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Hugh Hefner's legacy: Finding the teen boy inside men

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

The magazine also occasionally published such important female writers as Margaret Atwood, author of "The Handmaid's Tale."

Hefner pushed similarly progressive lines for such other rising issues as gay rights and the war against AIDS. But, despite such gestures as a fundraiser for the Equal Rights Amendment in Chicago's Playboy Mansion, the magazine's relations with the rising feminist movement always have been fraught.

Feminist Susan Brownmiller drew the line during a debate with Hefner on Dick Cavett's TV talk show. In a reference to the skimpy costumes worn by Playboy Club "bunnies," she said he would have more credibility when "you're willing to come out here with a cottontail attached to YOUR rear end."

Yet the irony of the great Braille debate is that it came at a time when Hefner's global empire was in decline. By the end of the 1970s, social change and competition with other media led to layoffs, the closing of the Playboy Clubs, the grounding of the Playboy jetliner and Chicago native Hefner's move with the company's corporate headquarters to Los Angeles.

In a breathtaking move of desperation, Hefner even tried publishing Playboys without nude women, a clear sign of an identity crisis for the iconic publication. In its heyday, Playboy struck a winning balance between literature and porn. It offered a visionary lifestyle -- "What kind of man reads Playboy?" said its promotional ads -- that, by Hefner's own admission, appealed to the teenaged boy inside every man.

The irony of Hugh Hefner's legacy, after years of trying to reconcile Playboy with the rising independence of women, may be that it appears to be largely flummoxed by the changing attitudes of men.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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