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Playboy's 50th Anniversary

Christie Hefner
Chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises
Tuesday, December 23, 2003; 3:00 PM

This year, Playboy, the magazine that helped usher in the sexual revolution turns 50. Much has stayed the same over the past half-century, including the magazine's focus on women and the high-profile of founder Hugh Hefner. Some things have changed, though. The magazine is now helmed by a woman -- Hefner's daughter, Christie, who is credited with turning Playboy into a global consumer and multimedia brand.

Christie Hefner was online Tuesday, Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. ET, to discuss Playboy's 50th anniversary and her career.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Were you ever uncomfortable, as a teenager or more recently, being connected to a family business that revolves so unashamedly around sex? When peers met you and found out you were Hugh Hefner's daughter, did they expect you to be a certain way?

Christie Hefner: Dear Silver Springs:

Because my parents divorced when I was very young and my mother remarried, my brother and I took my step-father's last name. So, it wasn't until the summer after my junior year in college that I took the "Hefner" name back---after my mother left my step-father and I had been elected to phi beta kappa and so was focused on what name would be on that special piece of paper forever. In retrospect, I certainly think not having a famous last name made growing up easier, even though my Mom worked hard to keep my Dad in my and my brother's lives. As to being uncomfortable about the magazine, again I think because my Mother's attitude was very open and progressive, both the ideas and the photos in PLAYBOY were treated as natural. I really never went through the so-called "generation gap" with either of my parents, whose values and politics, whether about sex or the War in Vietnam, were more closely attuned to my generation's than there own.

Christie

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Is there any division of Playboy and its enterprises that has yet to turn a profit? What do you account for your business success: do you conduct intensive market studies, or do you decide to continue and expand your expertise into other ventures and hope for the best?

Christie Hefner: Dear Harrison:

All four divisions of the company (Publishing, Television, Licensing and On Line) are profitable. Playboy On Line reached break-even, as planned, at the end of last year, and this year has been a solid profit contributor. We made two significant strategic moves to grow the enterprise: into pay tv in the 80's and onto the internet in the 90's. In both cases it was a combination of seeing an opportunity driven by a new technology, understanding (through research) the power of the Playboy brand and its ability to move into other media and then developing and carefully monitoring business plans and budgets.

Christie

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Denver, Colo.: How does the Playboy franchise plan to weather the glutton of available nudity from the Internet and cable carriers?

In other words: with the availability of nudity from different forms of media, how is Playboy planning to keep it's market share?

Christie Hefner: Dear Denver:

Playboy has faced competition for many years. In the 1970's Penthouse magazine came into the U.S. market and as the country became more willing to accept sexual explicit content for adults, Hustler and other graphic magazines followed. In the 1980's cable tv and home video allowed adults to watch X-rated movies in the privacy of their home. And now, as you note, the internet, which has virtually no barrier to entry, is something like the wild, wild West. Yet Playboy is one of the 20 most searched for words on the internet. I believe PLAYBOY has remained the best-selling magazine for men in the U.S. and the world, and the brand through all media has more men and women as customers and fans than ever before, because there has always been a Playboy difference---it's about a lifestyle, a celebration of the good life, about humour and fun, great writing, and style and sophistication, the romantic beauty of the Playmates and the enduring appeal of celebrities. Playboy offers that uniquely.

Christie

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Kudos to your empire: Arlington, Va: I didn't have a question per se, just a little note to say that I am a woman and I find your magazine very educational and informative. Plus it gives a woman a little bit of an advantage if you study the way a man thinks, you are able to understand their little quirky ways. Also my male house guests find it very hospitable.

Christie Hefner: Dear Arlington:

Thanks very much. You may not be surprised to learn that more than a million women share your view that there's a lot that is both worth reading and instructive in PLAYBOY---especially in terms of insight into guys. Although, I really like the fact that the magazine does the reverse as well, i.e. provides women's perspective on matters for guys. Check out the 50th Anniversary issue with a piece on sexual politics in the office by the woman who wrote "The Devil Wears Prada."

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: A couple of years ago Penthouse morphed into a porn-esque format -- has Playboy considered ratcheting up the raunch to keep pace with Penthouse and other competitors, such as the Internet?

