Playboy’s flamboyant founder Hugh Hefner died at 91 due to natural causes at Playboy mansion, Los Angeles. The celebrated and often controversial Hugh Hefner founded the Playboy magazine way back in 1953. We take a look at the rise of Playboy magazine from its initial stages, to become one of the world’s best-known brands, having grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
Being denied a raise in Esquire Inc, where he was a copywriter, Hugh Hefner decided to chuck the job, and start his own venture in early 1950s. He raised $8,000 from 45 investors, prominent among them was his own mother. In an interview to E! Entertainment Television in 2006, Hugh Hefner said that his mother believed in him. “Not because she believed in the venture, but because she believed in her son,” Hugh Hefner told the channel. Initially, Playboy was to be called Stag Party. However, it invoked backlash from the the publisher of a men’s adventure magazine, Stag, who contacted Hugh Hefner to inform him that he would file suit to protect their trademark. The name Playboy, which was suggested by his friend and associate Eldon Sellers received Hugh Hefner’s approval.
Interestingly, the first issue of Playboy magazine was undated, as Hefner was not sure about the second issue. The first magazine which featured Marilyn Monroe, sold more than 53,000 copies! Interestingly, due to lack of an office building, Hugh Hefner and Eldon Sellers sold the copies from Hefner’s kitchen. The magazine was an instant hit, and by the 1970s, Playboy became a phenomenon. Playboy’s 1972 edition sold more than 7 million copies. According to news reports, one-quarter of all American college men were buying or subscribing to the magazine every month.
However, even though Playboy magazine was a rage among consumers, Playboy’s financial empire was built on clubs and casinos, and not just the publishing revenue. Being a member of the Playboy club had a snob value. By the end of 1961, as many 132,000 members passed through its doors, making it, at the time, the busiest nightclub in the world.
Hugh Hefner, whose 70 percent ownership of Playboy stock was valued at $399 million in 1999, shifted Playboy Enterprises Inc.’s focus to licensing and entertainment in later years to offset declining magazine sales.
The company’s sales have fallen from a peak of 7.5 million copies to less than 800,000 units of late. In 2014, the company generated $1.5 billion in retail sales around the world. More than half a billion of that sum came from China.
In 2011, Hugh Hefner bought the remaining stake to take the company private, with an intention to protect the brand. Hoping to attract more advertising, Playboy magazine decided to stop portraying nudity in 2016, a move the company said was “the next step in its brand evolution.” However, as the strategy backfired, Playboy was back to its earlier ways.
Cooper Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s son and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement: “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”