Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner died at home September 27 of natural causes. He was 91. While the magazine’s primary appeal was nude pictures of women and sex-oriented features, Playboy was also known for its cultural and political articles, and for fiction.

If you carefully look through the wrong end of the telescope, you can focus on Hefner’s and Playboy’s impressive record of publishing science fiction.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction explains that as a young man Hefner was an avid reader of Weird Tales. Once he started Playboy, the editors responsible for selecting its fiction likewise had a taste for sf/f – particularly Ray Russell, Robie MacAuley, and Alice K Turner.

Playboy serialized Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in 1954, and over the years published short stories by Charles Beaumont, Robert Sheckley, Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, Dan Simmons, Lucius Shepard, Terry Bisson, Robert Silverberg, Howard Waldrop, Joe Haldeman, J.G.Ballard, Frederik Pohl, and many others.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” (1969) was the first story by a woman published in Playboy, according to the Internet Science Fiction Database — although it appeared under the name U. K. Le Guin.

In 1998, Turner edited an anthology of science fiction published in the magazine, The Playboy Book of Science Fiction.

The Washington Post’s obituary documents Hefner’s reputation as a defender of First Amendment civil rights, and reproductive rights, and someone who believed gay rights were part of the sexual revolution he advocated, as shown early on by Playboy’s 1955 publication of Charles Beaumont’s “The Crooked Man” —

“The Crooked Man” depicted a dystopian future where homosexuality was the norm, heterosexuality was outlawed and angry anti-straight mobs marched through the street chanting “make our city clean again!” Even the relatively progressive Esquire magazine had rejected the piece because it was too controversial.

But Beaumont found a fan in a young Hugh Hefner, who agreed to run it in his Playboy magazine, then less than two years old.

Outraged letters poured in to Playboy. Even readers of the pioneering nude publication found Beaumont’s tale of straight people dressing in drag and sneaking into dark barrooms to find partners too offensive for their tastes.

Hefner responded to the backlash in a defiant note. “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society,” he wrote, “then the reverse was wrong, too.”

Hefner was friends with Ray Bradbury. On Ray’s 90th birthday, Hefner hosted a party for him at the Writers Guild. Buzz Aldrin was there, too. John King Tarpinian helped get Bradbury back and forth. John took these photos, and wrote a little about the party in another post.

Ray Bradbury and Hugh Hefner

Ray Bradbury and Buzz Aldrin in 2010.

Tarpinian says, “Because of Ray, I did get to say I bought the magazine for the articles.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge and Greg Hullender for the story.]

23 thoughts on “Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

  1. Just to quibble, because I’m a goddamn quibbler:

    When he started Playboy, the editors responsible for selecting its fiction likewise had a taste for sf/f – particularly Ray Russell, Robie MacAuley, and Alice K Turner.

    When Hefner started Playboy, I don’t think any of these people were responsible for selecting its fiction. Russell at least started very early on, but Macauley started in 1966 and Turner in 1980.

  2. Thanks for this lovely tribute.

    When I was a teenager, my Dad had a stack of Playboy mags in his closet. He never had a subscription, he just occasionally bought one or my Mom bought it for him. Once, when I ran out of reading material, I started flipping through them. And lo and behold, there were articles, comics and even science fiction short stories among the photos of topless ladies. After that, I eagerly pounced on every Playboy magazine that found its way into our household, hoping for a science fiction story. One story that sticks in my mind had the crew of a research vessel watching from afar, as their sun exploded and went supernova.

    Occasionally, a different magazine featuring topless women found its way into our home, Penthouse or one of the local competitors. I was always disappointed, because those never had short stories. So I’m another one who actually read Playboy for the articles and the science fiction short stories.

  3. Kurt Busiek: If that’s misleading, how about starting with “once”? I’m open to other suggestions as well.

  4. Playboy also had a Playboy Press operation at one point that published SF among other things, like The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. See http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?45400

    Le Guin’s story was not only published as by U. K. Le Guin, but a thumbnail photo was mysteriously missing from the contributors page for the issue when all of the other authors had one. Playboy got Bronx cheers for years for that.

    But not totally surprising: Paul Krassner, publisher of The Realist, had been an Associate Editor at Playboy back when. He recounted an editorial conference where a lot of argument took place. Playboy was planning to publish a special parody issue, and the argument was over whether to put Special Parody Issue on the cover. There was a fear that a lot of the hip, sophisticated young males who read Playboy might not realize it was parody unless explicitly told… :-p

    I suspect it was a case of “We publish SF, but some of our readers might have a problem with SF written by a woman.” I felt they were wrong at the time, but don’t pretend to be representative of their readership. And Playboy paid top dollar, so Ursula was at least well compensated.

