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Photos: A Look Back At Hugh Hefner's Playboy Roots In Chicago

By Stephen Gossett in News on Sep 28, 2017 9:08PM

Before the late Hugh Hefner decamped permanently to Los Angeles in 1975, his roots ran deep in Chicago. He was raised in Galewood, in a home at 1922 N. New England, in a "conservative," Methodist family.

Hefner attended Sayre Elementary School and later Steinmetz College Prep, where he founded a school paper, a harbinger of his publishing future to come.

After two years in the army and time in college, including a short stint at the Art Institute of Chicago, Hefner found his feet in copywriting, working for Carson Pirie Scott and later Esquire. In 1952, while working as a newsstand promotion director, he conjured the concept that would become Playboy— "a sophisticated men’s magazine that would reflect the views of the post-war generation," as his foundation describes it.

That legacy, for all its good and ill, got started at Hefner's kitchen table, in Hyde Park (6052 S. Harper Ave.). That's where he put together the first issue of Playboy, which featured a now-legendary calendar photograph of Marilyn Monroe. With just $8,000 seed fund, the Playboy revolution was spawned.

"Sex was a natural part of life, and nice girls like sex, too. Now in the middle of the 1950s, that was a revolutionary idea," Hefner said.

The success of that issue and its followups launched the Chicago empire: the Chicago Playboy Club (116 E. Walton St.), the Playboy Building (now the landmark Palmolive Building, 919 N Michigan Ave.) and of course, the original Playboy mansion (1340 N. State Parkway), in the Gold Coast, the iconic, louche hangout where one might spot a random Rolling Stone or up-and-coming actor alongside a Playboy bunny or two.

There's a contemporaneity to much of Hefner's (at times problematic) legacy, from the sexual revolution to essayistic non-fiction, even as so much archival material from his Chicago era reveals an almost extreme time-capsule element. You can see it in various documentation, like the 1966 British documentary footage that lingers in Hefner's Chicago haunts, above and below.

"He controls his kingdom from a seven-foot, power-driven, circular, vibrate-able bed. It rotates as well," the narrator intones, before Hefner spins the mattress around, coming in closer. It was there, in Chicago, where the ascendancy began.