@

Stag by Arv Miller In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, then an obscure starlet, posed for a beer ad at Tom Kelley‘s commercial photography studio in Hollywood. According to some accounts, a Chicago-based calendar manufacturer, John Baumgarth, saw the ad while visiting Los Angeles and inquired about the model: would she pose nude for a calendar? In other accounts, Tom Kelley recruited Monroe for the calendar job on the day he shot the beer ad, knowing that Baumgarth was shopping for nudes. Either way, nude photos could wreck a Hollywood career at the time, as Monroe was keenly aware, so she only accepted the job after being persuaded that nobody would recognize her. To further protect her anonymity, she asked Kelley to schedule the session for night, with no assistants save for his female business partner. Kelley agreed, and Monroe arrived at the studio at seven p.m. and posed for two hours on a red velvet theater curtain that covered the floor and complemented the color of her hair, then a reddish blonde. Twenty-four shots were taken, and Baumgarth chose one of them for the calendar he marketed as Golden Dreams, a name suggested by Monroe’s blondness, though it also inadvertently referenced the nighttime shoot.

Four years after the shoot, Hugh Hefner, a twenty-seven-year-old native Chicagoan, learned from an article in Advertising Age magazine that Baumgarth owned the Golden Dreams photo, which seemed perfect for Stag Party, the magazine that Hefner was starting with an investment of $8,000, enough to publish the first issue but not enough to promote it. He was looking for a feature that would promote the magazine for him, and while Marilyn Monroe’s nude photos had been widely reported—her fortunes had since risen—few had actually seen them. Hefner drove impulsively to Baumgarth’s office in a Chicago suburb and, without an appointment, met with Baumgarth, who sold him Golden Dreams for $500. Then, in the living room of his South Side apartment, Hefner sat at a card table and wrote the copy for the Monroe feature. At the same table, Hefner wrote a sketch of his target reader, the sort of young urban bachelor who enjoyed “mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” This fantasy figure had been a stock character of Hollywood movies since the silent era: the aristocratic rake often found in drawing rooms, where he wore a smoking jacket, or exclusive nightspots, where he wore a tuxedo. His wealth and wit made him irresistible to naïve young women and shady at best to audiences enamored of the hardworking, plainspoken, outdoorsy type; but in Stag Party, Hefner, a movie fan since childhood, would rescue the rake from villainy as the male counterpart of the femme fatale and position him as a hero. A cartoonist drew an anthropomorphic stag to serve as the magazine’s mascot, and when Stag Party became Playboy, the stag became a rabbit still dressed in the stag’s smoking jacket and raising his fizzy drink in a firelit den. The rabbit would sport a tuxedo on many early Playboy covers and an implied tuxedo in the stylized silhouette designed by Art Paul, a graphic artist and the first addition to the magazine’s editorial staff.  Otherwise, Hefner worked alone on Playboy in his apartment while his wife and infant daughter slept. He was a night person.

The premiere issue of Playboy, which hit newsstands in late 1953, was a virtual sellout, thanks to Marilyn Monroe, who was billed as Sweetheart of the Month, not Playmate of the Month or Miss December. That tradition started with the second issue, derived from a movie, Hefner recollected: “In MGM’s 1943 musical Du Barry Was a Lady, Red Skelton referred to the models in a calendar sequence as ‘Miss January, Miss February’ and so on.” The musical, upbeat and sentimental, was Hefner’s favorite Hollywood genre, and ideally, his Playmates would resemble the ingénues of musicals, though he had to settle initially for what he could afford, buying more nudes from Baumgarth and other calendar publishers and printing them in Playboy without naming the models. Hefner usually didn’t know their names, so that decades passed before he realized that Miss February 1954, Miss April 1954, and Miss April 1955 had all been the same girl. She was a seasoned model, like most early Playmates, including Bettie Page, Miss January 1955; but Hefner wanted novices, “real” girls who had never been photographed nude before he discovered them, à la Hollywood, and masterminded the images that presented them to the public. Terry Ryan, Miss December 1954, was a step in this direction. The first Playmate shot directly for the magazine, Ryan’s behind-the-scenes pictorial showed her entering a photo studio in a white dress and matching gloves, disrobing as assistants set up lights, and arranging herself against a monochromatic paper backdrop—a  convention of glamour photos of the period—while Art Paul supervised. Playboy not only printed Ryan’s name, it provided a thumbnail bio—“She’s twenty-one years old, single, and plans on making modelling a career”—but the true Playmate prototype was the pseudonymous Miss July 1955, Janet Pilgrim, a Monroesque employee in the magazine’s circulation department.

