The Rise of Playboy

A look back at the magazine—and mystique—that Hugh Hefner built.
7 stories

News that Lindsay Lohan will pose for Playboy has thrust the magazine back into the nation's headlines (or at least its tabloid headlines). But the most enduring work published in Hugh Hefner's iconic publication proves the old joke—people really do read Playboy for the articles.

Hunter S. Thompson reflected on the early days of the magazine in a 2004 letter to Hef. "The mere existence of Playboy in 1953 was a Message, and the message said, Yes, it can be done," he wrote. "We can publish pictures of naked women (and even the Girl Next Door), and we can write strange and even perverse stories about real sex adventures with real naked girls.… Jesus, it was a monumental breakthrough to Freedom."

But Playboy is almost as renowned for its interviews, as William Grimes observed. "Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy said no. Jimmy Carter said yes, and then mentioned committing 'adultery in my heart,' which threw his Presidential campaign into turmoil. Bruce Springsteen says he's not ready yet, and Saddam Hussein is proving to be one tough interview to get, but Playboy is still trying," he wrote. "In the last 30 years, 360 subjects have submitted to the ordeal known as the Playboy interview, the second-most popular feature in the magazine. It began with interviewing Miles Davis in 1962, and it has its 30th anniversary this month with an interview with Betty Friedan. The magazine's interviewers have sat down with Vladimir Nabokov and Stephen King, Fidel Castro and Boy George, Ian Fleming and Sean Connery, the Beatles and Jean-Paul Sartre, Gary Gilmore and the cast of 'Hill Street Blues.'"

Bruce Handy recounted what happened when the brand's culture moved beyond the glossy pages. "When Hugh Hefner opened the first Playboy Club, in 1960, he was selling men the chance to walk into the pages of his magazine: the swinging-bachelor-pad décor, the carefully garnished cocktails, and, above all, the cantilevered, cotton-tailed Bunnies," he wrote. "For the women wearing ears, the payoff was entirely different." As a 21st century Playboy Club opened in London, Handy heard from Hef, his execs, and a hutchful of former Bunnies about the rise and fall (and rise?) of the nightlife empire that spawned an all-American sex symbol.

And David Bernstein looked at the meteoric ascent of the man who now acts as the magazine's editorial director. "Jimmy Jellinek’s shot to the top of the men’s magazine world has been fast and wild, like an uninterrupted Red Bull-and-vodka bender. Schooled in the racy Fleet Street ways of the so-called lad mags, by the age of 30, Jellinek was the top editor of the category’s second-biggest title, Stuff, and by 31, he was editing the biggest: Maxim, which at its peak counted 14 million readers," Bernstein wrote. "Now 35, the enfant terrible emeritus is only the fifth person in Playboy’s 56-year history to hold the position of editorial director. In November 2009, after not even a year at the top of Playboy’s masthead, Jellinek climbed another rung on the corporate ladder; he was named chief content officer—meaning he directs the creative development for all of Playboy Enterprises’ media properties, including print, online, mobile, television, film, and radio."

From the Web

Fear and Justice in the Kingdom of Sex

Jan 2004
From the Web

A Bunny Thing Happened: An Oral History of the Playboy Clubs

When Hugh Hefner opened the first Playboy Club, in 1960, he was selling men the chance to walk into the pages of his magazine: the swinging-bachelor-pad décor, the carefully garnished cocktails, and, above all, the cantilevered, cottontailed Bunnies. For the women wearing ears, the payoff was entirely different. As a 21st-century Playboy Club opens in London, Bruce Handy hears from Hef, his execs, and a hutchful of former Bunnies about the rise and fall (and rise?) of the nightlife empire that spawned an all-American sex symbol.

May 2011
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Playboy Editorial Director Jimmy Jellinek’s Hop to the Top

Hare Tonic: After just over a year as editorial director, 35-year-old Jimmy Jellinek has injected new life and energy into Playboy (the Marge Simpson cover was his brainchild). But can anyone—even a brash former star of the lad-mag genre—rescue this listing flagship?

Mar 2010
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Hugh Hefner, 84 and on the verge of his third marriage, is buying back Playboy Enterprises, because some things are better done in private.

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