How Hugh Hefner saved the Hollywood sign

The Playboy mogul donated nearly a $1 million to preserve the cultural landmark. But why was that even necessary?

The iconic Hollywood sign was in danger of destruction - that is, until Hugh Hefner stepped in.
(Image credit: Creative Commons)

Developers were on the verge of building giant mansions behind the "H" of the iconic Hollywood sign — until Hugh Hefner came to the rescue. The founder of Playboy wrote a last-minute $900,000 check that capped a months-long, $12.5 million fundraising campaign by the Trust for Public Land conservation group to purchase and protect a 138-acre plot behind the sign. (Watch an AP report about Hugh Hefner's donation.) Here, a look at how the Playboy playboy saved "Hollywood":

Why did Hefner step in?

"My childhood dreams and fantasies came from the movies, and the images created in Hollywood had a major influence on my life and Playboy," Hefner told the AP. In fact, this wasn't the first time he help save the sign, which he calls "Hollywood's Eiffel Tower." In 1978, Hefner hosted a charity auction at the Playboy Mansion to restore the then-dilapidated cultural landmark and create a fund for its upkeep. At the event, Andy Williams became the honorary owner of the sign's W, Alice Cooper got an O, Gene Autry an L, and Hef himself took the Y.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Who else donated?

Private donors from all 50 states and 10 countries contributed to the conservation fund. Residents on land near the sign held bake sales, and the cash-strapped state of California kicked in $3.1 million. Sizable donations also came from Tiffany & Co., Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks. But celebrities were generally "slow to rally around this year's preservation effort," says Alissa Walker in Fast Company. The Trust for Public Land had to get an extension, and were it not for Hefner, the Hollywood sign might have been marred by mansions.

Where did the sign come from in the first place?

Ironically, it was put up in 1923 to advertise the Hollywoodland real estate development. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce lopped off the "land" part of the sign in 1949. Cahuenga Peak, the parcel above the "H", was purchased by aeronautics mogul Howard Hughes in 1940 for a house for his then-girlfriend, Ginger Rogers. The structure was never built, and Chicago-based Fox River Financial Resources bought the land from the Hughes estate for $1.7 million in 2002.

Sources: Washington Post, LA Times, Fast Company,, Wall St. Journal

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us