Janet Pilgrim and Hefner

Janet Pilgrim’s real name was Charlaine Karalus. She and Hefner were dating when he asked her to pose for the magazine—he and his wife were living apart—and she consented on being assured that she and her mother would both have photo approval. Playboy juxtaposed the two sides of Karalus, daytime and nighttime, public and private, in black-and-white “candid” shots of Karalus working at the office, suitably dressed, and the color, semi-nude centerfold of Karalus primping at her vanity for an evening out with a tuxedoed escort. The escort was Hefner, blurry in the background, but the presence of a man insinuated that, despite her wholesome looks, Karalus was sexually active. “I was trying to get across the message that good girls liked sex, too,” Hefner would say; and since Karalus was precisely the sort of good girl whose nude photos called for an alias, Hefner decided on “Janet Pilgrim” because he “liked the puritanical connotations.” America was stymied by its puritan past, he believed, and he wanted to help it to a healthy view of sex, so that just as he had reclaimed the aristocratic rake, he was now reclaiming the ingénue, the rake’s staple victim. But why did there have to be victims if the parties were consenting adults? Why couldn’t Americans have sex free of shame and a binding contract? He would eventually expound his ideas in the so-called Playboy Philosophy, but for now he let his pinups preach by example for him, beginning with Janet Pilgrim, who proved so popular that Hefner brought her back as Miss December 1955 and Miss October 1956, making her the only three-time Playmate of the Month other than the calendar model who established the record by stealth. Post-Pilgrim Playmates were customarily photographed in “natural” settings, often the photographer’s home or a staffer’s apartment, with the presence of a male signaled by props: a pipe, a necktie, an extra cup of coffee or glass of wine. In one of the funniest centerfold shots, Myrna Weber, Miss August 1958, was pictured roasting two weenies at the beach. Outdoor settings became common also, adding sunshine to the magazine’s wee-hours feel. For Hefner, the wee hours were the “whee hours,” the time when “romantic dreams were more likely to come true.”

But, indoors or outdoors, each centerfold was like a still from a movie costarring the viewer, who was invited to assume the role of the phantom male roasting weenies at the beach with Myrna Weber or relaxing after a foxhunt with Miss April 1959, Nancy Crawford, or rendezvousing with Sally Sarell, Miss March 1960, at her Greenwich Village art studio. The viewer was likewise invited to acquaint himself with the Playmate offscreen, as it were, through the candid photos that preceded the centerfold, but not until the seventies did the magazine permit mention of an exclusive offscreen boyfriend, though boyfriends and even husbands, identified as casual dates, sometimes made cameo appearances in Playmate stories. Gloria Waldron, a.k.a. Allison Parks, Playmate of the Year 1966, was seen giving swimming lessons to anonymous toddlers in her Playboy debut as Miss October 1965. The toddlers were hers. According to Art Paul, “In the early days of Playboy, the number of Playmates who were pregnant when they were shot was amazing.” June Cochran, Miss December 1962, was seven and a half months along in her encore pictorial as Playmate of the Year 1963, but the photographer managed to disguise it without resorting to a trick as retroactively transparent as the one used with Joan Staley, Miss November 1958, whose centerfold had her idling in a dressing room on a television set, hiding her belly with a script. No trick would suffice when Lorrie Menconi, Miss February 1969, showed up heavily pregnant at a Playboy party on the day her issue was published. Hefner was furious, and Lorrie Menconi, as might be surmised, did not become Playmate of the Year 1970. That was Miss November, Claudia Jennings, the nom de centerfold of Mimi Chesterton, who almost didn’t test for Playmate, thinking she wasn’t buxom enough. A few Playmates of the seventies and before had their breasts augmented, but perceived deficiencies at the time were ordinarily corrected with lighting and airbrushing. Hefner maintained that centerfolds received “relatively little retouching,” but even if that were true, he copied the old Hollywood star system in every other way, renaming his protégées and finessing their marriages and pregnancies and toddlers and anything else that didn’t fit the prescribed fantasy. For instance, recycling the legend of Lana Turner’s discovery by Hollywood at the soda-fountain counter of Schwab’s Pharmacy, Playboy claimed to have discovered Miss November 1955, Barbara Cameron, at a soda-fountain counter. In reality, Barbara Cameron was dating Victor Lownes III, the Playboy organization’s recently appointed head of promotions.

