Hugh Hefner. An icon who pushed the boundaries of free speech and reimagined the magazine industry. Playboy magazine was a product of its time. Liberation, civil rights and birth control being key political and cultural topics. The pornagraphy alongside meaningful articles and art was a reflection of the sexual revolution brewing.
What few people know is that Shel Silverstein (children’s poet) was employed as a cartoonist by Hefner at the inception of Playboy. Silverstein is well-known for his books A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, and Falling Up, among others. For me, I grew up on his poems. “Ickle Me Tickle Me Pickle Me Too” may just be the first thing I ever memorized. It came as a shock when I stumbled across his promiscuous and cheeky early line of work. For my extended essay (an IB Diploma program requirement), I researched Silverstein’s involvement with Playboy and how it may have impacted his children’s poetry. From the topics written about to the narrative style, his experience at the magazine is utilized. In his poem “Love” he may as well have copied and pasted the formatting from a cartoon located in the August issue of Playboy, 1968. The artwork and wording (shown below) are of identical premises- the only difference being the intended audience. This is just one of many Playboy cartoonist experiences that Silverstein worked into his children’s poetry.
In a college interview I was asked: If you were given $1,000,000, what would you do with it? My answer was that I would make a film about the life of Shel Silverstein (focusing primarily on his start at Playboy and ending at his transition to successful poet). I think that his life is as interesting as Steve Jobs’ or Walt Disney’s. A key component to an accurate documentary, since Silverstein is dead, would be interviews with Hugh Hefner to find out an uncensored and first-hand account of working with Shel and the beginning of Playboy. It is extremely disappointing how little public information there is on their time together. Then, if given another million dollars, I would follow it up with a movie detailing Hefner’s life. How he founded an empire with $600 and a small loan from his mother. Following him through every success and failure as he built a brand and sold an image.
For me, Hugh Hefner’s death does not only mark the end of one icon. But two. Both stories (Hefner and Silverstein) deserve to be told as accurately and honestly as possible. They should be shared and recognized as significant contributors to American culture. It deeply saddens me that there is nothing more Hugh can say, but the question remains- how much more can be learned about these men now that they’re gone? How will we remember the stories that make up Hugh Hefner? And the lives that drempt up Playboy?
If this post is of interest to you, I highly recommend reading Playboy’s Around the World by Shel Silverstein. The book is a collection of Silverstein’s cartoons for Playboy as he traveled around the world. Each section is labeled with the magazine issue date the cartoons were originally published under. The linked text is free, but if you’re a hard copy kind of person you can also find the book on Amazon.
Featured Image: AFP/Getty Images