    >Dennis

  5. If that’s misleading, how about starting with “once”? I’m open to other suggestions as well.

    “Once” certainly avoids the suggestion that they were editing for him when he started the magazine. I don’t have an elegant fix to suggest; I’d probably have written something clunky like “As publisher of PLAYBOY, he worked with editors who also…” or some such.

    But if it had been “Once,” I wouldn’t have quibbled.

  6. In 1971, Playboy Press had an entire paperback science fiction line. Looking at the covers and contents from @DMcCunney’s ISFDB link, I recognize “Last Train to Limbo,” “The Dead Astronaut” and “From the S File” as short story anthologies which I owned and thought highly of at the time. Most likely I still have them in a box somewhere. Pretty big names: LeGuin, Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Avram Davidson, Niven, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, more.

    Looks like it might have been a monthly series, since ISFDB shows 12 books for 1971.

  7. When I had a temporary job at the Massachusetts Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, part of the population I served were some of the only people who really did read Playboy primarily for the articles and fiction. The text was transcribed into a few different formats, but no attempt was made to convert the pictures to a format accessible to the visually impaired.

    Not even in the Braille edition.

  8. Wasn’t Stephen King’s short about the bees and the volcano published in Playboy?

    That sounds like “The End of the Whole Mess,” which was published in OMNI.

    King’s had a half-dozen or so pieces in PLAYBOY, including “Word Processor of the Gods” and “Willa.”

  9. Lis Carey on September 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm said:
    > some of the only people who really did read Playboy primarily for the articles and fiction.
    Up until the 1980’s Playboy was available to the blind as thick paper ‘magazines’, as well as assorted other mainstream publications including Galaxy and Asimov’s. They would arrive by mail in large cardboard boxes from the Library for the Blind with the Playboy name plainly visible on the front. The woman i dated (and eventually married) was blind and she would gleefully tear open the box, stick her hand in, and proceed to read random pages; “Oh, this is going to be good… hmm, pass on that…” I can’t begin to describe the confusion on people’s faces when they recognized the Bunny logo on the front page. Invariably they would ask “How do they do the pictures?” Eventually we came up with the joke that it wasn’t really Braille but millions of tiny erect nipples.
    Unfortunately, in one of the most blatant bits of censorship by the Reagan Administration, the general funding for the Library for the Blind was cut by EXACTLY the cost of producing Playboy, and only Playboy, thus forcing it out of print. Lisa was furious, but with Attorney General Ed Meese covering up the Statues in the Justice Department because of nudity, and the Moral Majority in full repression mode, it would seem that the Playboy Advisor, and the articles, and the fiction, and the jokes, and the Playboy Philosophy were all too radical for Polite Society to bear. (One could wonder why the braille version of Cosmopolitan was not given the axe as well, but that’s probably best left for the next moral panic.)

  10. @Jeff Warner– My guess would be that because Cosmo was for women, they didn’t notice it, and Nancy Reagan didn’t choose to tell them.

  11. In the photo of the group of people you can see Hef peeking out under Buzz’s chin. Hef brought two of his grandkids with him to meet Ray. The two blondes were Hef’s arm candy for the day.

    I have to say that Hef was one of the most intellectual persons I ever met. I had met him once before, at the mansion, because the lady I was dating older sister was Miss August 1971. Centerfolds had standing invitations at all the parties.

  12. And don’t forget Playboy published the first nine volumes of “John Cleve’s” Spaceways series (1981-83)! I loved those anthologies in the 70s of stories culled from the magazine; they had such distinctive covers.

  13. Not AFAICT; Wikipedia lists other paying activities, including novels based on The Phantom (which I’d vaguely remembered) and scripts for Marvel (which I hadn’t heard). The hourly rate was probably much better, but I suspect it wasn’t a majority of his income; ISFDB lists a modest number of short stories for that decade, and a handful of novels, suggesting other prose markets (e.g., DAW Books) were his mainstay. OTOH, I remember fondly his story using a metaphor of onions and carrots in the Great Stew, although I can’t spot the title in ISFDB’s listing.

  14. Goulart has always been a hired gun, and a good bit of what he’s written hasn’t appeared under his own name. Remember the Tekwar novels in the late 80s’early 90’s? Those were published with William Shatner as the author. In fact, Shatner came up with the premise and I believe provided story outlines, but Goulart ghostwrote the books. I recall hearing he’d made more from the first Tekwar novel than for everything he’d written previously under his own name combined, and could believe it. Ron didn’t mind. He was quite well paid, thank you.

    (Along those lines, I heard the late Carrie Fisher picked up some serious coin as a script doctor on various Hollywood projects. A “star” screenwriter would have problems with booze/drugs/poor choice in sex partners and stall, and Carrie would come in and pick up the pieces. She wouldn’t appear in the credits, and speculations about what films she ghostwrote will be just that, because those who know aren’t telling. But a fair number of folks have made livings writing stuff that didn’t appear under their own name.)

