Good news, everyone: Hugh Hefner, the ultimate hepcat, is on the prowl again. He's been quoted endlessly that his marriage to Kimberly Conrad nine years ago -- his first monogamous relationship -- would be the final chapter in his singular life, but now, as we learn in two magazines, comes Hef, "the epilogue."
First he's in the August Esquire, being given the Bill Zehme reverential star treatment, and why not? He's the "most famous magazine editor in the history of the world," and that's just his day job. He's the envy of generations, a regular guy who grew up to be rich, famous, and the lover of hundreds of the world's most beautiful women. (His estimate: about a thousand.) He has great houses, he goes to work in his bathrobe, and everyone wants to be his friend. Even at 72, back in the clubs since he and his "Kimberella" separated, Gen-Xers bow and flock: "You're the man!" "You're the god!" "You rule!"
Then in Gear, an Esquire/GQ pretender that debuts on newsstands Tuesday, we meet a slightly more contemplative Hefner, interviewed in question-and-answer format by none other than its editor and publisher, Bob Guccione Jr., scion of the Penthouse empire, the most successful of the post-Playboy permutations.
It is further proof that if you think you've seen everything, just wait a minute. For better than three decades, they've been foremost foes of the skin trade, and now, here is Hefner helping his staunchest competitor sends its newest babe into the world. It is anact that says that Hefner fears no rival.
And, in a damn good article that is more enlightening than what Esquire offers, that's not all he says:
- On Viagra: It's "a good deal more than simply giving an erection. . . . They'll never sell it that way, but it's a recreational drug. It's everything that has been touted, and more. I mean you can go all night."
- On monogamy: "I don't think it's terribly necessary, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of it around anymore. We live in a kind of sequential polygamy, we go from relationship to relationship, and some of them overlap."
And then there are his remembrances of Gloria Steinem, the feminist icon who helped make her mark in publishing by entering the Playboy bunny academy under cover, so to speak, and then writing about it for Show magazine. He says that Harvey Kurtzman, the founder of Mad magazine, tried to fix them up, and although they tried, they could never get together. He says Steinem could "in her personal life wind guys around her finger. That was the kind of lady she was, a wheeler and dealer, who used her physical attractiveness to a great effect. . . . She could be begrudging even when she was a party girl. She led a very active sexual life, and, uh, more power to her."
Meanwhile, there's word this month from the elder Guccioni as well, albeit in the far lower profile Las Vegas magazine. He talks to Carolyn Hamilton Proctor about his first love, painting. He says he went to Europe in 1949 intent on being an artist, and he was for a time; his first subjects were Roman prostitutes, because, he says, "they were always so flattered that somebody wanted to paint them." But then came Playboy, and the rest is derivative history.
Even though his success with Penthouse caused him to put aside his paints for 30 years, he expresses no regrets. "It has enabled me to make significant changes in our culture," he says. He believes, the article says, that "Penthouse is responsible, more than any other single publication in this country, for `the progress that has been made toward freeing people from their senses of guilt and fear with the association to their own sexuality.' "
Such pomposity, even as he acknowledges that he got the idea for Penthouse from Playboy, lays bare the fact that though Hefner is secure in his legacy, Guccioni is still chasing him.
MIT's Technology Review is out with its second issue since a redesign and refocus, and it provides terrific reading, beginning with the letters to the editor. Twenty-one letters address the changes in the once-staid magazine, and reaction is split along predictable lines: A typical naysayer accuses TR of abandoning the "commitment to the advancement of technology for the betterment of mankind as a whole." Supporters who got published seem to like everything, especially the new look.
But the chief reason to pick up this issue is associate editor Antonio Regalado's interesting, illuminating, and important cover story about the hunt for the human embryonic stem cell. They are in each of us at the very beginning of creation, before developing into tissue, or blood, or the other cells in our bodies.
The good news: They could provide "the ability to grow replacement human tissue at will," to be a "factory-in-a-dish" to cure whatever ails.
The bad news: They could be the realization of a Frankenstein monster, the route to a genetically engineered race.
The worse news: The two sources of the raw material for this research are embryos and aborted fetuses. Because of fierce opposition from right-to-life groups and others -- which is partly why government funding for such activity is banned -- all the research is going on without the usual sharing of data, behind closed corporate doors, without public oversight.
This means that in this life-altering field, we depend entirely on the ethics of corporate greed.
Surprisingly, the current Lingua Franca also offers an issue devoted to technology. Particularly entertaining is Caleb Crain's tale of Donald Foster, the "forensic linguist" who many consider to be the first scholar to have added to the Shakespeare canon since the 19th century.
Although he is a learned man who loves the Bard, he accomplished this feat not with a finely attuned aesthetic, but with computers. He says that we all speak and write in predictable, recognizable patterns, and that some of them are beneath our editing radar, such as the uses of "the" and "that." And he says they are as reliable as fingerprints.
His record would seem to back him up. He's the guy who unmasked Joe Klein as the author of "Primary Colors," and he helped convict Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomber (the defense brought him in hoping his research on Kaczynski's manifesto would aid their cause, but after examining it, he joined the opposition).
A number of American Shakespeare editions now include the disputed work, "A Funerall Elegye," but it's not in the Oxford yet. The rationale for keeping it out is that the elegy is awful: "tedious in a very unShakespeare way," one objector says.