Jewish Journal

Howard and Hef

by Rob Eshman

May 11, 2010 | 10:14 am

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez profiled Hugh Hefner.  And it made me think of Howard.

On the surface, the two couldn’t be more different.  Hefner is 30 years older than Stern.  He’s the child of deeply Christian Nebraska farmers.  He made his reputation cultivating an aura of suave sophistication, worldliness and sex appeal—just about 180 degrees off the image Howard presents as an uncool, uncomfortable, anti-social dork. And yet…

Lopez gets under the surface of Hef, and under the surface, the parallels between the two men become much more obvious.

Both men created a media empire by breaking cultural taboos.

Both men have an intense work ethic.  They are hard-working, obsessed perfectionists.  And they are both highly intelligent (Hef’s IQ is said to be 150.  Howard plays the dope but his is clearly way up there).

Both men have a sense of their historic role.  They are meticulous archivers of their lives and careers.  While they sell fun, they take their careers quite seriously.

“Hefner held a stack of notes detailing his millions in donations to film preservation and the study of cinema at UCLA and USC,” wrote Lopez, ” as well as a list of 22 documentaries he has helped finance, including movies on Mary Pickford, Lon Chaney and Rita Hayworth.”

Or consider this passage about Hef’s archives:

He smiled and led me up to the third floor, where a man named Steve Martinez has spent 20 years helping Hefner compile more than 2,000 bound scrapbooks filled with press clippings and personal mementos.

“I’m archiving his legacy,” said Martinez, as Hefner, a pack rat, grabbed a volume off a shelf and showed me his first cartoon strips as a sketch artist, photos of his family and letters he wrote to his mother.

“It was a way of inventing a world of my own, in which I was center stage,” he said of his collection, which will now include a second round of stories about the Hollywood sign.

Hefner reached for Volume 372 and was showing me photos of the 1978 fundraiser to restore the sign when his staff reminded him that he was more than half an hour late for his next interview. Hefner, lost in the story of his life, didn’t want to leave.

Reading this, I thought of Howard’s many references to his archives, and of those “History of Howard Stern” radio documentaries that air on his channel.  Hef would be impressed.

Of course. the easy parallel is that both men created careers for themselves that were, despite the trials and tribulations, really fun. That’s very very smart.



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Rob Eshman created the blog Serious Stern on June 17, 2009.  Serious Stern is devoted to a serious (hence the name) exploration of the cultural impact of Howard Stern.

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