Hugh Hefner: Still a playboy, activist, rebel

Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, 85 years young.


Back in the 1960s, Hugh Hefner's TV show, "Playboy After Dark," took the form of fun-filled party . . . a party that apparently has NEVER stopped. Bill Whitaker now with a Sunday Profile (An update of a story originally broadcast August 1, 2010):

We all know Hugh Hefner: Playboy ... Hedonist ... Bon Vivant ... a party animal still running wild at age 85, living large at his storied L.A. playground, the famous (or, depending on your point of view, infamous) Playboy Mansion.

"It's my home, yes. Wouldn't want to live anywhere else," he said. "It's Shangri-La. And like the original Shangri-La, the rumor is you don't get old here."

There could be something to that, because far from doddering through his eighth decade, Hugh Hefner is hot! A whole new generation thinks he's cool, tuning into his bevy of beauty-based reality TV shows - first one, then two, three, four ... multiplying like rabbits on cable TV.

His trademark Playboy Clubs, whose cotton-tailed bunnies first hopped into pop culture 50 years ago and once served the hippest crowd in town, are bouncing back after decades of decline, with new clubs in Vegas, London, Mexico and Macau.

"Yes, the bunny is back, and you know how bunnies are: They do proliferate," Hefner said.

"You are, like, hip and happening again," said Whitaker.

"Hot again! Pretty good at 84!" Hefner laughed. "I'm glad I hung around to see it!"

And what a sight: A worldwide empire that exploded from Hefner's fertile imagination, deepest desires and $1,000 from his mother.

Playboy Magazine hit the stands in 1953 with a voluptuous Marilyn Monroe wearing nothing but a come-hither look. Eisenhower's America was shocked, and titillated, and changed forever.

"We were there to ignite the flame that became the sexual revolution," Hefner told Whitaker. "I take some pride in that."

"People must have thought you were lewd and lascivious and a corrupter of young morals," Whitaker said.

"Some did, and some seem to still think so today," Hefner said.

Hefner with the Playboy jet, and an iconic Playboy Bunny. Playboy

The magazine and that oh-so-well-cultivated lifestyle made him the envy of many a man ...

Now, is it hard to keep that image going?

"Actually, it's very easy," Hefner said. "I don't have to put on a tie. My getting dressed is putting on my pajamas."

But it's also made him the enemy of many men, and more women. The criticisms? He's heard them all: You're not celebrating women, you're degrading women . . . It's not for joy of sex, it's sexist.

"My life and the magazine itself are like a Rorschach test, an inkblot test," Hefner said. "Because of the very nature of Playboy and my life, I think I touch very close to the heart of things that are controversial in America - you know, sex and wealth and success - and throwing a good party!"

"Here's a man who has outraged feminists, has outraged the Christian right, outraged conservatives, and doesn't care! That's his job!," said filmmaker Brigitte Berman, who spent three years making her new documentary, "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel."

She says the playboy still loves to shock with the pajamas and the parties ...

"And the women! An amazing number of women," said Berman. "And women love him and he loves women."

"He has had a constant, running battle with feminists. Don't they have a point?" asked Whitaker.

"Absolutely, they have a point. Absolutely!" said Berman.

But, she says, there is so much more to Hugh Hefner, so much more about him.

Beneath those pajamas beats the heart of a rebel, an iconoclast who's been tearing down barriers for decades.

At a time when America was black and white, Hefner's earliest TV shows (such as "Playboy's Penthouse") brought the races together, casually and comfortably, as if to say, Doesn't everyone live like this?

In the '60s when Playboy franchises in Miami and New Orleans refused to admit black patrons, Hefner bought back the licenses to those clubs at a loss, said Berman, "and then had whoever - black, white, doesn't matter - everyone was welcome."

Around the centerfold, the magazine published controversial authors, discussed controversial topics.

"We know about the sexual revolution," Hefner said. "People are less aware of the part I played related to racial equality, gay rights, the changing of drug laws. We were the amicus curiae, friend of the court in Roe v Wade. It gave women the right to choose.

"All these big issues, he was there, and I believe in those many rivulets, is how he made a difference," said Berman. "All these little things make up the total of who this man is."

All these little things that Hefner has been keeping all his life. Artifacts and mementoes from his earliest years to the present, meticulously filed away in 2,323 leather-bound scrapbooks: Pictures of his first plane . . . his first Valentine to his mother.

Hugh Hefner with Bill Whitaker at the Playboy Mansion. CBS News

If it's not in his scrapbooks, it's on his walls: Pictures of everyone who's partied at the Mansion. "Everybody, everybody comes to the Playboy Mansion," he said. Clooney, Pitt, Magic, Cosby.

"It's good to be alive," Hefner muses.

And back in charge. He relinquished financial control of his company 40 years ago, and this year seized it back. Yet even as the flagship magazine flagged (circulation down from 7 million readers in the '70s to a million-and-a-half now), he never gave up creative control.

"I do oversee what goes into the magazine: Pick the covers, pick the playmates, cartoons, jokes, letters. Still actively involved."

And still "active."

The twice-married, twice-divorced octogenarian was to get married again this month, to December 2009 Playmate Crystal Harris, 60 years his junior.

But recently she called it off and moved out of the mansion ... no explanation given.

More gossip for the tabloids, another memory for his scrap books.

Still, the playboy doesn't want to be remembered as just the playboy: "I'd like to be remembered as someone who played an important part in changing the social-sexual values of my time."

Love him or hate him ... filmmaker Brigitte Berman says he cannot be ignored.

"You can never say he has not made a difference and he is not an amazing icon," she said.

America is different because of Hugh Hefner. To which he'd say, viva la difference.

"The whole concept that somehow Playboy turned women into sex objects - that's part of who they are! Thank goodness! It is the attraction between the two sexes that gives us civilization."

For that, he has no regrets ... and no plans to stop.

So the future is more bunnies, more clubs, more TV. "That's the Playboy life, huh?" Whitaker asked.

"Hm-hmm. Dancing as fast as I can," Hefner replied.

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