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Hugh Hefner’s Philosophy on the Modern Man, Sex, Style and Playboy: Part 2
  • November 13, 2013 : 13:11
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"'I have a notion that he suffers from a nostalgia of the slums.' So wrote Somerset Maugham of his friend Charles Spencer Chaplin, touching upon one of the great secrets of Chaplin's art. From the beginning it has been a celebration and a mockery of the earth's poor. Celebration because while we breathe, even in the dankest air of the lowest slum, we live, and life is sacred; mockery because in Chaplin's words, 'The poor deserve to be mocked! What fools they are!' What holy fools, he should have added, for that must be the final description of his masterpiece, Charlie.

"...Dispensing love, he received love in return; and his fame grew, like a vast silvery balloon.

"That this must have its effect upon a man is, or should be, self-evident. Chaplin the man had always been withdrawn. The sudden overwhelming popularity caused him to withdraw further. People did not understand. They did not understand that Chaplin's way of repaying them for their love was to give them the best of him, through Charlie, and that having put into Charlie all that was wild and sweet in him, there was little left over.

"But people have a way of resenting great artists. A man may travel to the searing center of his soul and come out with a new vision, and the world will ask him why he hasn't changed his shirt.

"This is what the world—our American world—began to ask Chaplin. Over a 20-year period, working 20 hours a day, making the finest films anyone had ever seen, distilling his genius to its greatest perfection.... And people laughed, but they did not forgive. For while Chaplin was dishing up these delights, he was living a life described by columnists as 'unnormal.'

"To ask an artist to please everyone with his life as well as his art is both stupid and unfair. Even if all of the charges against Chaplin were true, America's attitude would be difficult to understand. As the charges are almost entirely false, the attitude is inexplicable."

Beaumont concluded: "It is for these reasons, for his occasional weaknesses as a person and for his incredible strengths as an artist, that Charles Chaplin became one of the most despised men in America. Now, in Vevey, Switzerland, he lives quietly with his wife and seven children—one of whom this remarkable man sired only recently, despite the fact that he is in his 70s. Because he is in his 70s, Chaplin will, before long, die. And then, because his legend has been all but destroyed, he will probably be forgotten, as most men are.

"But what Chaplin created we must not allow to be forgotten: Charlie the fool. Charlie the clown. Charlie, the spirit of Man, walking with a goatlike skip in his oversize shoes and a hitch of his baggy pants—bewildered, but unafraid—into the unknown. Charlie, the best of us."

A bit later, near the end of his editorial, we plan to list a number of specifics in which Playboy believes. You may put one down now, ahead of time: We believe wholeheartedly in the Uncommon Man and his right to be uncommon. There is perhaps no single belief that is more important to us. It is in man's God-given differences, more than his similarities, that we find the very best of him. And our America was founded on the unique understanding that through man's differences, and the fullest protection of their free expression, we might create the most perfect society yet conceived.

Playboy has never done much direct editorializing—this present piece is a rare exception—but regular readers have come to know the things we believe in through the subjects we choose to write about and what we choose to say about them. One of the things we believe in is the Uncommon Man, and the magazine has included articles on the Uncommon Men from its earliest issues—Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hemingway, Charlie Parker, Stirling Moss. We've commented upon their uncommon natures and expounded their uncommon philosophies.

We have never been big on quotations or precepts, but we have two that we took for ourself in our early teens and they've formed a pair of guiding principles by which we've tried to shape our own life.

The first: "This above all, to thine own self be true, and thou canst not then be false to any man."

The second: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for."