Christie Hefner: Dear Wahington:

As I noted in a previous reply, a large measure of Playboy's enduring success has come from its ability to steer a course of quality, taste and style. As you may have read, in contrast, Penthouse is in bankruptcy. That's why Shannon Dougherty poses for the cover and Jack Nicholson does a fantastically revealing interview for the 50th Anniversary issue.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: We all know who your father is but who is your mother and has she been a significant influence on your life/personality/career?

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

As I mentioned in an earlier response, my Mother was instrumental in my development. She really raised me and she gave me the self-confidence to believe in myself and to pursue whatever I wanted to. Before I joined Playboy, I had been planning to go to law school, with the thought of perhaps someday going either into politics or onto the bench.

We remain very close---she lives just outside of Chicago---and she is a fantastic person.

Christie

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Somewhere, USA: Hi Christie,

Thank you, in advance, for your thoughtful responses.

As a woman, what two things would you most like men to learn about women?
How does Playboy contribute to men's education in the areas you choose?
Do your wishes for men as a woman ever conflict with what you publish for men in your magazine?

Christie Hefner: Dear Somewhere:

Hmmm. Two things. That's tough. I think to a great extent the most important thing for men and women to learn about each other, is we're far more alike than different. We both like to be attractive to the opposite sex (or the same sex, should that be the case); we both want to be respected, to have the chance to do interesting work, to be taken seriously, but also to have fun. And just as women now are presumed to want professions, men today should be presumed to want to be active Dad's, not absentee fathers as with past generations.

The other point would be the need for open communication. Often harm or hurt comes from misunderstanding, or misassumptions. Ask and listen.

As to PLAYBOY's role, I think any reader of The Advisor or the articles over the 5 decades the magazine has been published would see it is very much a magazine aimed at men who both respect women (and their rights) as well as finding them desirable.

Christie

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi,

What is it like to be the daughter of a bona fide cultural icon?

Christie Hefner: Dear Alexandria:

Hard to say, since it's all I've known. But, I do believe that having grown-up with a different last name, as my Mother had a second husband for 11 years and my brother and I were given his last name, I didn't have to go through adolescence with the burden of a famous father, and that, undoubtedly, made growing-up easier.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: Don't you ever feel guilty about the harm you do to women? Playboy presents the most one-dimensional view of women that I can think of. Doesn't that ever bother you?

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

It would appear that you are not a reader of the magazine or you wouldn't believe what you say. This is a magazine that has published the wit and wisdom of some of the most interesting women around from Ayn Rand and Dr. Mary Calderone, to Betty Friedan, Joyce Carol Oates and Germaine Greer. I will assume that your point of view is a reduction of the magazine to its photographs. But, I would argue with you, that even if that is all you focus on, the images are beautiful, tasteful and romantic. And since I think most people think that it's a good thing to have erotic imagery out there----whether for gay or straight, men or women, then I think PLAYBOY fills a role. By there nature, photographs, like paintings, are not substitutes for people, although the women who model for PLAYBOY---both famous and discovered, are out in the world a lot both for charity and promotional work.

Christie

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Laurel, Md.: Since your magazine is turning 50, some of your earlier playmates must be about 70. Who's the oldest former model who maintains a relationship with the company?

Have any former playmates become anti-porn or anti-Playboy political activists?

Christie Hefner: Dear Laurel:

Janet Pilgrim, who was a Playmate in the early '50's and was actually working in the subscription department when she was discovered and photographed. And, as you surmised, it is more and more common, to have adult women come with their mothers who were Playmates, as they did for the recent A&E 50th Anniversary Special.

I am not aware of any former Playmates who have been political activists against Playboy or its attitudes. We do have a former Playmate who became infected with AIDS and has been an extremely effective and tireless advocate of safe sex for young women.

Christie

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Sammamish, Wash.: The jokes that are on the backside of the centerfold used to be good. For the last several years they have been terrible. What changed? Can you go back to having good jokes again?

Christie Hefner: Dear Sammamish:

I'm sure that every month the editors try to choose the funniest material possible. But, we have a new Editor, Jim Kaminsky, and he's working hard to make every part of the magazine better than ever. So, stay tuned. And feel free to submit your own Party Jokes for consideration.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: I recently read an interview with your father that stated the "next generation" of Playboy would fall to the hands of your little brothers. Are you shaping the magazine in such a way that they could easily step into your role when they come of age?

