Classic Royko: Hef was the split-level king of the playboys
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Editor’s note: Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine and a Chicago native, died on Sept. 27, 2017. Back when Hef was in his prime, Mike Royko wrote this column, included in his 1967 collection “Up Against It.”
After looking over the latest big story about Hugh Hefner (in Life magazine), I’m even more convinced that he is the world’s most overrated playboy.
In fact, I’m not sure that Hefner is a playboy. He seems to be as middle-class as the people he criticizes in his giggle-giggle philosophy.
To call Hefner a playboy is to put him in the same class as the legendary international figures who earned that title through hard work and dedication.
They are the men who have sensational affairs with famous actresses, singers and countesses.
They squander fortunes at the gambling casinos, hire Broadway casts to entertain at their parties, shoot big game in the jungles and pop corks in the night clubs of the world.
When they board their yachts and set out to sea, they leave irate husbands shaking their fists on shore.
And when the end finally comes, it’s from overeating, overdrinking or blowing a tire while racing a sports car on a mountain road in Italy.
But on the way, it was Rome on Monday, Paris on Wednesday, Saturday night in New York, and breakfast in Rio.
After the sacrifices these men have made to give meaning to the word “playboy,” along comes Skinny Hugh from the U. of I., and he puts a copyright on it.
What has Hefner done to earn it? Has he lived the playboy life? In the article he says:
“I’m living to the furthest extent possible . . . everything I ever dreamed for myself.”
This is what it seems to amount to:
He has a mansion (used) on the Near North Side, which he seldom leaves. In the mansion is a basement swimming pool; a private cocktail lounge; an elaborate stereo system; an electronics room to record and play back TV shows he might miss; a private movie theater; his own private apartment within the mansion; and, of course, female companionship — bunnies and other employees.
This, then, is his private kingdom, his idea of high living, the fulfillment of his great dreams — all he stands for.
Except for the fact that it is bigger and all paid for, he’s put together an overgrown split-level, right out of a “better homes” magazine. Hefner’s kingdom is the same kingdom the 5:15 suburban commuter is rushing home to.
Item by item, it’s middle-class, sub-development living.
His swimming pool has many frills, but a swimming pool is a swimming pool and tens of thousands of backyards are equipped with them.
His is a giant stereo, with the best woof-and-tweet money can buy. But it does nothing more than play records, tapes, AM and FM, which is what yours, mine and the guy’s next door does.
Having a private movie theater is impressive. But it’s the big version of home movies.
In Hefner’s electronics-TV room or in a Park Ridge family room, the late show still looks like the late show.
Hefner has his private apartment. Millions of men have their “dens.”
His basement cocktail lounge is nothing more than the “completely finished basement with wet bar” that is such a big item in the house-for-sale ads.
There there are the girls, Hefner’s girls, pretty-faced, wide-eyed, unknown creatures. Steno school graduates looking for husbands.
Life magazine’s pictures include one of Hefner and three of the girls curled up in overstuffed chairs, feet bare, munching popcorn and watching a home movie or TV. Except that there are three girls instead of one, it’s weeknight in the living room, U.S.A.
And there’s a picture of Hefner picking out girlie pictures for the next issue of his magazine. His eyes are bulging, just like those of his readers.
That’s the king of playboys, for you. Complete with backyard pool in the basement, stereo, home movies, TV, a finished basement with bar, attached garage, and someone to scratch his back, change channels, and refill the potato chip bowl. And he’s a stay-at-home, too.
Life magazine should have tried my Uncle Rudy, if they were looking for a live wire. He’s been married four times, pinched in a bookie raid, and he’s the biggest swinger at the over-40 dances. Besides, he wears a red toupee.
If Hugh Hefner is a playboy, then Uncle Rudy is King Farouk.
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