7/26/13 - hefner, his parents, and his bunny blanket

In today's selection -- Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner's childhood was spent in Nebraska, attached in his earliest years to a bunny blanket. His parents were repressed, as was so commonly the case in the bitter years of the Great Depression, but worked hard to provide security for their children:

"[Young] Hugh developed a special love for animals. 'When he was a kid,' remembers [his brother] Keith, 'he wanted to be a veterinarian, [it] was the first job that he ever thought of, I think.' ... An interesting animal-related incident occurred around age six. Throughout his childhood, Hugh had treasured a special blue-and-white security blanket featuring a bunny pattern. When he came down with a mastoid infection, he received a present from his parents to speed his recovery -- a wire-haired fox terrier that he named Brows. A little box was set up in the basement, and the boy donated his 'bunny blanket' for the dog to sleep on. Unfortunately, Brows died about a week later and the blanket had to be burned. Hugh was heartbroken, but the imagery seems to have stuck with him at some level. Later he would note the 'Citizen Kane kind of connection here of the burned blanket' as he went on to create the bunny empire. ...

"As Hefner would recall throughout his life, restraint and repression colored the atmosphere of his family as he came of age. Orderly rules and sobriety muffled expressions of emotion. Hugh and Keith had to be at home and in bed earlier than their playmates, and they were not allowed to play with friends on Sunday, which was set aside for church and family activities. Grace and Glenn also shied away from displays of affection to each other and to their children. Little kissing and hugging occurred in this emotional climate of cool reserve. Keith remembered, 'There was a period that lasted about two weeks when I was quite young, when I thought it would be nice to kiss my father on the cheek good night and that lasted about a week. I could tell how embarrassed he was by it.' In fact, Grace and Glenn buried emotions so deep that feelings of any kind -- anger, affection, disputes -- seldom came to the surface. There was much calmness and kindness among the Hefners, but little passion. 'His parents are very controlled people,' Hefner's first wife reported. 'In the three years we lived there, I never heard them raise their voice. Never.' ...

"Hugh and Keith seldom saw their father because he was addicted to his work. Glenn left in the morning before his sons arose and returned near midnight after they were in bed. This grinding schedule resulted partly from his fascination with bookkeeping and partly from the Depression, when working extra hours could mean the difference between keeping a job and unemployment. He left the raising of his children to his wife, which pleased none of them. The boys sensed a vacuum in their lives because their father was seldom around for bonding experiences. When Keith told his dad how much he had missed his presence in boyhood, Glenn responded, 'I didn't think I had to [be present]. My father never did anything with me.' Grace also felt pangs of loneliness and worry, often walking around the block near midnight when he still had not appeared at home. An industrious, remote figure who was respected, even admired, in the Hefner family, Glenn was negligible in his personal impact. He was 'a very nice husband' and a hard worker, said Grace, but as a father 'he wasn't there.'

"Glenn's reserve influenced his attitudes toward physical issues and sexuality. ... He never discussed sex in any fashion with his sons. Decades later, Keith was stunned when his father asserted that he had never masturbated in his entire life, even as a teenager. Grace shared this Victorian aversion to sexuality. Later in life she confessed that she never had much use for sex. Glenn was very shy, but 'he always liked it more than I did.' ...

"Yet Grace and Glenn Hefner were not simply hidebound traditionalists. Vestiges of old-fashioned principles certainly remained, but they had drifted far away from the values of provincial Nebraska. In certain ways they had embraced modernity. Not content to be a farmer or village storekeeper, Glenn had attended college and [later moved to] create a career in the corporate world of Chicago. Uprooted from the countryside, the Hefners had abandoned the extended family network that supported a traditional worldview. There was little contact with family as the Hefner boys were growing up. 'I always felt as if the family on both sides, there was a remoteness,' Hugh recollected. 'We were not close to our relatives at all.' Moreover, the Hefners had surmounted their modest economic origins, remaining relatively prosperous even during the dark years of the Depression. In fact, on occasion, Grace and Glenn sent money to help relatives back in Nebraska. 'I was only vaguely aware of it. I never felt in danger in terms of anything economic,' Hugh recalled of the Depression."


Steven Watts


Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream Publisher


John Wiley & Sons


Copyright 2008 by Steven Watts


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