Our article on Chaplin produced more warm compliments and comment from readers than any other personality profile we have ever published: George Jessel wired, "THE PIECE ABOUT CHARLIE CHAPLIN WRITTEN BY CHARLES BEAUMONT IS THE MOST SENSITIVE AND TOLERANT PORTRAIT OF A MAN THAT I HAVE EVER READ, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF BERTRAND RUSSELL ON TOM PAYNE." Hollis Alpert wrote, "...a wise, balanced and warm description of the artist and his career. About time, too, before his legend and reputation suffer completely from his vituperative, ignorant detractors. Congratulations on Playboy's judgment and courage in publishing the article." Paul DeWitt, "...An essay worthy of the highest praise. An eloquent tribute to one of the most misunderstood men of our time." Dore Schary, "The Chaplin article written by Charles Beaumont is a good piece; a warm and sympathetic recounting of a tragedy." Charles B. Yulish, "The 'protective' picketing of Chaplin films will no doubt continue, as well as Philistine panning of his genius. I am truly sorry for those who participate in such. I am more sorry, however, for the millions who will never share the experience of crying during the ending of City Lights, or roaring at Chaplin's comic mastery in Limelight." Herman G. Weinberg, "Bravo! I refer to that Chaplin piece by Beaumont. It needed to be said and I'm glad it was Playboy who said it."

These letters appeared in our July 1960 letters column. We had also recently published an article on the Academy Awards (The Oscar Syndrome, April 1960) by Dalton Trumbo, a man unusually well-qualified to write on the subject, since he is one of Hollywood's finest screenwriters and had only recently won an Oscar himself, pseudonymously, for scripting The Brave One as "Robert Rich," because he had been blacklisted in Hollywood and could not write there using his own name. His article was personal, provocative and stimulating of thought. We published it before he succeeded in breaking through the blacklist barrier, so his thoughts were all the more vitriolic and searing. A few months later, his own name appeared on a screen credit, for the first time in 12 years—first on Spartacus and then Exodus. We had also made the serious error of inviting Larry Adler to perform on our television show, Playboy's Penthouse. Our only excuse, and we must admit it's a slim one, was because Adler is the virtuoso on the harmonica, the man responsible for getting the mouth organ accepted as a musical instrument instead of a toy, and we felt our viewers would find him entertaining. We had no idea that Adler, too, was on somebody's little black list, but he was. And we think it only fair to add that if we had known he was on somebody's little black list, it wouldn't have mattered a bit.

Nevertheless, the profile on Chaplin, the article by Trumbo and the TV appearance of Adler were enough to prompt a few letters of quite a different sort, and we published those too, in July 1960: A.C. Cohn wrote, "Chaplin in your magazine, Larry Adler on your TV show. You are becoming a stink in the nostrils of the American people." T.F. Hanson asked, "What's the matter with Playboy? Is it beginning to follow the Communist party line?" And R.E. Chasen wrote, "Please cancel my subscription at once. First, the hearts-and-flowers for Chaplin, then Dalton Trumbo. As an ex-FBI agent, it becomes impossible to continue."

All this sound and fury (the ratio ranges nearly 30-to-1 in favor of the Chaplin and Trumbo articles) gave us one of our rare opportunities to spell out (in an answer in the letters column) a portion of Playboy's philosophy: "Playboy sincerely believes that this nation is big enough, strong enough and right enough to give free expression to the ideas and talents of every man among us without fear of being hurt by any man's individual weaknesses or follies. We believe, too, that no good idea, no important work of art and no meaningful talent becomes less good, less important or less meaningful because it comes from a doubtful source. You don't have to be a homosexual to read Oscar Wilde or an alcoholic and a drug addict to appreciate the prose and poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. It is also possible to recognize the comic genius of Chaplin, read an article on the Academy Awards by Dalton Trumbo and enjoy the music of Larry Adler without necessarily approving of either the men or their personal philosophies of life. For the record, of course, none of these men has ever been proven a Communist—a matter of some importance in this country that prides itself on fair play and believing a man innocent until proven guilty. But that's really beside the point—for we also appreciate Picasso as one of the world's greatest living artists, and we know he's a Communist. Politics may be important in government, where national security is a vital consideration, but it has no place in art and literature. Not if America's art and literature, and indeed the country itself, are to remain free."

We think it quite important to have a magazine of considerable circulation and influence establishing and re-establishing these basic concepts of freedom upon which our nation is built. If Playboy hadn't spoken up in behalf of Chaplin in 1960, no one else would have. At any rate, no one else did—no other major magazine—either before or after. Chaplin wasn't a very popular cause. But it's important to voice opinions on unpopular causes, too, when there is something that deserves to be said.

