Remembering Hef: Chicago’s Original Playboy

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CHICAGO -- He was America's original playboy.

The magazine's founder Hugh Hefner may be gone, but he leaves behind a legacy that has lasted for generations.

And it all started right in Chicago.

People have been stopping by the original Playboy Mansion here on State Parkway on Chicago to pay their respects.  Some leaving flowers and other’s snapping pictures.

WGN News spoke with a man who remembers a clear picture of Heffner from the earliest days of the Playboy Club.

As a young boy, John Gibson Jr would visit the first Playboy Club where his father was the first manager when it opened in Chicago in 1960.

The waitresses, known as “bunnies,” were dressed in tight satin, with fluffy cotton tails.

“The bunnies used to pinch my cheeks and say ‘Oh you’re such a cutie pie, you’re such a cutie pie,’” he says. “I had lipstick marks on my forehead.  Little did I know that I was dealing with half naked women, so …”

Chicago Tribune columnist Candace Jordan was a former bunny, playmate and centerfold and moved into the original Playboy Mansion on the Gold Coast when Hefner lived there.

“He threw great parties, great food, waiter and celebrities, from the literary world and film world,” she says. “He threw a hell of a party.”

Hefner was reportedly a shy boy, who “reinvented” himself as a student at Steimetz High School on the Northwest Side. There he started going by “Hef”  and became a kind of party boy who led a group of friends.  He also stared working for the school newspaper. He reportedly quietly donated money to his alma mater.

“He was always under the radar, he wanted to be anonymous,” Gibson says.

Hefner borrowed thousands of dollars and founded Playboy – which became the most successful men’s magazine in the world. It also led the country’s sexual and social revolution.

“He started sex when there was no sex,” Gibson says. “Everything he did were first class, top drawer all the way.”

Hefner supported progressive social causes and lost some sponsors by inviting black guests to his televised “Playboy After Dark” at a time when much of the country was still grappling with segregation.

Hefner was also a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He edited the campus humor magazine -- started a photo feature called “Co-ed of the Month.”

He died in California at the age of 91.

Hefner famously said life is too short to live someone else’s dream – and he certainly lived his own.

“He lived it to the fullest, he lived it to the fullest,” Gibson says.