With his ubiquitous yachting cap and velvet smoking jacket, 89-year-old Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner started his famous publication in the early 1950s, with Marilyn Monroe on the cover of the first issue. Playboy made news again recently when it announced that it would no longer publish photos of nude women. Now, guys really will have to read it for the articles.
In 1971, Playboy Enterprises went public, and today is a major distributor of entertainment through films, magazines, adult cable television networks, radio and the internet. Playboy has been around for some 60 years, and whatever your opinion of the publication, or of Hef himself, it's impossible not to know about the provocative brand.
Perhaps you didn't know, though, that Hefner was, on some level, ahead of the curve on civil rights. His Playboy’s Penthouse TV variety show, which ran from 1959 to 1961, included performances by integrated groups during a time when TV was mostly populated by white faces. Hefner also worked hard to popularize jazz in this country, with early magazine profiles of the Dorsey Brothers and Louis Armstrong. And Playboy itself has also been a source of solid journalism over the years.
Then there's the company's Playboy Philosophy, a list of "social goals" for Hefner's brand, one of whose early maxims was, “Progress necessarily requires the exchange of outdated ideas for new and better ones. By keeping open all lines of communication in our culture, every new idea—no matter how seemingly perverse, improper or peculiar, has its opportunity to be considered, to be challenged, and ultimately to be accepted or rejected by society as a whole or by some small part of it. This is the important advantage that a free society has over a totalitarian, for in a free exchange of ideas, the best will ultimately win out.”
These philosophies also motivate Hefner's philanthropy. The controversial mogul, who's currently worth $50 million by one estimate, established the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation all the way back in 1964. The foundation aims to facilitate "individual rights in our democratic society." The Hefner Foundation has a website and the foundation accepts LOIs. Typical grants range between $5,000 and $10,000. In a recent fiscal year, the foundation did $116,000 in grantmaking.
The foundation's First Amendment program "supports organizations on the vanguard of the debate about First Amendment rights." Recent grantees include Student Press Law Center, People for the American Way, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit that "focuses on civil liberties in academia in the United States." FIRE, by the way, has been ringing the alarm in recent months in response to perceived free speech impingements on college campuses, including at Yale University.
Hefner's Rational Sex and Drug and Policy program, meanwhile, aims to "advance a society where drug policies are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights which promotes the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies." Recent grantees include Drug Policy Alliance, Planned Parenthood, and The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University.
Additionally, Hefner has supported outfits such as Children of the Night, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing America’s children from the ravages of prostitution," and Brandeis University, from which Hefner's daughter Christie graduated. In 2006, Hefner also made a $1 million donation to the UCLA Film & Television Archive for public screenings of American cinema, establishing the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program, and in 2007 he made a $2 million dollar donation to the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Finally, the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards honor individuals who have made "significant contributions in the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for Americans." One recent awardee, Thomas Healey, won for his book The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America.
It should be noted that Hefner's daughter, Christie Hefner, has long been quite active both philanthropically and politically. Her causes have included AIDS, women's rights, and free speech.
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