Lot 146

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A Lifelong Friendship in Letters: H. Hefner Extensive Archive with Cartoons, Together with Related Photographs and Ephemera

A large archive of original letters, cartoons, photographs, and memorabilia, relating to Hugh Hefner’s 75-year relationship with high school classmate and close friend Jane “Janie” Borson Sellers (1943-2017). The collection was organized by Sellers in seven quarto binders, who also provided numerous sheets of explanatory descriptions and observations, in keeping with her plan to publish her letters from Hugh Hefner under the title: "Letters from the Innocent Playboy".

The core of the archive consists of over 150 letters by Hefner, half of which are illustrated with pen & ink cartoon drawings by Hefner (including some hand-colored), and associated photographs and ephemera. The first group of correspondence consists of a fascinating and charming series of 65 letters from Hefner to Sellers during their time at Steinmetz High School (1943-44) and continuing through Hefner’s career in the Army (1944-1946). There are 27 ALS and 38 TLS (a total of 293 pages), of which 60 are illustrated with cartoons by Hefner. The letters are neatly laid in protective sleeves, including several with the original mailing envelopes illustrated with a small cartoon figure by Hefner, and Seller’s summary of the contents of each letter on an accompanying printed out sheet.

The second group of correspondence consists of an equally charming series of 91 letters from Hefner to Sellers (a total of 101 pages) dating from Hefner’s marriage to his second wife Kimberley Conrad and the birth of their two children and continuing up until just a few months before his death (1985-2017). All are TLS, including a few holograph cards, several of which are illustrated with Hefner’s self-portrait cartoon next to his signature.

Interspersed throughout the binders are over 100 original color photographs, along with notes, clippings, and ephemera. Sellers also interspersed throughout four of the binders photocopies of additional selected letters, cartoons, and photographs and duplicate photocopies of selected pieces of the original material. The collection is in fine condition: all of the letters are loosely laid into plastic sleeves; most of the photographs are mounted on paper sheets laid into plastic sleeves, including several loosely laid in; the associated cards and ephemera are also mounted onto paper sheets or loosely laid into the binder sleeves.

Hugh Hefner was an important cultural icon of the 20th Century. As the founder and publisher of *Playboy* magazine, Hefner played a pivotal role in the sexual revolution of the 1960s to 1980s. Seller’s archive includes letters and other memorabilia that reveal a different side of Hefner the man, including his largely unacknowledged talent as a cartoon artist. For example, while at Steinmetz High School on the west side of Chicago, Hefner distinguished himself by founding a school newspaper, for which he both wrote and drew cartoons. With his best friend Jim Brophy, Hefner also wrote, directed, and acted in both school plays and homemade movies. Like many young men during the war years, Hefner graduated in January (1944) in order to join one of the branches of the armed forces. He was voted “Class Humorist,” and came in second as “Best Orator,” behind Brophy. He also scored third place for “Most Likely to Succeed” (Brophy was first), “Most Popular Boy” (Brophy was second), “Best Dancer,” and “Most Artistic.”

After his discharge from the Army in April 1946, Hefner earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a double minor in creative writing and art from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. After college, Hefner continued his work as a cartoonist but failed to sell any of his ideas for a comic strip. In 1951 he published his first book of satirical cartoons about Chicago: "That Toddlin’ Town: A Rowdy Burlesque of Chicago Manners and Morals". In the summer of 1953, he raised $8,000 from friends and family and produced the first issue of "Playboy" in his apartment, which featured a 1949 calendar shoot of photographs of Marilyn Monroe, and the rest is history.

By the end of the 1950s "Playboy" was selling over a million copies per month, and the magazine played an important role in the sexual revolution of the 1960s up through the 1980s. Celebrated for its female models, short stories, and interviews, each issue of "Playboy" also featured cartoons. Hefner used the magazine to promote his "Playboy Philosophy”, a lifestyle that he embodied after his 1959 divorce and articulated in a series of articles in "Playboy" from 1962 to 1965. Among its components, the "Playboy Philosophy" called for political goals such as free speech, civil rights, the separation of church and state, free-enterprise capitalism, and individualism. Hefner also advocated support for birth control and abortion rights.

In May 2002, Sellers wrote to Hefner to ask if she could publish his letters from 1943-46 in a book she was preparing called: "Hefner, Young and Innocent". He responded: “As I understand it, the contents of personal correspondence is the legal property of the person who wrote the letters, but you have my permission to do whatever you like with them. They are yours with my love—for all the dreams and memories we’ve shared. As a source of income, these letters are probably more valuable to a collector than to a publisher, but I could be wrong.”

Sellers wrote to Hefner again about their wartime correspondence, to confess she had feared that, if they indeed had had an “after the war date,” which they considered, that she “could never live up to your image of me.” Sellers married in September 1945, before Hefner was discharged from the army in 1946. In his reply (June 7, 2002), Hefner wrote: “I think your reflections on feelings elicited by correspondence and memories from half a century ago are both insightful and quite wonderful … As to whether you are really the person I believed you to be, I think you’ve proven that you were and a good deal more. We’re both incurable romantics, but I’m an incurable optimist too. I think life is for living and we should celebrate our very existence every day.” As Sellers assembled the letters, photographs, and related ephemera, she changed her earlier title to "Letters from the Innocent Playboy".

A more complete and detailed description of all the items in the archive can be viewed upon request by qualified bidders.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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Bid Increments
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$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000