Mr. Hefner was reviled, first by guardians of the 1950s social order â J. Edgar Hoover among them â and later by feminists. But Playboyâs circulation reached one million by 1960 and peaked at about seven million in the 1970s.
Long after other publishers made the nude âPlaymateâ centerfold look more sugary than daring, Playboy remained the most successful menâs magazine in the world. Mr. Hefnerâs company branched into movie, cable and digital production, sold its own line of clothing and jewelry, and opened clubs, resorts and casinos.
The brand faded over the years, and by 2015 the magazineâs circulation had dropped to about 800,000 â although among menâs magazines it was outsold by only one, Maxim, which was founded in 1995.
Mr. Hefner remained editor in chief even after agreeing to the magazineâs startling decision in 2015 to stop publishing nude photographs. Mr. Hefner handed over creative control of Playboy last year to his son Cooper Hefner. Playboy Enterprisesâ chief executive, Scott Flanders, acknowledged that the internet had overrun the magazineâs province: âYouâre now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so itâs just passÃ© at this juncture.â The magazineâs website, Playboy.com, had already been revamped as a âsafe for workâ site. Playboy was no longer illicit. (Early this year, the magazine brought back nudes.)
Mr. Hefner began excoriating American puritanism at a time when doctors refused contraceptives to single women and the Hollywood production code dictated separate beds for married couples. As the cartoonist Jules Feiffer,…