"My life is an open book—with illustrations," Hugh Hefner once said. Still, not everything about Hefner, who died Wednesday at home in the Playboy Mansion, is widely known. Here are 16 things that may surprise you about the Playboy philosopher king.
Hefner Started as a Cartoonist
In high school, the future founder of Playboy produced an autobiography in the form of a comic book called "School Daze." He contributed cartoons to a U.S. Army newspaper while he was in the service, and to his college newspaper after that. Hefner later worked as a copywriter at Esquire, but quit when he was denied a $5-a-week raise.
He Launched Playboy With $8,000
Friends and family, including Hef's socially conservative mom, shelled out most of the start-up capital. The first issue—published in December 1953, with a print run of roughly 54,000 —was undated because Hefner thought it might be a one-off. But the magazine sold out within a few weeks, thanks in large part to the inaugural centerfold: a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe originally taken for a pinup calendar.
His Parents Were Strict Methodists
"My folks were raised pure prohibitionist," he recalled. "They were very good people, with high moral standards, but very repressed. There was no hugging and kissing in my home." Hefner—seen here with actress Joan Bradshaw at a 1950s party in Los Angeles—went running in the other direction. Yet he remained, in his words, "a typical Methodist kid at heart."
His Assistant Cartoon Editor Was a Frequent Cover Model
Hefner's assistant cartoon editor/girlfriend Cynthia Maddox—seen here with her boss/boyfriend on a TWA flight to New York in 1962—appeared on the cover of Playboy five times, though she was never a Playmate of the Month. She broke up with Hef, reportedly when he decided (no surprise) that he didn't want to tie the knot.
He Almost Dated Gloria Steinem?
A decade before she launched Ms. magazine, Steinem went undercover as a Bunny and wrote a scathing exposé about the treatment of women at the Playboy Club. But Hefner reportedly crossed paths with her before that, when Steinem was an assistant to Mad magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, who tried to put them together. "We actually exchanged phone calls and came very close to dating," Hef claimed. Steinem remembers it differently.
He Was Busted in 1963
In reaction to a racier-than-usual feature devoted to Jayne Mansfield, Hefner was arrested and charged with obscenity on June 4, 1963. He appeared in court with a Playmate on his arm and, taking the stand, noted that sexy photos represented only a fraction of his magazine (apparently some men bought it for the articles). The case ended in a mistrial.
The Bunny Thing Can Be Traced to His College Years
Introduced on "Playboy's Penthouse," a TV variety and talk show hosted by Hefner, the Playboy Bunny was based on the magazine's tuxedo-clad rabbit mascot. The whole idea was inspired by Bunny's Tavern, a bar Hefner frequented as a student at the University of Illinois in the late '40s. (The Bunny seen here is Deborah Harry, who worked in New York's Playboy Club years before she became famous as the lead singer of Blondie.)
This Gentleman Preferred Brunettes
"Picasso had his pink period and his blue period; I'm in my blonde period," he said a few years ago. But his first wife had dark hair, and in the late '60s and early '70s Hefner was most closely associated with another brunette, Barbi Benton (née Barbara Klein), seen here accompanying him to the 1970 Oscars.
He Introduced the First Lady of the Internet
Lena Söderberg, featured on the cover and inside the November 1972 edition of Playboy—which sold a record 7 million-plus copies—is now known as the First Lady of the Internet, but not for the reason you might imagine. Since 1973, a cropped image from that issue's centerfold has been used to test algorithms in digital image processing. The test is called the Lenna (the Swedish model appeared in the magazine under the name Lenna Sjööblom.)
He's an Animal Lover
When he was 11 years old, Hefner—seen here with Doris Day at a benefit for a nonprofit devoted to animal rights—won an award from the Illinois Humane Society for a poem, "Be Kind to Dumb Animals." He still follows that credo. The grounds of the Playboy Mansion include a private zoo, with animals ranging from flamingos to squirrel monkeys. Many are "rescues," according to Hefner's son Cooper.
His Grotto Is Reportedly Kinda Gross
A reporter for Vice described the place as "rundown and depressing." Worse, in 2011 Los Angeles County health officials reported a large outbreak of flu-like symptoms—and some cases of Legionnaires' disease—among partygoers at the Playboy Mansion. According to experts, the cause may have been bacteria-ridden water in hot tubs and the estate's famous Grotto.
He Tried Not to Take Himself Too Seriously
"If you don't have a sense of humor about life and yourself, then you are old," said Hefner, seen here with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin in "Circular Bad Sex Research," a 1977 skit on "Saturday Night Live."
His Daughter Calls Herself a Feminist
Christie Hefner became president of Playboy Enterprises in 1982, when she was just 30 years old, and CEO in 1988. Although Gloria Steinem never softened her stance on Playboy, she had nice things to say about Hef's daughter. "She is struggling, working very hard," Steinem told People magazine. "It's like being the Jewish child of an anti-Semitic parent." Christie's contrary view: "I'd guess that 80 percent of the people who work for Playboy are feminists."
He's Had His Share of Honors
Hefner got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for raising funds to reconstruct L..A.'s iconic Hollywood sign, and he holds two Guinness World Records—one for being the longest-serving editor-in-chief of a single magazine, the other for maintaining the largest collection of personal scrapbooks on the planet (2,643 volumes at last count). An endangered rabbit was named after him: the Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, found only in the Florida Keys.
He Thought About Death
The man who vowed never to grow up ("Staying young is what it is all about for me") realized that he couldn't live forever. In 1992, he paid $75,000 for a vault at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles. His crypt is located right next to the final resting place of Marilyn Monroe.
He Couldn't Say How Many Women He Slept With
"How could I possibly know? Over a thousand, I'm sure." he told Esquire in 2013. Hefner insisted that he never cheated during his marriages. "But I made up for it when I wasn't married," he added. "You have to keep your hand in."
Including many of his funniest and most inspired comedy bits
Rapid-fire jokes from a comedy legend
Things you may not know about one of the best action movies of all time
For us, it's Shark Week all year round
Revealing glimpses of the famously private star who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones
The nicest guy in Hollywood can still surprise you