Interview with Playboy creator, Hugh Hefner

By Sarah Burbank-Douglas

Hugh Hefner is the man behind Playboy, the iconic brand which further broadened society perception on sexuality. The legendary businessman, iconic figure and music loving man that is Mr. Hefner continues to flourish in his career as this week, together with his brand, will celebrate the 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Mr. Hefner took the time from his day to speak to about the Playboy brand, his passion for jazz, and the Jazz Festival.

TheCelebrityCafe: How did the Playboy Jazz Festival get its running start?

Hugh Hefner: It actually began in 1959. We were celebrating our fifth anniversary in Chicago where the magazine began and I was looking for something special to celebrate that fifth anniversary, and I was a kid who grew up on Jazz and it was the music of my youth ,it was the most romantic music, so we held a Jazz festival at the stadium in Chicago and it became as Leonard Feather called it, “The greatest single weekend in Jazz.”

We had everybody there, Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., everybody. And when it got around to the 25th anniversary and I was living out here on the West coast, we needed something to celebrate the 25th anniversary and the notion of doing another Jazz Festival and the possibility of doing it in the iconic Hollywood Bowl seemed like a natural. The intention then, in the 1970’s, was to simply do it as a one-shot as we did in Chicago. Well, it proved so popular with the community, and we did a second and we’ve been doing it at the Hollywood Bowl ever since. And it is world famous.

TCC: Tell me, about how the Playboy brand will be perceived in the Jazz Festival?

HH: Well, I think in simply one part of what makes the brand so popular, and the remarkable thing quite frankly, is that we are approaching our 60th anniversary! So I think the fact that Playboy the name, the brand, the magazine and all of the various variations on the theme for them to still remain so iconic and popular is quite unique. The Festival is the music of our romantic heritage.

TCC: As Executive Producer of the Festival, what sort of decisions do you make to make the Festival as successful as possible?

HH: Well the truth of the matter is, well you know I’m not the line producer. We have people who, early on we hooked up with George Wein and his people who had created the first Jazz Festival in Newport and it turned out to be very good and a very good partnership. I didn’t know at the time, but, George Wein and others had tried at the Hollywood Bowl, unsuccessfully, in the 1970’s. The combination of Playboy’s brand name and our promotional savvy and in combination with George Wein’s people and knowledge in terms of Jazz turned out to be an unbeatable combination. We’ve been filling the Bowl now for over 30 years and it has become a community event. In addition to the main weekend at the bowl we also hold a number of pre-Jazz events throughout the city so it really has become a community affair.

TCC: Do you personally take part in the festivities?

HH: I don’t concede the talent. Leave that to those who are better at it.

TCC: You were quoted as saying, “I've had a lot of things to be proud of in my life. But nothing more, quite frankly, than the Jazz Festival.” What kind of affect has the Jazz Festival had on you personally?

HH: Well it’s a celebration each year- but nothing in my life compares with the creation of the magazine itself and everything else is based on that. Obviously the magazine, in a dramatic way, has changed the central values of our time. But the Jazz Festival is a visible background for all of that, Jazz is, quite frankly, one cool American art form and it was born in New Orleans and it is the music of our dreams.

TCC: Bill Cosby released a statement this week which will end his time as Master of Ceremonies. How will next year’s Jazz Festival be different without Mr. Cosby?

HH: Well we’ll obviously have a different MC [laughing]. I would also that he had talked about retiring before and he’s still hanging around… he’s an old cat like me and we’ve been friends and associates for many many years. So, we’ll see whether he’s here next year or not.

TCC: You’re an inspiration to me, personally, as a journalist, but, simply put, you’re 86 years old and the envy of every male on the planet- what is that like?

HH: Well, those are very sweet words and you made my day.

TCC: Your personal life remains the public interest, but you appear relatively quiet spending most of your days in the privacy of the Playboy mansion. How have you dealt with the pressures of prying eyes and their opinions throughout your still flourishing career?

HH: I’ve been able to pretty well control the life and being a public figure. I’ve managed to deal with that pretty well.

TCC: What sort of advice would you give young business hopefuls?

HH: I think that life is short and one should hold on to their own personal dreams and pursue them. I can recommend nothing more than doing what really love and celebrating that and celebrating those that you love.

TCC: Besides the Jazz Festival, is there any other public events that Playboy puts on?

HH: From time-to-time we’ve done film festivals, but no regular annual event. Jazz is the music of my dreams, the music of my travelers and it continues to play in the background of everything I do.

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