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

I have noted that we have a couple of generations covered, as my step-brothers as 13 and 12. Given their ages, our focus is not on them, but rather on the next generation of readers. We're very pleased that the recent audited circulation results for PLAYBOY showed continuing strong growth among readers 18-24 and our new editor, Jim Kaminsky, is working hard to make sure that when a young guy picks up PLAYBOY for the first time, he feels like it's his magazine.

Christie

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Guangzhou, China: Why is Playboy so popular around the world? Is it just because it's a magazine for men or a sexual magazine?

Christie Hefner: Dear Guangzhou:

I believe Playboy's global popularity comes from the universal appeal of a lifestyle: the idea of living life to the fullest, enjoying good food & wine, romantic vacations, great cars, and cool gadgets, combined with the appeal in the magazine of celebrities---both models and interview subjects. It is the best-selling magazine for men in the U.S. and in the world, and really the only magazine that has become a global consumer brand, with Playboy products sold from China to Brazil.

Christie

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Alexandria, Va.: Ms. Hefner,

Thank you for your time today. This may sound like an obvious question to other readers, but are the Playboy parties at the Mansion, and the Mansion lore itself, an integral part of the marketing at Playboy? For example, inviting Fred Durst, Bill Maher and Scott Baio is planned in advance, right? Have you ever disagreed with your father's marketing that you care to remember?

From a loyal subscriber (you can't beat the price for such a great magazine!)

Christie Hefner: Dear Alexandria:

Yes, I think a part of my father's genius was not just as the creator and editor of the magazine, but as a marketer, whether that was with the Playboy plane or the mansion parties.

And, I agree, the magazine is a great value. Check out the 50th Anniversary issue. It's incredible and destined to be a true collector's edition.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: how long have you worked for Playboy and in what capacities? What business experience did you have before going to work there?

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

I joined Playboy after working as a journalist for a year. I didn't expect to make my career at the company; rather I was thinking about going to law school. When I found the businesses interesting and the challenge of management intriguing, I took courses at graduate schools in Marketing, Management Policy and Finance; but really I learned, as they say, from MBWA (Management By Walking Around) not from an MBA. I worked in a variety of areas, including publishing, retail and marketing for 7 years before becoming President, when the company got into financial trouble in the early 80's. The then CFO and I formed an Office of the President and spent several years divesting unprofitable business and cutting costs. At the end of the 80's my father had a stroke, and I became CEO. Since then I've lead the company's profitable global expansion in pay television and on line.

Christie

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Did your father tell you WHY he wanted to start a new kind of magazine back in the 50s? What was in his background and makeup that led him to believe he could be a magazine publisher in the first place? And what did he do for a living before Playboy?

I'm always fascinated by the genesis of great things, hence my questions. It's easy to spot success in the rear view mirror. It's the belief and anticipation of new and wonderful things to come that's hard to realize.

Thanks much. Young 50-something.

Christie Hefner: Dear Mt. Lebanon:

I absolutely agree about your point regarding 20-20 hindsight. My father had worked at Esquire, and so did have some knowledge of the publishing business. But, like a lot of successful entrepreneurs, if he'd listened to the conventional wisdom he never would have tried to start a new men's magazine with just a few thousand borrowed dollars. As is often the case with magazines (think of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmopolitan, Gloria Steinem and Ms., Henry Luce and Time), the creator is motivated to produce the magazine he or she feels passionately about. And when that person is lucky, it strikes a chord and becomes a success. In my father's case, he was a part of the returning generation of WWII veterans who started to envision a life different from their father's, in contrast to the prevailing,ga somewhat hypocritical values, of the 50's. PLAYBOY was born to reflect the idea of life as something to be celebrated and enjoyed, and yet also bearing with it responsibilities for giving back and being informed. It not only struck a chord, it took off from almost the very beginning, and is now celebrating its 5th decade as the best selling magazine for men in the U.S. and the world.

Christie

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New York, N.Y.: I know it may seem like a silly question, but what kind of relationship, if any, do you have with your stepmother and your father's various girlfriends. I applaud your family's legacy; I'm just curious as to what something like Thanksgiving's like in the Hefner household.