January 1963 cover

At sixteen, Hefner, the reticent child of prim Methodists, had retooled his own image, becoming “Hef,” the kind of “High School kid you’d see in a movie,” a “Sinatra-like guy with a love for loud flannel shirts” and “his own style of jiving and slang expressions.” He reinvented himself again after his wife filed for divorce and he resolved to personify the life he espoused in Playboy. His style mentor was Victor Lownes, a silver-spoon sophisticate and much better casting as the aristocratic rake than Hefner, whose penchant for Pepsi, fried chicken, and orange clothes betrayed his parochial roots. So did his lack of curiosity about subjects other than sex. “Visiting Paris just to see the sights would bore me,” he once said, as if tourism and travel are identical, though he would readily visit Paris “if a girl I was romantically involved with were there and couldn’t come to me.” He was wise, then, to defer to his second in command, A. C. Spectorsky, in literary matters. It was Spectorsky, an author and former staffer at The New Yorker, who fostered Playboy’s reputation for first-rate writing, and Lownes who proposed that the company should start a nightclub. Lownes further proposed the bunny costume worn by club waitresses. Hefner had imagined the waitresses in abbreviated nightgowns.

The first Playboy Club opened in 1960, four months after the premiere broadcast of Playboy’s Penthouse, a syndicated television variety show that introduced Hefner in his suave new persona as the host of a black-tie party in his high-rise bachelor pad. The show was taped on a set at Chicago’s ABC affiliate, and once the taping was complete, Hefner and his guests—musicians and comics and the requisite Playmates—would reconvene for a real party at Hefner’s real bachelor pad, a vast Gilded Age mansion two blocks from Lake Michigan. The mansion had carved wood paneling, marble fireplaces, and a ballroom the size of a regulation basketball court. Numerous Playboy pictorials were shot there, including “Playmate Holiday House Party,” which was published in 1961 and showed Hefner celebrating Christmas with a dozen centerfold models. He was “romantically involved” with all of them, he later euphemized, except Miss April 1960, Linda Gamble, though, in his generosity, he designated her Playmate of the Year “just the same.” Presumably, he had become “romantically involved” with Elizabeth Ann Roberts, another “House Party” Playmate, after she turned eighteen. She was sixteen when she appeared as Miss January 1958, arousing the ire of Chicago officials. The case never went to trial—Roberts had posed nude with her mother’s written permission—but Hefner would remain controversial in Chicago, a city dominated, from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies, by its autocratic mayor, “Boss” Richard J. Daley, and his Catholic constituency. Chicago Catholics had lobbied for film censorship during the Great Depression, resulting in the repressive Hays Code that all but spoiled movies for young Hefner.

Playmate Holiday House Party

But without repression, Playboy would have had no raison d’être, and if Chicago Catholics were Hefner’s unwitting boosters, his Protestant work ethic likewise served him well. He labored exhaustively during Playboy’s ascendant years, popping Dexedrine, washed down with Pepsi, to stay awake in the master bedroom of the Playboy Mansion and micromanage his editors with fastidious memos about every aspect of the magazine and the growing empire it ballasted. He ventured outside as seldom as possible, attending business meetings in the robe and pajamas that eventually became as much a part of his persona as the pipe he adopted to keep his nervous hands busy on Playboy’s Penthouse. Of course he played as hard as he worked. Bunnies from the nearby Playboy Club rented rooms at the mansion, and they brightened the Friday-night party and Sunday-night movie screening, weekly mansion events, as well as the parties on almost every other night, impromptu affairs that continued long after Hefner returned to his round, rotating bed to work again on the magazine or tryst with his “special lady” of the moment or a Playmate or Bunny or five. The special lady wasn’t always a Playmate or Bunny, but she was always held to a double standard, so that Hefner didn’t afford her the sexual license he granted himself, just as he didn’t encourage her ambitions beyond pleasing him, or as he once put it, “If I start going out with movie stars then I wouldn’t have someone who was more interested in me than in herself.” Jealousy was similarly a one-way street, though infractions predictably occurred. “When Cynthia got mad she threw things,” Hefner recalled of a special lady weary of being two-timed. Another special lady “lost it,” “screaming and yelling,” when she saw the hook coming from stage left, while a semi-special lady pushed a rival into the mansion’s indoor swimming pool: “Her mascara was all running down and her dress was shrinking, but her slip stayed the same size. It was the best thing I ever did.”

