Playboy-in-Chief Charts a New Course

"Nightline" interviews Playboy-in-chief on plan to recapture "greatest success."

ByABC News
July 22, 2010, 10:27 AM

July 22, 2010 — -- "Icon" is an overused word, but in some cases -- as with a certain, famous silhouetted bunny -- the term is heartily warranted.

And what's true for the Playboy bunny is true for the man who has been the face of Playboy enterprises for 57 years: Hugh Hefner.

Hefner, 84, hosted "Nightline" at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles recently to talk about his big plans -- and that doesn't mean retirement.

"I think that retirement is the first step towards the grave," Hefner said.

To the contrary, Hefner is right now on a mission to buy back all the shares of Playboy Enterprises still held by the public.

Like many in the publishing world, Playboy has fallen on hard times. The company's stock has plunged from a high in the low $30s a share in 1999 to just about $5 today. Magazine circulation peaked at more than 7 million in the early 1970s and now is at just one-and-a-half million.

Hefner seems confident that getting back total control will let him put the business back on the right path.

"The company in this particular economic climate is not being properly dealt with," Hefner said. "I mean, it's worth a good deal more than what it's being traded for.

Hefner wasn't sharing details. And he didn't comment on the fact that the company that owns Penthouse magazine is trying to buy Playboy, too. All Hefner would say was that "the greatest success of the company and the magazine was in the 1950s and '60s, when we were private. And maybe it's recapturing my youth."

So are his bygone days really what Hefner's after?

"I think that part of it, most certainly, is the fact that I just celebrated my 84th birthday and I'm thinking in terms of the future of the brand," Hefner said. "The future of the magazine, staying the course and making sure that it's going in the right direction and will be there long after I'm gone."

If these sound like the words of an old man looking forward by looking back -- well, Hefner has been looking back lately, courtesy of a documentary on his life, "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel," which is set to hit theaters this month.