In the meantime, sex sold. It built clubs and dressed bunnies and outraged feminists and conservative Christians alike, as the movie shows.
But in a certain way, the forces Playboy unleashed would go on to overtake the Playboy business model. Playboy lost $51 million last year in part because the Internet offers for free, content that is raunchier than what Playboy is trying to sell in the magazine and on pay TV channels.
Hefner said the proliferation of free, explicit sexual material on the Internet had affected his business.
"I think it's had a dramatic impact on Playboy, just as I think other things on the Internet have had a dramatic impact on print," he said. "On news, on newspapers, on magazines, on books. People get their information in different ways now. And we are a little poorer for it, because the way you get information affects what you learn. And one of the sad things, I think, about the younger generation, quite frankly, is they have less sense of yesterday. And if you don't know who you were, you don't really know who you are."
Hefner keeps his yesterdays at the mansion in more than 2,000 scrapbooks. It's poignant to leaf through them with him, his recollections precise regardless of what page you turn to.
A club that isn't there anymore. On the next page, a girlfriend from years past. Much of what Hefner created is gone, now faded from popular memory like tuxes and cocktails and bunny clubs in big U.S. cities.
But Hefner is holding on to certain things, including control over the magazine that started it all. There's an interesting scene in the film where he talks about rejecting suggestions from younger editors that he make some big changes to the way the magazine is shaped.
Is it possible that he's wrong about those changes?
"I have very strong theories about magazine publishing," he said. "And I think that it is the most personal form of journalism. And I think that a magazine is an old friend. So what you try to create with the publication is a sense of a friend visiting with something new. So the structure of it is essentially the same. The centerfold is there in the same place, the party jokes are the same place, the interview has the same kind of iconic imagery. But theres always something fresh. So I think it is that combination that really makes the publication successful."
Another iconic image he cherishes is that of himself as the quintessential playboy. Notably, as he aged through the decades, the girlfriends never have. He says he was faithful during several years of a marriage in the 1980s and '90s, but after that he returned to the field, as documented in a globally popular reality show about a trio of girlfriends called "The Girls Next Door."
Hefner says the program's success shows he's still got game, business-wise.
"And it is more popular with women than it is with men," Hefner said. "And Playboy products, that rabbit, that trademark, is famous everywhere. Maybe other people are looking back a little bit, too. Maybe they want a little piece of the world that they missed."
So what was there then that's not here now?
"A little more style, a little more class, a little more romantic connection," Hefner said.
Does Hefner think we'll get back there?
"Some of us will."