But these incidents, and others like them, weren’t recounted in Playboy, which sustained the sunny view of sex dreamed by Hefner in his world of perpetual night, made that way by the blackout curtains that covered his windows and excluded any hint of noir.

*****

Mike Davis, in his esteemed book about Los Angeles, City of Quartz, refers to noir as the “great anti-myth” of L.A., a city mythologized in its original boom period, the late nineteenth century, as the capital of sunshine and robust health. Davis traces noir to the 1934 publication of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and “a succession of through-the-glass-darkly novels—all produced under contract to the studio system—[that] repainted the image of Los Angeles as a deracinated urban hell.” This was not Los Angeles as Hefner saw it. For him, it was the place “where most of my earliest dreams came from,” and he had been making trips there since the late fifties to canvass centerfold candidates. In 1962, he commissioned the Playboy Building on the Sunset Strip, with the penthouse apartment reserved for his visits, but he used it infrequently until CBS approached him in 1968 with an idea for a television show, Playboy After Dark, to be taped on a set in L.A. Playboy After Dark would follow the same format as Playboy’s Penthouse, long since canceled, and Hefner signed on as host “because I knew that would force me out of the house and into new areas of activity.” Film production was among these areas. Movie fans with money are almost always snared by the siren song of Hollywood, and Hefner was forty-two and having a midlife crisis, a novel concept at the time, so that he delegated more of his Playboy editorial duties to A. C. Spectorsky, who guided the magazine to new heights of prestige matched by its circulation, freeing Hefner to ponder his future and fly to L.A. every other weekend for Playboy After Dark.

Then, during the taping of the show’s third episode, he was gobsmacked by a pert brunette dancing in a blue minidress to a live performance of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Her name was Barbara Klein, and she was an eighteen-year-old premed student at UCLA and occasional model with designs on a singing career. A Hefner associate had hired her as an extra for the show, certain that Hefner would find her appealing, but no one could have guessed that Hefner would fall as hard as he fell for Barbara Klein, who soon adopted Barbi Benton as her stage name. Hefner coined the name. He forgot that he wasn’t in the market for an ambitious girlfriend, starting a Playboy record label, which naturally released the music of Barbi Benton, who naturally posed for Playboy, though not as a Playmate. She was too special to be a Playmate. She was the most special of Hefner’s special ladies to date. She loved travel, as he didn’t, but he bought a DC-9 jet and whisked her away for holidays in Europe and Africa. He also bought a house that she discovered one day as she was searching for a place to play tennis. The house was off Sunset Boulevard on a street called Charing Cross Road after a street in the heart of London. But that Charing Cross Road is famous for its bookstores; there were no bookstores within a reasonable walking distance of Hefner’s new house, which was in Holmby Hills, between Beverly Hills and Westwood, on six acres of redwood trees that evoked an English forest, while the house pretended to be an English castle built by Henry VIII or one of his Tudor relatives. In fact, it was built by a department-store scion with an evident taste for fantasy and, perhaps, the sort of class anxiety that would prompt a Californian to construct and inhabit an English castle in the midst of a fabricated English forest on a street that affected an English name. He would not have been alone. The hills of Los Angeles are full of castles, English and otherwise, that stand on fabricated grounds.

Hefner Barbi and the Playboy jet

Barbi Benton was athletic, unlike Hefner, who preferred board games to sports. He did enjoy bowling, but Playboy Mansion West, as he called his new house, couldn’t accommodate a bowling alley like the one inside the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. He wanted Mansion West to be “interconnected to nature as the Chicago Mansion had never been,” stocking the grounds with exotic animals, including two dozen squirrel monkeys who gave the lie to his sentimental notion of nature when they sprang from the redwoods to ransack a buffet table set up in a neighbor’s yard for a wedding reception. Hefner added a swimming pool, a grotto, a koi pond, and the tennis court that Barbi Benton had failed to find on the day she discovered the house. His landscape architect rightly thought it “paradoxical” to witness Hefner “relate…to nature” at the California property, since “in more than ten years at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago [he] had probably seen the light of day five times.”