    >Dennis

  15. I heard the late Carrie Fisher picked up some serious coin as a script doctor on various Hollywood projects. A “star” screenwriter would have problems with booze/drugs/poor choice in sex partners and stall, and Carrie would come in and pick up the pieces.

    A screenwriter doesn’t need to “stall” for a script doctor to be brought in. All that needs to happen is for a producer to say, “This needs to be funnier. Let’s get Max to do a polish, he writes funny.”

    Or “This needs more heartwarming moments” or any other need for a polish. “This needs to be rewritten so the lead character can be played by Whoopi.”

    speculations about what films she ghostwrote will be just that, because those who know aren’t telling

    In some cases they are. She worked on HOOK, LETHAL WEAPON 3, SISTER ACT, THE WEDDING SINGER, LAST ACTION HERO, THE RIVER WILD and OUTBREAK, among others.

    A ghostwriter and a script doctor aren’t the same thing. A ghost writer writes specifically without credit, because the credit’s going to some other name as part of the deal. A script doctor is doing a script polish, but not enough of the full job to get credit under union rules. But it’s not a secret — script doctors get hired because their previous work is known and respected.

  16. I attended numerous parties at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago when the American Booksellers Association’s annual convention was in that city. Later, the parties were held at the Playboy offices in downtown Chicago, with lots of authors, artists and Playboy editorial staff there. Alice K. Turner, the fiction editor (who I knew since the mid-1970s when she worked at New York Magazine and, later, Publishers Weekly) always brought in a ton of SF writers for these events.

    It was at one of these that I got an issue autographed by that year’s Playmate of the Year. Still have the issue.

    In the 1990s, the convention was in LA, and I attended a party at Hefner’s house, a pseudo-Tudor mansion with snarling lion statues and stone stairway. Same glittering cast of authors, people from publishing and bookselling circles, and the mansion’s own menagerie of animals (a passing peacock stepped on my foot), drip-watered redwood trees, and perhaps resident beautiful women.

    In 1979, I believe, the entire editorial team from Playboy Press and several other publishers were killed when the DC-10 they were on crashed upon take-off for LA from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Later, Playboy Paperbacks was sold to Harcourt Brace, the line renamed.

    Now Hefner, Alice Turner, Frank Robinson and so many others who worked on the magazine are gone. But although the magazine now is a pale shadow of what it once was, the changes it made in our American society remain.

  17. @Kurt Busiek
    I’m aware Carrie Fisher has credits under her own name. I was referring specifically to the instances where her work wasn’t credited, because it was an emergency rescue when someone fell down on the job, and the reasons they fell down were the sorts of things people don’t publicly talk about.

    I’m also aware of the distinction between ghost writer and script doctor, but given the circumstance, I’ll stand by my usage.

    >Dennis

  18. I’m aware Carrie Fisher has credits under her own name. I was referring specifically to the instances where her work wasn’t credited, because it was an emergency rescue when someone fell down on the job, and the reasons they fell down were the sorts of things people don’t publicly talk about.

    All of the examples I listed are examples where she’s uncredited, because she was a script doctor. THE WEDDING SINGER, for instance, is solely credited to Tim Herlihy. Fisher wasn’t brought in because Herlihy “fell down on the job” or had a poor choice in sex partners. She was brought in to punch up Drew Barrymore’s part.

    Judd Apatow also script-doctored THE WEDDING SINGER, and not because of alcohol or sex problems.

    I’m also aware of the distinction between ghost writer and script doctor, but given the circumstance, I’ll stand by my usage.

    Here’s an article about Fisher’s script doctoring.

    http://www.slashfilm.com/carrie-fisher-script-doctor/

    It’s really not about the credited writers having drug or sex problems. Scripts are doctored all the time, for much more craft-oriented reasons, and the reason they go uncredited isn’t because they’re a secret but because you have to have written a certain percentage of the film to get credit, and script doctors are usually doing less than that.

    It’s craft stuff. No one has to be incapacitated by secret personal problems for a script doctor to polish a screenplay, and while script doctors don’t get formal credit, they’re not a secret. Joss Whedon worked on X-MEN; he’s not listed as a credited writer but it’s still openly known. Aaron Sorkin worked on SCHINDLER’S LIST and THE ROCK. Tom Stoppard worked in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

    It may not make it into the credits, but agents know, directors know, producers know. It’s not hidden from the people in a position to hire them. That’s why good script doctors are in demand.

  19. I’m another who read Playboy mostly for the prose – at least when I started in (I think) 1964, when I was seven years old – and it was one of the first places I encountered intellectually adult-level SF. I appreciated the quality and beauty of the photography as well, of course, just not (yet) in an actively sexual way. My parents were fine with this, as long as I waited until they’d both finished that month’s issue themselves. (Fair enough, they’d paid for it.)

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