Hugh Marston Hefner was born on April 9, 1926, to strict Methodist parents. The eldest of two brothers, he served two years in the Army during World War II and then went to work at Esquire as a copywriter. But by 1953, he was ready to strike out on his own in the publishing world.
Having scraped together $8,000, Hefner put together the first issue of Playboy at home and it hit newsstands in December 1953, complete with an old nude photo of screen goddess Marilyn Monroe that Hefner had purchased to add some oomph to the centerfold. The issue sold more than 50,000 copies and a publishing house was born—as was the pop culture relevance of the Playboy centerfold, which became the playground for Hef’s Playmates of the Month.
Ingeniously all the while, the beauties were stripping alongside some of the greatest celebrity interviews and pieces of journalism of all time, including a 1965 sit-down with Martin Luther King Jr., 1974’s “The Great Shark Hunt” by Hunter S. Thompson, the Mark Boal-penned article that became the basis for The Hurt Locker and many more. Short fiction by the likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood has been featured in its pages.
“Reading it for the articles” was a thing.
And while Hefner knew that photos of nude women—which over the years included stars ranging from Madonna, Kate Moss and Sharon Stone to Lindsay Lohan, Pamela Anderson and Naomi Campbell—were what paid the bills, he always had lofty ideals and a firmly progressive philosophy when it came to the tone and sociopolitical purpose of his flagship magazine.