Stop Looking at Hugh Hefner Through Rose-Colored Glasses

At the age of 91, on Sept. 27, Hugh Hefner died peacefully in his home. Hefner was known as a businessman and a magazine publisher. However, he will always be remembered for being the founder and editor in chief of Playboy magazine. Since the release of the first edition of Playboy, Hefner’s publication proved that sex does indeed sell and that a person can build an entire empire out of the exploitation of sexual appetite.

Since his death was announced, social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have been plastered with numerous “R.I.P” messages and comments from fans who remember him as a sexual revolutionary. Nonetheless, Hefner’s story is far darker than what has been recently portrayed in the media.

Hefner will be laid to rest next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s first covergirl. Playboy’s first issue featured Marilyn Monroe on the cover, as well as nude photos of her displayed in the magazine. It was Monroe’s pictures that made the magazine an instant sellout. But the pictures were never taken for Playboy; in actuality, they were pictures that Monroe had taken in 1949 for only $50 before her acting career took off. Hefner purchased the photos years later and used them for his magazine without Monroe’s consent. In fact, Monroe told George Barris in “Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words” that she never received any type of compensation from Hefner or anyone related to Playboy. Monroe had to buy a copy of the magazine to see herself in the publication. Hefner bought the crypt next to Monroe’s, yet he was undeserving of that space.

Monroe’s pictures were never meant to reach Playboy’s audience. Hefner being buried next to Monroe is the moral equivalent of a stalker living in the same house as their victim: it makes no sense. The fact that Hefner bought the crypt next to Monroe’s and stated that “spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up,” does not make it better. The fact that one admires a person does not make up for the injustices one has made toward that person.

Other celebrities who were featured in the cover of Playboy include Madonna and Vanna White, who used to be Hefner’s close friend. The Sept. 1985 issue of the magazine featured nude pictures of the “Like a Virgin” singer which, just as in Monroe’s case, were not taken for Playboy; they were taken in 1978 and Madonna was paid $30 to $50 for them. Hefner purchased and published the pictures in the magazine without Madonna’s permission.

White’s pictures were featured in the May 1987 issue when Hefner found lingerie pictures she had taken prior to her career in “Wheel of Fortune” and published the pictures, even after White repeatedly told him not to.

Hefner’s actions to make his publication prosper should not be praised. He does not deserve the pedestal that many have given him, even if what he did was intended to help his work. To reach success by taking people down is not worthy of pride.

In 2015, Holly Madison, a former Playboy Bunny, released a memoir in which she wrote that her relationship with Hefner made her suicidal and depressed. She also claimed that she was abused emotionally and physically by Hefner. Additionally, she stated that Hefner tried to bribe her into staying with him by including her in his will: he promised her $3 million if she stayed in the mansion. She and other former Playboy Bunnies have argued that the living conditions in the mansion were difficult. According to them, they were pinned against each other and their lives were controlled, from their use of social media to the manipulation of their diets.

These are among many sexual assault allegations, including one from the late former Bunny Dorothy Stratten. One of the most famous allegations comes from Linda Lovelace’s autobiography, in which she claims that Hefner forced himself on her and then tried to make her have sex with a dog.

Overall, Hugh Hefner is not the beloved grandfather that the media has been portraying him to be, with celebrities posting pictures remembering a man they consider a “legend” and a “genius.” Even though it has only been a week since his passing, a man who committed such actions should not be celebrated, nor should his acts be ignored. The fact that many of the accusations have not been brought up these past few days as often as they should is proof of how the press can go silent when a huge celebrity’s reputation is at stake.
Allegations and accusations like those surrounding Hefner should be known to the world, for people should know that anyone can be a perpetrator.

Oriana Gonzalez is a second-year literary journalism major and gender and sexuality studies minor. She can be reached at orianag@uci.edu.