Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream

By Steven Watts
Read by Ray Porter

18.63 Hours 03/01/2008 unabridged
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Gorgeous young women in revealing poses; extravagant mansion parties packed with celebrities; a hot-tub grotto, elegant smoking jackets, and round rotating beds; the hedonistic pursuit of uninhibited sex—put these images together and a single name springs to mind: Hugh Hefner. From his spectacular launch of Playboy magazine and the dizzying expansion of his leisure empire to his recent television hit The Girls Next Door, the publisher has attracted public attention and controversy for decades. But how did a man who is at once socially astute and morally unconventional, part Bill Gates and part Casanova, also evolve into a figure at the forefront of cultural change? In Mr. Playboy, historian and biographer Steven Watts argues that, in the process of becoming fabulously wealthy and famous, Hefner has profoundly altered American life and values. Granted unprecedented access to the man and his enterprise, Watts traces Hef’s life and career from his Midwestern, Methodist upbringing and the first publication of Playboy in 1953 through the turbulent sixties, self-indulgent seventies, reactionary eighties, and traditionalist nineties up to the present. He reveals that from the beginning Hefner believed he could overturn social norms and take America with him. Throughout this fascinating biography, Watts offers singular insights into the real man behind the flamboyant public persona. He shows Hefner’s personal dichotomies—the pleasure seeker and the workaholic, the consort of countless Playmates and the genuine romantic, the family man and the Gatsby-like host of lavish parties at his Chicago and Los Angeles mansions who enjoys well-publicized affairs with numerous Playmates, the fan of life’s simple pleasures who hobnobs with the Hollywood elite. Punctuated with descriptions and anecdotes of life at the Playboy Mansions, Mr. Playboy tells the compelling and uniquely American story of how one person with a provocative idea, a finger on the pulse of popular opinion, and a passion for his work altered the course of modern history.

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Summary

Summary

Gorgeous young women in revealing poses; extravagant mansion parties packed with celebrities; a hot-tub grotto, elegant smoking jackets, and round rotating beds; the hedonistic pursuit of uninhibited sex—put these images together and a single name springs to mind: Hugh Hefner. From his spectacular launch of Playboy magazine and the dizzying expansion of his leisure empire to his recent television hit The Girls Next Door, the publisher has attracted public attention and controversy for decades. But how did a man who is at once socially astute and morally unconventional, part Bill Gates and part Casanova, also evolve into a figure at the forefront of cultural change?

In Mr. Playboy, historian and biographer Steven Watts argues that, in the process of becoming fabulously wealthy and famous, Hefner has profoundly altered American life and values. Granted unprecedented access to the man and his enterprise, Watts traces Hef’s life and career from his Midwestern, Methodist upbringing and the first publication of Playboy in 1953 through the turbulent sixties, self-indulgent seventies, reactionary eighties, and traditionalist nineties up to the present. He reveals that from the beginning Hefner believed he could overturn social norms and take America with him.

Throughout this fascinating biography, Watts offers singular insights into the real man behind the flamboyant public persona. He shows Hefner’s personal dichotomies—the pleasure seeker and the workaholic, the consort of countless Playmates and the genuine romantic, the family man and the Gatsby-like host of lavish parties at his Chicago and Los Angeles mansions who enjoys well-publicized affairs with numerous Playmates, the fan of life’s simple pleasures who hobnobs with the Hollywood elite. Punctuated with descriptions and anecdotes of life at the Playboy Mansions, Mr. Playboy tells the compelling and uniquely American story of how one person with a provocative idea, a finger on the pulse of popular opinion, and a passion for his work altered the course of modern history.

