- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Less is more, at least according to Hugh Hefner, the original playboy and traditionally a more-is-more kind of guy.
Nudity just ain't what it used to be.
Hoping to reinvent both Playboy magazine and the social mores of the American male, the new Hefner motto is "less sex," an about-face for a man known for his silk pajamas and a gaggle of buxom companions.
"I am out to recapture the mainstream nature of the magazine. And more sex just doesn't really make it," Mr. Hefner said by phone from Chicago yesterday. "Playboy was always set apart from the competition because it is a lifestyle magazine. And sex is only a small part of that."
Vexed by competition from brazen pornographers and feisty men's-interest magazines, Mr. Hefner wants to retool his 49-year-old publication by emphasizing intellect over loins.
Well, that, or descend into depravity.
Mr. Hefner has acknowledged he could instead go the hard-core porn route, telling the New York Observer that it would "only erode the uniqueness of Playboy. We just live in a completely different world now in terms of the acceptance of sexuality, and we need to find ways to do things with style and taste."
This comes from a 76-year-old who has from four to seven blonde girlfriends at any given moment and a house full of ogling guests anxious to see his personal "grotto."
"Age doesn't matter, as long as you have your health," he said yesterday, adding that Playboy and its brand identity is being "embraced by young women in a curious way" in a "post-feminist world."
The female lead in HBO's popular "Sex in the City" series, Mr. Hefner noted, has taken to wearing a little Playboy bunny pin.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hefner is determined to better his magazine and return it to the heyday of the 1960s and '70s when Playboy was equated with the good life, suave romance, savvy thinking and a paradoxical sense of chivalry for the fairer sex.
What better way for a septuagenarian to sock it to his whipper-snapper competition? Mr. Hefner is determined to wrest the attention of the American male from the bad girls of Hustler and Penthouse not to mention the unevolved bad boys of Maxim, FHM and Stuff magazines, where "beer and babes" are a specialty.
With a paid circulation of more than 3 million and up to 15 million readers around the planet, Playboy remains the world's best-selling men's magazine. The business side of things has been managed by his daughter Christie Hefner since 1985. In recent years, Playboy Enterprises has bought three pornography cable channels and offered 11 Internet sites. It also maintains a brisk product-licensing division.
The current Playboy features a list of the nation's top 25 "party" colleges, a centerfold who doesn't "believe in monogamy" and a review of sex in the cinema.
But this week finds Mr. Hefner pining for "journalism of importance," "must-reads" and "good reportage," according to the Observer. Perhaps readers really will buy the magazine in the future for its articles rather than pictorials.
"There's really no other way he can go, though he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't," said Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi communications professor who analyzes the magazine marketplace.
"The concept of a centerfold doesn't mean all that much to a 21st-century man who has cable TV and the Internet. Competition like Maxim of FHM has taken the guilt out of the pleasure. A man can have them on the coffee table and not get in trouble with his wife or girlfriend," Mr. Husni said.
Still, the old cachet of Playboy is intact, he says, and mighty powerful. "People still perceive Playboy as sexy, though it's like Sesame Street compared to Hustler magazine. But Playboy can't go to that extreme."
Mr. Hefner has gone right to his competition for help. He has lured James Kaminsky, 41, from his post as executive editor of rival Maxim. He will start as Playboy's new editorial director Monday, replacing Arthur Kretchmer, a 30-year veteran.
Maxim prospered under Mr. Kaminsky, increasing its circulation sixfold in three years. He does, however, have a certain affection for Playboy.
"This is the magazine that convinced me to go into the business," Mr. Kaminsky said in a statement earlier this month.

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