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For most young dudes (and chicks, we’d submit), Playboy doesn’t mean much more than some dusty old magazine (gasp!) their dads and uncles talk about for some reason. Something about naked girls. Just standing in front of the camera. Doing nothing…and nobody. How last-century.

But what most people either don’t know or are old enough to have forgotten, is that Hugh Hefner and his Playboy magazine were so much more than just an epic print magazine or a lame-ass new-Vegas nightclub at The Palms. The Bunny was an earthquake of a revolution during a period of time in America when all kinds of nasty shit was swept under the pop culture rug; segregation was an issue that could still get killed, divorce was taboo, functioning alcoholics were pouring drinks at 10am conference room meetings and nudie magazines were loosely masquerading as ‘photo club’ or ‘nudist lifestyle’ titles. So much goddam repression.

And then Playboy hit. Along with the magazine, came the entire lifestyle that Hugh Hefner was living, if only in his head for the first few years. But that lifestyle was unheard of at the time: women worshipped and put on a pedestal, Jazz and the Beats as a qualified culture, sexual freedom and racial equality.

Since Hef knew that selling the lifestyle was the lifeblood of the magazine and expanding brand, he also knew that the lifestyle had to come to the people. And the Playboy Club was born. Imagined as a private club that members were presented with a skeleton key to that could grant access to any Playboy Club front door around the world, it became known as the physical embodiment of the fantasy perpetuated and renewed with every new issue of the magazine.

By the early Sixties, there was a Playboy Club in just about every major market in the U.S.. But it wasn’t long before Hef realized that the life he was living in Chicago and extending through his magic portals with the Bunny on the door didn’t go over so well in some far-flung parts. Yeah; the American South. As beautiful a region of the country as it is, the pre-Civil Rights South was equally as ugly for American Blacks. So, when Hef got word that Black keyholders in the South were banned from the party, he was going to stand for it about as much as he would stand for his magazine being banned from circulation by the U.S. Postal Service.

The Playboy Clubs across the southern states, from Miami to New Orleans, had become a problem. That line of demarkation between the North and South was a deep, dark scar that hadn’t healed over quite yet and there was no way Hef, on his own, would be able to change an entire subculture that had hundreds of years behind it. But he did have the money to buy back those clubs from the franchisees who had originally bought into the dream, but would dare choose who they’d allow in. Hell, it wasn’t part of Hef’s dream to deny anyone access to the party; straight, gay, white, yellow, black, brown, Democrat, Republican, Communist, atheist, Catholic…it didn’t matter. Just be old enough to drink, harbor the utmost respect for women and your fellow man and tip well. Everything else was up for discussion.

Hef did buy back those clubs in the Southern states – contracts and cash be damned – and they were some of the early beacons of racial and social equality in a region of the country that still struggles with some of that utter bullshit. And that he finally reclaimed the last rogue club in New Orleans in 1961 – years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – speaks volumes to his resolve and unwavering commitment to his beliefs. In this modern-day world that makes Playboy about as dangerous as a copy of Boy’s Life, we should remember how the Bunny changed the world for the better in so many ways that are just taken for granted.


  1. Alex says:

    great story and I learned some stuff too.

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