American Playboy: high on Hugh Hefner’s social work, not sex life

By Sugandha Rawal

New Delhi–Hedonistic parties high on sex and lingerie-clad models have been intrinsic parts of Playboy boss Hugh Hefner’s life. But makers of “American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story” have put his commitment towards the social and cultural landscape in the spotlight in the forthcoming docu-series.

Stephen David, co-producer of “American Playboy…”, which will be out globally on Friday on Amazon Prime Video, says he wanted to highlight Hefner’s involvement with several social movements and is confident that it would surprise many.

“Hef’s impact on the social movements through his lifetime was really a focus for us. It’s something that audiences either don’t expect or aren’t aware of; so we hope that, after watching the series, people will have a better understanding of Hef’s importance within that context,” David told IANS in an email interview from New York.

Hefner is an editor, journalist, illustrator, producer and entrepreneur, but all of this gets overshadowed by his role in transforming the adult entertainment industry in the US with Playboy magazine, followed by the one-of-a-kind Playboy mansion and its “bunnies”.

Stills from \”American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story\”

Having pursued his education in psychology, Hefner, who will turn 91 on April 9, came out with the first edition of Playboy magazine in 1953 with a nude shot of the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

Playboy opened the first chapter of sex and fantasies for many young boys, who kept these magazines hidden behind toilet seats or under their beds. With its racy pictures, Playboy brought sex into the open, making it an ubiquitous topic.

Apart from running the hugely popular magazine, Hefner — known for his signature silk smoking jacket and velvet slippers — became both a social justice advocate and a target of the conservative movement while becoming an outspoken defender of civil rights, freedom of speech, gay rights and sexual freedom.

Stills from “American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story”

Bringing this side of his life to light is “American Playboy…”, produced by the Emmy Award-winning Stephen David Entertainment and Alta Loma Entertainment. It combines archival footage, pulling from thousands of hours from Hefner’s personal archives; interviews with notable figures — including Jesse Jackson, Gene Simmons and Bill Maher — and cinematic re-enactments.

It begins in post-war US and takes viewers through the launch of Playboy magazine in 1953 and the next six decades of Hefner’s life and career.

David says he discovered a lot of new facets of Hefner’s life while making the documentary.

He said: “Going into the project, I had a general awareness about Hef’s larger importance to First Amendment rights and other social issues, but I don’t think I completely grasped the extent of his commitment and importance. Specifically with regard to desegregating the entertainment issue, Hef and Playboy were truly ahead of their time.”

David also feels that “most people who didn’t live through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, probably wouldn’t be as aware of Hef and Playboy and their larger importance to the social and cultural landscape”.

Talking about the Playboy mogul, David said Hefner personally read the scripts and gave his inputs.

“First, Hef’s memory is incredible — the specificity of detail that he can recall is really uncanny. And second, I’d say his self-awareness. He’s able to look back with a certain amount of objectivity, which is something most people are probably incapable of,” he said.

So, who is America’s Playboy at the moment?

“Well, it’s Hef, obviously,” said David, who is working on several projects, including one with actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

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