Editorial Reviews

Editorial Reviews

“[F]ascinating…offers readers new insights into the life of one of the most renowned entrepreneurs of the twentieth century. Ray Porter gives a rousing, commanding reading that exercises his captivating voice. His strong voice contains a certain journalistic integrity that holds the listener’s attention, and his unbiased tone allows listeners to draw their own conclusions about Hefner.” Publishers Weekly
“Steven Watts’ biography presents a more complex personality lurking behind the pipe and smoking jacket, and Ray Porter’s courtly manner suggests indignation, and near envy, over Hefner’s excesses. The tension is well suited to the tangled web of contradictions that Hefner embodies.” AudioFile
“Porter’s rich, resonant reading cruises along at a comfortable, relaxed gait. Given the wealth of information…Porter’s delivery could become monotonous, but he modulates his tones, bringing emphasis and clarity to the details…Webb brings legitimate research to this reliable account of an American icon. Porter’s strong reading makes this extremely palatable.” Booklist
“[A] nuanced portrait of Hefner’s life that also serves as a panorama of hip culture from the 1950s onward…Probably the last word on the man behind a million adolescent fantasies.” Kirkus Reviews

Reviews

Reviews

by Ash Ryan 9/13/2017
Overall Performance
Narration
Story

Equal parts business biography, intellectual history, and sensationalism/scandalmongering (in the best sense of the terms)

It is easy to criticize Hugh Hefner for sometimes having poor judgment or questionable taste (though compared to his many imitators and competitors, he's a veritable paragon of these virtues). But in this book, equal parts business biography, intellectual history, and sensationalism/scandalmongering (but in the best sense of the terms, only in that he honestly tells about the more shocking aspects of his subject's life when they are relevant to the bigger picture), Steven Watts gives a fuller, more nuanced account of the man and his life, and his place in and influence on American culture.

He begins with with the background leading up to the creation of Playboy magazine during the Eisenhower era, and follows Hefner's personal life and the development of the company through the succeeding decades. from early support for equal rights for blacks (the Playboy Clubs in New Orleans and Miami were the first such establishments in the South to be integrated) and women (the Playboy Foundation, the company's charitable/activist arm, assisted in the Roe v. Wade case), to battles against radical feminists in the late '70s and anti-obscenity zealots during the Reagan administration, and beyond.

Interestingly, Watts discusses Ayn Rand's influence on Hefner---The Fountainhead was one of his favorite books during the period of Playboy's founding, and she was later interviewed in the magazine---but incorrectly labels her a conservative based on her support of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign (failing to mention, for instance, her opposition to Ronald Reagan because of his association with religious conservatism and the so-called "Moral Majority"). Indeed, Hefner's twenty-five installment "The Playboy Philosophy" which ran in the magazine during the early '60s was obviously inspired by her ideas---in it, he advocated individualism, enlightened self-interest, and capitalism. Unfortunately, however, his grasp of Rand's philosophy was somewhat superficial---he had a much clearer idea of what he was against than what he was for. If he had understood and practiced these ideas more consistently, he might not have been so baffled when he came under attack from both sides of the political spectrum during the late '70s and throughout the '80s. Still, when Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Barbara Ehrenreich ally themselves with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson against you, you know you must be doing something right.

On the whole, Watts paints a portrait of a man who is surprisingly intellectual and principled, even ethical. He of course shows Hefner's influence on the sexual revolution ("Part of the sexual revolution is bringing rationality to sexuality," according to Hefner, but here again he was more clear on what he was against than what he was for), but more broadly on postwar American culture, with his emphasis on personal freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom. As Watts demonstrates, Playboy is not just about sex and crass materialism---it is about romance, class, and living well in general, with world-class literature and journalism in addition to (usually relatively) tasteful nude pictures of beautiful women. It might seem counterintuitive at first to think of Hefner as a representative of the American dream, when his own lifestyle is so far outside the norm of American life---but he, through his business enterprises, really did a lot to shape what the American dream has come to mean, and Watts places him in the tradition of the subjects of his two previous biographies, Henry Ford and Walt Disney, in tracing the development of American culture through the twentieth century.

Author

Author Bio: Steven Watts

Steven Watts is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. He is the author of The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century and The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life.

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Details

Details

Available Formats : Digital Download, Digital Rental, CD, MP3 CD
Category: Nonfiction/Biography & Autobiography
Runtime: 18.63
Audience: Adult
Language: English