Playboy After Dark stopped airing eight months before Hefner threw his first party at Mansion West in April 1971, but he continued to commute between Chicago and L.A., where his production company was based. Barbi Benton moved into the California mansion, and while she knew that Hefner dallied with other women in Chicago, she was unaware of his deepening involvement with Karen Christy, a baby-faced platinum blonde with a figure that once led her to leave a White Sox game for all the commotion it caused. Karen Christy reminded Hefner of “the pre-Production Code beauties in Busby Berkeley musicals” when he met her at the Chicago mansion a month after the inaugural party at Mansion West, and because she was loath to live on his largess, he made her Miss December 1971, which paid well enough that she could quit her Bunny job and devote her evenings to him. It was supposed to be a fling, but she satisfied him sexually like nobody else in his prodigious experience, and she shared his enthusiasm for board games, so that she soon became his special lady in Chicago, though she accepted, at least for awhile, that Barbi Benton remained his priority. He was, after all, the founder of a media empire, and Barbi, the poised daughter of a prominent Sacramento physician, could hold her own in public as Karen, a diffident waif from small-town Texas, could not. She was his nighttime girlfriend, and Barbi was his daytime girlfriend, and since they lived in different cities, their paths didn’t cross, even when Hefner tempted fate by flying Karen to L.A. on his private jet, arranging with the security staff at Mansion West to alert him if Barbi arrived home earlier than expected.

Hefner and Karen Christy

Then Time magazine reported Hefner’s relationship with Karen, upsetting Barbi, who moved out of Mansion West. Hefner was in Chicago when he learned of her departure, and he flew to L.A. to coax her back, upsetting Karen, who had lately concluded that Hefner cared more for her than he did for Barbi. His mission to L.A. was successful, but things were never the same with either woman. Both slept with other men, the foremost sin in Hefner’s book, and Karen tormented Barbi, another sin, by leaving clues of her presence at Mansion West. Karen was herself tormented by the triangle, so that she lost weight and woke friends with late-night calls to complain of feeling trapped at the Chicago mansion, where the atmosphere was already fraught due to the drug charges faced by Hefner’s longtime secretary and confidante, Bobbie Arnstein. Chicago authorities orchestrated the charges, clearly hoping that Arnstein would implicate Hefner in a scheme to sell cocaine along with her boyfriend. Only the boyfriend was guilty of selling cocaine, but he finally received a lesser sentence than Arnstein, who withstood the pressure to reduce her sentence—fifteen years in federal prison—by incriminating Hefner. Instead, Bobbie Arnstein killed herself with sleeping pills.

This noir scenario played out against the parallel noir scenario of Hefner’s obsession with Karen Christy. Once, when she stole out of the Chicago mansion to see a friend, Hefner, terrified that she had left him utterly, turned up with security guards to retrieve her. She was shaken by his briefcase-throwing meltdown on another occasion. Ultimately, she hatched a prison-break plan for her exodus to Texas, packing her belongings and shipping them to needy relatives, or so she told spies at the mansion before she absconded while shopping one day, vanishing through the rear door of a boutique as her chauffeured limousine waited out front. Elsewhere, a couple of girlfriends were standing by with a car to drive her to Texas, and once Karen joined them, they all took turns at the wheel, staying alert with the help of Dexedrine, Hefner’s pet pick-me-up in the days when the magazine was his chief obsession. But those days were over, and so were his nights in Chicago. His mansion there was tainted by abandonment and suicide and conspiratorial authorities, and he fled it so quickly that, visiting four years later, he could pinpoint his departure by the dated newspapers in his “virtually untouched” quarters. Now he was committed to the restorative world of sunshine and nature at his faux English castle, but he was unable to commit to Barbi Benton, and after they parted amicably, his sex life became orgiastic on an unprecedented scale. Meanwhile, as he had done since he purchased what would eventually be the sole Playboy Mansion, he courted Hollywood with parties, though one Playboy executive observed that Hefner was “regarded by Hollywood as an interloper. They’ll come to his parties and play his games. But they won’t give him respect.” His production company had financed and overseen three films—Roman Polanski’s Macbeth; a half-animated adaptation of The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris’s bestselling sociobiology primer; and The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder, an antiwar dramedy about a Vietnam vet—and the latter two were yanked from theaters almost as soon as they opened. Macbeth likewise flopped commercially, but it was named the best film of 1971 by the National Board of Review, as Hefner would mention with justifiable pride. Critical acclaim means little in Hollywood, of course, unless it’s corroborated by accountants, but even if Hefner had produced blockbusters, he would have received grudging respect in Hollywood, which has always deeply frowned upon fortunes founded on sex. Covert whores and pimps are uneasy with the overt kind. But Hefner wasn’t subjected to inquisitions as he had been in Chicago, so he could manage an illusion of acceptance in L.A., and he was a genuine son of Hollywood in his appetite for illusion.

