Everyone has heard of Hugh Hefner. But the famed Playboy icon may not have gotten his start without another man: Victor Lownes. Lownes is famous in his own right, though perhaps not as well known as his contemporary.
There are a lot of questions about Lownes. Where did he get his start? What did he do for a living? And what happened to him after meeting Hefner. Here is all that you need to know.
Born in Buffalo, NY in 1928, Lownes was born into money as his parents had ties to the Yale time lock fortune based out of Buffalo. Lownes was shrouded in controversy early on, supposedly starting his cigar-smoking habit at age 12 and, at the same time, killing his best friend in an accidental shooting.
He would go on to be enlisted in military school, meeting Nick Hilton, the son of hotel kingpin Conrad Hilton. Lownes would have a notable collegiate career at the University of Chicago, one of the most famed universities in the United States.
He would then come into a management role at Yale University. He would begin a family but find himself feeling unsatisfied. He decided to go against the wishes of his family, dissolving his marriage and branching out to find another path.
It was in 1954 that Victor Lownes met a young entrepreneur named Hugh Hefner. They both had similar interests, particularly in women, that led to the creation of Playboy magazine. Lownes initially wrote articles, even earning a full-time job as a Promotions Director in 1955.
Though most conservative companies wanted nothing to do with Playboy, Lownes was successful in changing many minds. He also managed to diversify the advertising for Playboy by opening up his own club (this is what helped Victor Lownes net worth to progress into the millions by the end of his life).
The first Playboy Club would open in Chicago in 1960, with the hostesses in the famed bunny costume that would become synonymous with the Playboy brand. It was a massive success with other clubs following in different cities across the country.
With his club business rising, Lownes took to the UK in order to grow the gaming ties he had developed. He received gaming license approval late in the 1970s for Playboy Enterprises. By then, it had become one of the largest table-for-table operations in the UK.
By 1975, he and Hefner were locked into a number of ventures, though Hefner would find it disinteresting and move on after some time. This would leave Lownes alone to carry the business operations.
Back in London by 1981, serving as the senior vice president for Playboy Enterprises, he had a hand in helping with a number of Atlantic City casino projects. But the trouble began with accusations of irregularities from the Gaming Board for Great Britain.
Hefner would panic and fire Lownes before a meeting with the committee in an attempt to save the deal. The British gaming license would be revoked, and Playboy would lose a lot of assets. Because of this, Playboy went from $31 million in revenue in 1981 to losing $51 million by 1982. Playboy barely survived, though in 1990, Hefner and Lownes would manage to reconcile after being estranged for nearly a decade.
Life After Playboy and Death
With his relationship in the Playboy business now done (and his relationship with Hefner damaged until 1990), Lownes moved onto other ventures. Victor Lownes net worth accumulated to $20 million during his various endeavors, even becoming Britain’s best-paid executive for a time.
He also had his wife, Marilyn Cole, who was the first full frontal Playboy Playmate of the month back in January 1972 and also the Playmate of the Year in 1973. Though there was interest from Hefner, she remained with Lownes. She would continue to pose for the magazine until 1984m, before becoming a journalist for well-known publications like Esquire, GQ and The Observer. Lownes would also invest in several West End theater productions during this time, things like Stomp and Other People’s Money.
Where there remained some controversy is his relationship with filmmaker Roman Polanski. Polanski was brought to trial for relations with an underaged girl and the relationship between he and Lownes suffered. They reconciled after Polanski’s trial was dismissed, though Lownes became ill when Polanski filed a libel case against Vanity Fair in 2005.
Ultimately, Lownes would become less seen in his later years. Though he still had a number of ventures behind the scenes, little was heard of him until his last years. Finally, on January 11, 2017, Victor Lownes passed away from a heart attack in his beloved London.
Few men have led the life that Victor Lownes has. From helping to found an American institution in Playboy magazine to nearly losing it all in a failed bid to expand Atlantic City gambling into the UK, Lownes has done it all.
He has the kind of story that should be told in book and film, from his less than humble beginnings until his death in 2017. When people think about Hugh Hefner, they should also think about Victor Lownes.