Christie Hefner: Dear New York:

While my father and his wife, Kimberley, are separated, they remain close, and of course sharing parenting their two young boys. And I have always had a very good relationship with her and with my step-brothers, who live in the house next door to my Dad's in LA. As to holidays, I actually spend Thanksgiving with my husband's family in the suburbs of Chicago and Christmas with my mother's side.

Christie

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New York, N.Y.: What was it like growing up with your famous father? Did he have enough time through his busy career and parties to spend with you? Did he allow you to be open and honest, or was he strict and saw to it you had curfews and "no boys allowed?"

Christie Hefner: Dear New York:

Well, I didn't really get to grow-up with my father. He was away, building the magazine and the company. My mother remarried when I was very young and I grew up in a pretty typical upper middle class home in the suburbs on Chicago, attending New Trier High School.

So, although I saw my father for birthdays and Christmas, my mother really raised me. And, to the extent I turned out well, she gets all the credit.

Christie

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Falls Church, Va.: Any chance that you and the National Organization of Women can mend fences?

Christie Hefner: Dear Falls Church:

When Patricia Ireland (who's now managing Carol Mosley Braun's Presidential campaign) headed up NOW, I think we came to a pretty good rapprochement. In truth, the Playboy Foundation has been a great friend to the women's movement for decades, funding litigation that helped lead to Roe v. Wade, editorializing and raising money for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, providing the seed grant to start The Women's Rights Project of the ACLU (which Ruth Bader Ginsburg headed up), and working very closely with NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

Christie

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New York, N.Y.: As an artist's model, I appreciate the beauty of Playboy's photography. The models always look great, and it's clear the photographer likes and respects women (very important for the model).

But would you agree that Playboy's aesthetic taste, as exhibited by the models they use, is rather limited and unrepresentative of the spectrum of American female beauty? For instance, so many are blonde and busty and white. Obviously this is a fantasy for many men, but I would like to see more women of color on the cover and as the centerfold, and different body types (petite, athletic, muscle-toned). Of course Playboy wants to sell magazines, but it would be great to expand American male notions of beauty, instead of merely reaffirming them.

Christie Hefner: Dear New York:

I agree America tends to have a narrower view of beauty and sexiness (both male and female) than some other parts of the world, but I think we're changing. This year's Playmate of the Year, Christine Santiago, is a lovely, poised, articulate Latina, and a very natural beauty. And pictorials such as those of athletes like Gabrielle Reece and Katarina Witt are, to my mind, a very encouraging sign.

Christie

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Ashburn, Va.: Have you thought about bundling your services together (all-in-one subscription for the magazine, TV, online etc)?

Also, with all of the high-profile celebrities that have made the choice to pose for Playboy. Have you ever considered (or would you consider) posing yourself?

Christie Hefner: Dear Ashburn:

Yes, we are increasingly combining particularly subscriptions to the magazine and our various on line clubs. You can check out offers at Playboy.com. It's trickier with television, because like all programmers (from HBO to ESPN) we don't actually "speak" directly to the customer, the cable or satellite company controls that.

I don't have any plans to pose, but maybe you should keep buying the magazine to check.

Christie

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Crofton, Md.: Ms. Hefner

Happy Holidays

What has been the biggest challenge in keeping the Playboy empire growing and profitable?

Christie Hefner: Dear Crofton:

I think the challenge was to find the areas for growth and to maintain the relevance and quality of the brand. We were fortunate in that we could take advantage of the opportunities created by cable television and home video and then by the internet, and in terms of the brand it has meant the willingness to get out of deals, even if they're lucrative, if the quality of the product or the edition of the magazine overseas, isn't consistent with the long term image we want.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: Not a question, but a comment: As a woman, my hat is off to you. With you at the helm of Playboy... it shows that women are really taking control with how they are portrayed in popular culture. I've never had a problem with Playboy because the images are not gratuitous or grotesque. Nakedness is natural.

Anyway -- you sound like you've got a great head on your shoulders.

You GO, girl!

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

Well, thank you very much!

Christie

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Alexandria, Va.: Does Playboy have any plans to back a political candidate in 2004?

