Hugh Hefner builds his Playboy empire. Biographical. [ Hugh Hefner, Once Upon a Time credits: Dir: Robert Heath/ 91 min/ Documentary-Educational, Biography/ Libertarian Heroes, Sexual Liberty]
See trailer here.
As Hugh Hefner, Once Upon a Time tells it, Hugh Hefner did for erotica what Ayn Rand’s character Hank Rearden does for the steel industry in Atlas Shrugged. He built Playboy magazine from an inspired idea into a vast entertainment conglomerate through sheer hard work and attention to detail.
He launched Playboy nearly single-handedly on a shoestring budget. He managed and inspected every aspect of the magazine’s appearance and production, often working stints of thirty-six hours at a time without sleep to ensure its perfection. Once it was established, he leveraged the Playboy name to launch a string of hotels, clubs, and a TV show. His hard work paid off. He became one of the richest men in the U.S. and by all accounts a very happy man as well.
But his magazine and sensual lifestyle offended many, as did his guilt-free attitude toward sex. Consequently, governments denied him business permits, shut his operations down on technicalities, and “investigated” him relentlessly, but without ever finding a crime for which he could be successfully prosecuted.
Hefner responded by funding efforts to separate sex and state, including the repeal of sodomy laws; by using his publication as a voice against censorship; and by speaking out and publicly debating those who sought to restrict sexual freedom. But as told here, he paid a great price in his battle with the “guardians of decency.” His close friend and coworker, Bobbie Arnstein, was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for a minor drug charge in an attempt to force her to accuse Hefner of drug use. She committed suicide instead, and left a note saying that Hefner was entirely innocent. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency eventually dropped the investigation against Hefner, but the loss of Arnstein and the endless legal siege under which Playboy had operated took its toll nonetheless. Hefner turned the reigns of the magazine over to his daughter and retired.
In the end, Hefner is seen here happily married, with kids, a nice house, etc. This is interpreted as a return to his parents’ traditional values, a completion of the circle of life as it were. However, it might be noted that sometime after this documentary was released, Hefner and his wife separated and he returned to the bachelor life.
Alternately revered and reviled in the popular press as the ultimate playboy, Hefner is in fact much more—an entrepreneur of the first order, a revolutionary for civil liberties, a philosopher and writer, and above all a self-made man. Hugh Hefner, Once Upon a Time does a good job of telling Hefner’s story and it benefits from a great deal of interesting footage from his career. It could have benefited from a bit more editing, but it’s satisfying in any case and even inspiring at times. Narrated by James Coburn.