Back in the Thirties, there was a certain hue and cry for social reform and some of it was good and some of it wasn't, but almost no attention was given to the most important single item in a free society—the significance of the individual and his right to be different.

The Invisible Man

Whether the country would have recovered from the psychic depression as readily as it did from the economic depression will never be known: the Second World War ushered in a half decade demanding a high degree of rigid conformity. So Americans gave up willingly what individuality they had left, and gladly, in order to exert a total and unified effort in the defeat of the enemy. In the silence that followed the firing of the last shot and shell, a quiet searching out of the things that we had won (and lost) in the war might have been expected, but instead the shrill voices of extremists at both the far Left and Right shattered any hope of a peaceful time at war's end. Americans became aware of the Communist threat from without and the demagogues among us used a fear of Communists within to trample human rights and individual liberty in a lusting after power. McCarthyism was born in America in the middle Forties. Congressional committees on un-American activities investigated and interrogated the common citizen, as well as our greatest scientists, our university faculties and our clergy; Americans demanded that other Americans sign loyalty oaths; the communications industry (movies, television and radio) drew up blacklists that permanently barred individuals suspected of politically improper views or affiliations; neighbor spied on neighbor; brother turned in brother. Anyone who had ever been a member of the Communist Party, for whatever reason (except as an agent for the FBI) and at whatever time, was a Red (completely ignoring the fact that many misguided but sincere and loyal Americans joined the Party in the Thirties when Communist Russia was not our enemy and in the Forties when she was actually our ally); anyone who presently belonged, or had ever belonged to any of a hundred different clubs, organizations or affiliations that appeared on any of several hundred different lists (made up by almost anyone who had some names available and a mimeograph machine) as pro-Communist, a Communist front, Communist influences, Communist infiltrated, or sympathetic with any Communist cause, was a Red; and anyone who objected to, and spoke out against, the injustice, defamation and persecution of these individuals was a "Pinko" or a "fellow traveler." At no time in America's history was the label-libel technique more frequently, or successfully, put to use. A real, 100-percent, red-white-and-true-blue American was judged not by what he stood for, but for what he stood against. If it was unwise to voice an unpopular point of view during the Depression and War, it was positively foolhardy once the War had been won, for it could cost a man his job and his good name. Conformity was the safest road; to be outstanding or outspoken was to be exposed; to be invisible was to be secure. We had created a nation of conforming, security-conscious, stay-in-line, group-oriented, nonthinking, unquestioning, responsibility-avoiding Invisible Men.

In 20 years of Depression, War and Post-War pressures, we had very nearly managed to destroy the fundamental spirit and social, economic and political beliefs upon which this nation was founded and through which we had prospered and grown.

The Upbeat Generation

Somewhere in America in the late Forties a significant counterwave first began to be felt: A new generation was coming of age that seemed unwilling to accept the current shibboleths, chains, traditions and taboos. It was none too soon, for America was lagging woefully in education, the arts, the sciences and world leadership. There were and are pessimists who believe the nation drifted past the point of no return. We are not among them.

A small portion of this new generation, a colorful fringe only, broke from the fetters of conformity in what has been called a revolution without banners. These were the so-called Beat Generation, modern-day nihilists for whom it was enough, apparently, to flout and defy. For their few number and their profound negativism, the Beats attracted an incredible amount of national attention. So much so, in fact, that the nation was distracted from a much more significant and larger segment of the new generation, a group less colorful on the surface (without the beards, berets and dirty underwear), but sharing the rebellious spirit of the Beats, and equally ready to throw off the shackles of sameness and security. Both groups refused to accept the old ideas and ideals passed along by the previous conformity-ridden generation, but whereas the Beat part of this new generation rejected the old in a negative way, simply turning their backs on society and ceasing to communicate, the rest searched for new answers and new opportunities in a spirit that was positive in the extreme. We've named these, appropriately we think, the Upbeat Generation. They are bringing the country alive again and they are, we're certain, the only hope America has for the future.

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