Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died at his home of natural causes on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at the age of 91. Here is an interview Postmedia Network entertainment critic Liz Braun did with the nude magazine mogul in 2009 for the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
You may know Hugh Hefner as the octogenarian most likely to be seen in public with a bevy of blond bimbos.
The founder of Playboy magazine has led the sort of life that makes him the envy of all red-blooded males, to be sure, but a new documentary on Hef reveals another side to the man altogether.
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, by Oscar-winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman, is a biopic of the man who founded a media empire — and worked for civil rights and integration in 1960s America, contributed to the ERA, hired blacklisted writers, helped overturn oppressive sex laws biased against women and homosexuals, supported environmental groups and wildlife funds and contributed far more to the fabric of American life than just those dopey silk pyjamas.
Hefner even used the Playboy jet to airlift orphans out of Vietnam, for crying out loud.
Soon everybody will. Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel has its world premiere here on Saturday at the Elgin Theatre, as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Hefner will be in the audience. (And tickets are still available!)
Over the phone yesterday — the same day he filed for divorce from his wife Kimberly after 10 years of separation — Hefner said he was looking forward to being in Toronto this weekend. “I’m privileged that Brigitte decided to make the focus of her film my life,” he said, modestly, “and a part of my life most people don’t know about. Although in a certain sense, my life is an open book, with illustrations, it’s also a Rorschach Test, an ink-blot test. People project onto my life and onto Playboy their own fantasies and their prejudices.”
So where did he get the tenacity to push so hard for social change?
“Well it’s easier to do when you’re a true believer,” said Hefner, “and when you believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile … There was never any question in my mind that I was doing the right thing, or was on the side of the angels. Never a question in my mind.”
The origins of Playboy are complicated, but Hefner mentioned, “Being raised in a very typical midwestern methodist home, with a lot of repression. There was no show of affection in my home for my brother or myself, and I escaped very early into the romantic dreams and fantasies of the movies and the music of my childhood.”
Hefner, a psychology major at university, says, “People tend to forget what a very conservative time the 1950s were. Born in 1926, I looked back at the roaring ’20s, and my perception was that that was the big party I had missed. What I expected after World War Two, ’cause I served two years in the army, was some kind of a celebration. And it didn’t happen.
“What happened was a very conservative time, a very repressive time politically and socially and sexually, and when the skirt lengths actually went down, rather than up as they did in the 1920s,
“I was convinced we were in big trouble. When I started Playboy, it was an attempt to recapture the sense of that party, that celebration of life that I felt all of us were missing.”
For about 50 years, Hefner has contributed to major changes in the way we live.
He said, “The thing I take the greatest pride in is the impact I’ve had on the changes in the social-sexual values of our time. I think now people are more comfortable in their skin, more comfortable with their sexuality.”
Meanwhile, Hefner is still having more fun than the rest of us. To be 83, and still at the centre of it all is “delicious,” he said.
“And to have a film of this sort as an appreciation of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, is very, very rewarding. On many levels, this really is the very best time of my life. I’m a very lucky cat, and I know it.”