Playboy founder Hugh Hefner passed away at the age of 91, the magazine announced on Wednesday.
Hefner is widely known for creating one of America’s most instantly recognizable brands, but many may not know that he got his start in the US Army during World War II.
Before launching Playboy, Hefner stood up, raised his right hand, and joined the Army in 1944. He served as an infantry clerk, and was a cartoonist for military newspapers. He served just two years, first assigned to Camp Adair, Ore., and later at Camp Picket, Va., where he worked for the Camp Pickett News.
Despite his success later in life building an iconic firebrand, he struggled as a budding cartoonist. In fact, Hy Eisman, a cartoonist famous for his work on Popeye, encouraged Hefner to look elsewhere for a career after the war, as Eisman was less than impressed with his drawing chops.
That, as it would turn out, was the best career advice he would ever get.
After the war, he took some art classes and earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. What will surprise no one is that he particularly enjoyed life-drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago. After working for a few years in the publishing industry, he became increasingly convinced that the world needed a classy gentlemen’s magazine.
Hefner took out a loan, offering his furniture as collateral, and published the very first issue of Playboy in December 1953. A 1949 shot of Marilyn Monroe was the centerfold of the magazine’s first edition.
The magazine was in instant success, selling more than 50,000 copies.
As a political activist later in life, he advocated for more political and sexual liberty. When the United States Postal Service refused to deliver Playboy to the company’s subscribers, Hefner didn’t back down. He fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court, winning a landmark case that was widely considered a victory for free speech.
Additionally, he famously fought “sodomy laws” across the nation, as he believed that the government had no place in American bedrooms. His advocacy in this area is widely considered critical and influential by historians of the gay rights movement.
The magazine earned respect for taking social issues head on, and carrying lengthy interviews that included Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, and Muhammad Ali.
The magazine made a splash when they landed an interview with the 1976 Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.
Whether one reads Playboy “just for the articles”, or not, there is no doubt that he has had unquestionable impact on American pop culture. From the days of Leave it to Beaver in the 1950s, to the more sexually liberated era of the 1960s and beyond, Hefner remained abreast of the social and political issues of the day.