Playboy is art, not porn, says Hefner heir

Don't expect too many changes as the bunny empire boss's son prepares to take over

Like father, like son: he's Playboy Snr, the 86-year-old who thinks he changed the world by printing pictures of naked women in a magazine, and he's Playboy Jnr, the 21-year-old who wants to change the world by, erm, printing pictures of naked women in a magazine. Meet the Hefners.

As the fortunes of Playboy, once one of the world's most controversial brands, now considered fairly marginal, are surrounded by uncertainty, change behind the boardroom door is afoot. Hefner Snr has just married a woman 60 years his junior and is presumably ready to settle down for another (his third) stab at marital bliss. This will leave young Cooper Hefner to take over the business.

Only no one seems to have told them times have changed. More than six decades after the brand was founded, Hugh Hefner's youngest son Cooper, in his third year in college, is ready to get down to business – once he's finished his homework. He says he has big plans for the business – just don't call the business pornography. It's "art", you see.

"If you consider Playboy pornography, then you consider any photo of a nude woman or man pornography," says Cooper, flanked by Tony his bodyguard in the London Playboy Club in Mayfair. "If somebody is trying to argue the point that Playboy is pornography, then you probably shouldn't be showering or going to a museum where there's nude art. That's very hypocritical."

And the bunny girls – they're empowering, of course. "I don't think Playboy objectifies women. I think you're going to talk to many women who think that putting on the bunny outfit objectifies women and you're going to talk to just as many women who thinks putting on the bunny outfit empowers women. So be it. They're entitled to their views.

"There are many domestic issues in the US that bother me, such as gay rights or fighting for the legalisation of marijuana. But as we go global we need to stand for more important issues internationally. Women's rights in the Middle East and internet censorship in China are two things we can stand for and have an influence in, especially when we're coming into these emerging markets like India and we're faced with the challenge of opening up Playboy clubs where the bunnies can't even wear bunny outfits. You have these countries which are in a very similar place sexually – especially when it comes to gender roles – where the US was when my dad first started."

His upbringing was unusual, to say the least. Much of it was in the Playboy Mansion, fabled centre of male-dominated hot-tub frolics. His mother was Miss January 1988, Kimberley Conrad, his father's second wife whom he married in 1989. In the late 1980s, after suffering from a stroke, Hefner Snr was said to have toned down the all-night parties. The marriage lasted 10 years and, after they separated, Hefner bought the mansion next to his Playboy Mansion – which he actually rents from Playboy Enterprises – just outside LA for Conrad and her two sons, Cooper and Marston. Cooper says he had a bed in each home. "There's always this perception that there were always these nude girls running around and there were all these crazy parties. To tell you the truth, when my brother and I were over at my dad's, this wasn't the case. My parents were still trying to be parents." His brother Marston was recently sentenced to a 52-week domestic violence programme after allegedly beating his Playmate girlfriend Claire Sinclair.

Hefner's two elder children from his first marriage remain enigmas. No one is quite sure what happened to David, born 1955. The rumours range from his suffering amnesia after an accident to claims that he owns a computer consulting firm. Hefner's daughter Christie was chairwoman of Playboy, but stepped down in 2009 to give more time to charitable work.

So what state, exactly, is the business in now? According to divorce paperwork filed in 2009, Hefner Snr estimated his net worth at $43m. The circulationof the magazine has declined from a peak of seven million in the 1970s to 1.5 million – no doubt hit by internet pornography, yet it still attracts the odd famous writer. The money-spinners these days are the TV channels, clubs, merchandising and casinos.

Cooper says he will not exactly follow in his father's footsteps: "I have no intentions of putting on silk pyjamas and smoking a pipe."

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