April 9, 1926, Hugh Marston Hefner was born. Today, he would've been 95 years old. I still miss him and always will. Playboy has played the biggest role in my life, bringing me from St. Louis to Chicago, honoring me with a centerfold and 9 covers, taking me around the world on promotions, introducing me to so many interesting people and, ultimately, bringing me to my soulmate and husband, Chuck Jordan.
Playboy formed my life in other ways too. As an only child, I yearned for siblings. Once I was ensconced in the world of Playboy via the Clubs, I met the sisters I never had. Most of them are still friends to this day. We laughed together over our good fortune and smiled inwardly at being a part of a very special sorority.
I still don't think Hef has received the recognition he deserved. He was one of the first champions of human rights, especially for the LGBTQ communities and yes, women's rights too. He took a fierce interest in the protection of the Bunnies who worked for him (anyone who even touched a Bunny's tail was thrown out of the club and their card revoked) and, until the day he died, he always celebrated the women who brought him to the party, the Playmates. He sent annual Christmas gifts (all of which I still have) and he always insisted, "once a Playmate, always a Playmate." The centerfolds were invited to all the parties where he always entertained with the glee and enthusiasm of a young boy.
I'll never forget when I first moved into the Playboy Mansion at 1340 N. State Parkway. It was 1974 and, on that first night, a note was slipped under my door from Hef, inviting all of us Bunnies who lived there to join "please join him in the Ballroom for ice cream and cake" to celebrate his birthday. It seemed like a message from some shy little high school boy and this is the way I will always remember him.
He always had that boyish charm, which I imagine could've been one of the reasons he was so attractive to younger women (and vice versa). He was always a perfect gentleman too, someone who I know would've been appalled at Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein's atrocities against women.
He loved movies, backgammon and cards with his friends and staying home. He did not like venturing outside his comfort zone but did so on rare occasions, usually ones where he controlled the environment. He even enjoyed bringing his own food to restaurants.
I loved the magazine and always marveled at his passion for it. He truly did stay up all hours of the night, planning layouts and stories. A dear friend of mine, Jeff Cohen, who was a former art director for Playboy, recently showed me some classic, hilarious messages from Hef that he'd saved (and framed). Hef used to leave messages on his desk at the office. The "interoffice correspondence" was always typed on his signature yellow paper and signed "Hef."
Jeff joked that he could spot these orange messages (that only Hef could use) as soon as he walked through the door and dreaded what he would find there. More often than not, they berated Cohen for some wrongdoing within the magazine or in one of the special editions [flats] that he was in charge of.
One memo, dated July 1, 1997, reads, "Put down your bat and step away from the batter's box, Jeff. I'm really not interested in pursuing the subject of sexual revelations related to Playboy Playmates or models. This is precisely what Penthouse does every month and what sets PLAYBOY apart from the rest of the market is the impression--built with considerable care over the last five decades--that our models aren't bimbos. I'm not interested in doing anything to change that impression."
And in another memo, dated June 9, 1997, the message reads, "What sets PLAYBOY apart from Penthouse, Hustler and the rest is the "Girl Next Door" innocence of the women featured in the magazine and flats [special editions]. The notion of destroying that image by running explicit erotic copy along with the pictures is insanity itself. What can you possibly be thinking about?"
As you can tell, he treasured the "Girl Next Door" image of the women who graced the pages of Playboy. I know I certainly fit this mold coming from a small town in Southern Illinois. And, most all of the Playmates I met truly were this type of woman.
Dear Hef, I hope you're smiling at the new Playboy which is sadly only online now. I know the new owners are still honoring your memory though and following your vision--including diversity, forward-thinking ideals and fairness for all.
I miss you.