlayboy — to have all your needs, physical and intellectual, met in the same place.
Well, I think it goes beyond that. I think the truth of the matter is the magazine itself was intended conceptually as a lifestyle magazine that fueled and fed the physical, intellectual, emotional. That was what it was all about. But quite beyond that, I have lived a truly moral life. Far more moral than a great many people that you read about every day who cheated on their wives and live a life of hypocrisy. My life is an open book with illustrations. Who I am is very clear, and I have always treated friends and lovers with great love and respect. It is one of the reasons why I am loved by, and still respected by, the vast majority of the women, the wives and lovers, from more than half a century.

Does it bother you that people might perceive you as immoral?
It depends on who the people are! Ha! When the religious right had problems with me, I completely understood them, because they have a completely different perception of the world than I do. But when a number of liberals got caught up in the anti-sexual element of the women's movement, that did bother me. I understand the reason for it, because that's who we are as Americans; we are very Puritan people and have very mixed emotional feelings about sexuality. Remember, the Puritans came over here to escape from religious persecution, they came from England, and promptly turned around and started persecuting the people they didn't agree with. That's where the Scarlet Letter came from and the stocks and dunking boards . . . and so it's natural that there would be a Puritan strain within the Women's Movement. I mean, the suffrage movement came along hand in hand, historically, with the prohibitionist movement. Women got the vote and we got prohibition at the same time, in 1920. I understand it, because I am a direct descendent of William Bradford, who was the first Plymouth Colony governor.

In the film, there are these images of you as a young man — how old were you when you startedPlayboy?

Good lord, you were just a kid! There are these pictures of you with this look on your face, like you can't quite believe what you're getting away with. Did it feel like that at the time?
I think what you read in my face was not the notion that I could get away with anything, but that I was the luckiest cat on the block! It was a dream come true beyond anything I could imagine. I started the magazine on absolutely, absolutely no money.

The film details how you got a nude shot of Marilyn Monroe for the first issue. But what I want to know is, how did you get Ray Bradbury?
Well throughout the first year, most of what we were publishing was reprint material. Fahrenheit 451 had appeared in book form, and I was the kid who thought it deserved to be serialized in a magazine. I don't think it was very well known.

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