Christie Hefner: Dear Alexandria:

The magazine tries to illuminate both the personalities and the issues, rather than endorse a candidate. See, for example, a terrific piece by George McGovern about Howard Dean in the December issue.

Christie

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Long Beach, Calif.: At what point does your father become a liability for Playboy's image? (It's getting quite close.) Thanks, cheers.

Christie Hefner: Dear Long Beach:

I don't see it. When he goes out to restaurants or clubs, it's the young guys in their 20's saying "You, da man!"

And frankly since his Mother lived to be 101 and really only had health problems in the last year of her life, I figure he has decades to go.

At the same time, we have a new young editor who is insuring that the magazine remains relevant and appealing to the next generation; so like all companies founded by iconic creators (from Walt Disney, to Time Inc.) you have to build a culture and organization that can survive beyond the lifespan of the creator.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: Is there anything about Playboy's appeal or marketing success that has surprised you, or which may suggest that there's hope for America in getting over our puritanical stance on human sexuality?

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

While I still think our Puritan heritage is visible in lots of ways, yes, I do think we've made progress. When PLAYBOY started it had to go to court to get its second class postal permit and giving contraceptive information out was illegal. I think inexorably we are becoming more relaxed in our attitudes about nudity and sexuality and that's especially evident when you look at research among young men and women.

Christie

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Washington, D.C.: How can I learn to not feel threatened by my boyfriend reading your magazine and looking at porn in general? It makes me feel inferior to all these beautiful women with perfect bodies. I feel like in an ideal world, he would rather be with someone in your magazine and is just settling for me, since he is constantly into the porn. Thanks.

Christie Hefner: Dear Washington:

That's hard for me to say, as it's so personal. Ideally, you find the erotica that enhances your relationship, that you can share. When you think Brad Pitt looks great in a movie, I doubt it makes you want to leave your boyfriend. He's with you because he wants to be with you, and a part of that is that he finds you desirable.

Christie

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Lakewood, Colo.: Your father's most brilliant marketing decision was to have you become the head of the business side -- not only did he get a very obviously talented executive (given the success of the company), but also defused a lot of criticism about sexism that might have been directed at Playboy had a woman not been in charge.

Christie Hefner: Dear Lakewood:

Well, thank you very much. I'll mention that at salary review time!

Christie

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Monterey, Calif.: What do you think is sexy?

Christie Hefner: Dear Monterey:

Hmm, tricky and, of course, personal. One example, I still think "Body Heat" is one of the sexiest movies ever, and I loved both the pictorial and interview PLAYBOY did with Kathleen Turner.

Christie

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Syracuse, N.Y.: Of what societal value is your magazine when it displays nude women who have had breast implants and other plastic surgeries in order to fit an ideal image of the consummate woman? Do you feel it leads young woman to eating disorders?

Christie Hefner: Dear Syracuse:

I happen to share your feeling that the amount of plastic surgery today is not a good thing. We actually publish a special called "Natural Women" devoted exclusively to women who have not had (as the tv show promotes) "Extreme Makeovers." As to eating disorders, there I tend to think that the issues are less about the media---whether that's a fashion magazine or advertising---and more about self-confidence.

Christie

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New York, N.Y.: Have you ever been photographed nude? If not, have you ever considered it? And why, or why not?

Christie Hefner: Dear New York:

I haven't as it's never appealed to me. And besides, it's quite flattering to have people keep asking.

Christie

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Somewhere, USA: Can you please talk about the history of the "sexual liberation" movement of the past four decades and where you think it stands today?

What is your view of the social agenda of the Republican party?

Christie Hefner: Dear Somewhere:

I think we've come a long way via both the sexual revolution and the women's movement in terms of encouraging both men and women to speak openly about their needs and to be able to have healthy positive sexual relationships without fear of unwanted pregnancy; and yet we still fund more "abstinence only" programs than useful sex education and are embroiled in an ongoing national debate over both abortion and gay rights; so I don't think the battles are over.

As to the Republican party, I fear that the party has been abandoning its socially liberal/fiscally conservative base and that that is not best for the party or the country. It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect Schwartzenneger's election has in that regard.

Christie

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washingtonpost.com: Thank you for joining us online, Christie. This concludes today's show.

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