His First Set of Pyjamas: The Birth of Hugh Marston Hefner

At 80 years old, Hugh Hefner has had an impressive career building a multi-million dollar industry and living the life of his dreams, all the while pushing the limits of and revolutionizing the American publishing industry. How did he manage to achieve all this? “You stay in touch with the boy who dreamed impossible dreams,” he says.

Those dreams began on April 9, 1926 when Hugh Hefner was born in Chicago, Illinois to teacher parents Glenn and Grace Hefner. Both conservative Protestants, Hefner grew up in a very traditional household. He recalls of his early years, “I was a very idealistic, very romantic kid in a very typically Midwestern Methodist repressed home.” It was precisely this repression that sparked the creative and rebellious side of Hefner. He notes that there were never any displays of affection between his parents, forcing him to escape to “dreams and fantasies produced, by and large, by the music and the movies of the ‘30s.”

A student at Sayre Elementary School and later Steinmetz High School in Chicago, Hefner was never more than an average student. Although he had been tested and found to have an extremely high IQ of 152, Hefner was too busily distracted by his extracurricular activities to focus on academics. In addition to being president of the student council, Hefner also founded a school newspaper and created his own comic strip called Hef, which humorously detailed many of the real-life events that Hefner was experiencing in his own school life.

It was at the age of 16 when the man the world now knows as ‘Hef’ was born. Hefner was in love. “She was working at a drugstore that summer – my summer of ’42,” he recalls. “I would go and pick her up and take her bowling or dancing…that was a very sweet and delicious time for me.” But, Hefner found himself rejected by this girl that he adored. Determined never to know failure again, Hefner reinvented himself from head to toe as ‘Hef’, a charismatic, charming and popular man.

After graduating in 1944, Hefner enlisted in the Army, serving as Infantry Clerk as well as drawing cartoons for various Army newspapers. He was released in 1946 and pursued his bachelor degree at the University of Illinois, where he also spent time drawing cartoons for the Daily Illini and editing the campus humour magazine Shaft. He received his degree after just 2 ½ years and began shopping around his ideas for a cartoon strip.

Unable to find a buyer, Hefner was forced to take up unrelated jobs at the Chicago Carton Company and the Carson, Pirie, Scott department store. He was unwilling to give up his interest in publishing and finally landed a job as a promotion copywriter at Esquire magazine. It was here where Hefner learned the ins and outs of the publishing business. In what seemed to be a stroke of bad luck for Hefner, Esquire subsequently moved its offices to New York, leaving him unemployed. But, again unwilling to give up, Hefner decided to create his own magazine. Armed with just $8,000, Hefner was about to embark upon an unforgettable career.

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