Jon Finch on set of Macbeth

Playboy’s circulation peaked at 7.2 million in 1972, when Hefner was still commuting between L.A. and Chicago. By the end of 1976, some two years after he deserted Chicago, Playboy had lost around two million readers to bawdy Playboy imitators like Penthouse and Hustler. Hefner was wary of estranging corporate advertisers, so he launched Oui, a slightly racier magazine with the European accent suggested by its title. But Oui also stole Playboy readers, so Hefner began to imitate his imitators in Playboy, printing fewer everyday candid shots of Playmates and more nudes, bold nudes that stopped short of gynecological detail as Playmates were seen fondling themselves in splay-legged poses. A notorious cover featured a bare-breasted Playmate-to-be masturbating, hand on groin, as she watched a movie. Playboy never ran another cover as off-putting to advertisers as that one, but the changes in its pages remained, and they weren’t limited to photography. A. C. Spectorksy died of a stroke in 1972, and while his staff perpetuated most of his policies, he had taken with him some ineffable ingredient that made Playboy feel essential. Now it felt anachronistic. Playboy Clubs were increasingly desolate. Playboy Records was in the red. Playboy Productions couldn’t afford to greenlight films. The Playboy jet was too costly to fly. However, in England, there were lucrative casinos that momentarily kept Playboy Enterprises afloat. Victor Lownes had opened the casinos after moving to London in the sixties, and he continued to operate them, living out the role of the aristocratic rake, hunting foxes and mingling with the likes of Prince Charles. At Hefner’s request, he returned to the States to play bad cop to Hefner’s good cop as they restructured the company, and Hefner stepped down as the president of Playboy Enterprises, a post that would eventually pass to his daughter, Christie, who as an infant had slept while he pieced together the first issue of Playboy at his card table. Christie Hefner had the sober business sense her father lacked. When Playboy tried to open a casino in Atlantic City, Hefner was ill prepared for questions that required him to search his memory at a hearing to determine if the company should be granted a gambling license. “Ask me whom I was dating,” he responded at one point. The license was denied. Hubris on the part of Victor Lownes would lead to the loss of Playboy’s gambling operation in England.

According to “Death of a Playmate,” Teresa Carpenter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article published in the Village Voice in 1980, Hefner was preoccupied in this period with the screen careers of Playmates as he sought Hollywood approbation as a star maker, a function that in theory should have come naturally to him since, starting with Janet Pilgrim, he manufactured a calendar’s worth of starlets each year. “Yet,” writes Carpenter, “with all those beautiful women at his disposal, he [had] not one Marion Davies to call his own,” referring to the mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who promoted Marion Davies to movie stardom in the silent era. But Davies’ stardom was always suspect in the eyes of Hollywood, just as Barbi Benton was always suspect as Hefner’s would-be Davies. Barbi Benton did some acting, mostly on television, a utilitarian medium for Hefner, whereas film was an exalted one. He saw Dorothy Stratten, Miss August 1979 and Playmate of the Year 1980, as a probable movie star, describing her to Carpenter as “a curious combination of sensual appeal and vulnerability.” It’s a familiar description often applied to Marilyn Monroe, and Dorothy Hoogstraten, as she was known before Playboy abridged her name, had a pearly luminosity and soft-spoken sweetness that amounted to a Monroe quality unmatched by any Playmate since the mid-sixties. She came to the attention of Playboy through test shots arranged by her manager-boyfriend, Paul Snider, a former pimp with nebulous dreams of Hollywood success, which he assigned to Dorothy after they met in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they both grew up poor. Playboy accepted Dorothy as a centerfold almost immediately, flying her to Los Angeles and introducing her to an agent with a number of Playmate clients, but Dorothy clicked with casting directors as they did not. She booked six acting jobs in a year, including the title role in Galaxina, a sci-fi spoof, and the lead in Autumn Born, a cut-rate Story of O. They were bad movies, to be sure, but useful training for an inexperienced nineteen-year-old; and shortly before she turned twenty, Dorothy was cast in They All Laughed, a romantic comedy starring a Hollywood grande dame, Audrey Hepburn, and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a Hollywood bête noire following a string of box-office lemons, two of them showcasing his girlfriend, Cybill Shepherd, who, like Dorothy, was tall and blonde. