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A name that carries its own connotations, Hugh Marston Hefner not only founded the billion-dollar Playboy Enterprises, but did much to spearhead the "sexual revolution" -- first by publishing Playboy magazine in 1953, then by expanding his girlie magazine into supper clubs, cable networks, book publishing, apparel, adult-entertainment home videos, and scores of other arenas. Playboy Magazine itself began with a well-known business coup: Hefner purchased nude photographs of an extremely young Marilyn Monroe and published them in his magazine, in December 1953, making the first issue an instant, must-have American phenomenon. This provided the necessary boost to get the publication underway. Whereas other purveyors of entertainment for men, such as Larry Flynt and Al Goldstein, would later hone in on the gritty underbelly of the market, Hefner aggressively (and successfully) attempted to make eroticism and nudity more palatable to average middle-class citizens, gradually bringing increasingly explicit printed material into mainstream America's living rooms and thus reshaping the country's moral and sociocultural landscape. To Hefner's credit, he never failed to underestimate the intelligence of his readers, filling each issue with the finest literary work, criticism, interviews, and nonfiction journalism, alongside his erotic centerfold photographs -- thus giving the magazine some class.
Film historians might be intrigued to know that Hefner's cinematic activities are not by any means limited to softcore adult entertainment. He has occasionally produced critically lauded mainstream pictures, such as Roman Polanski's X-rated (for violence, not sex) Macbeth (1971), Arthur Hiller's cult classic The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974), and (as part of a legal settlement) Peter Bogdanovich's extraordinary character study Saint Jack (1979).
Hefner was portrayed by Cliff Robertson in Bob Fosse's Star 80, Jack Fitz in American Gangster, and Randall Batinkoff in the telemovie Hefner: Unauthorized. In the 21st century he was the star of the reality series The Girls Next Door, which focused on his relationship with three former playmates, and in 2008 he played himself in the Anna Faris comedy The House Bunny. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi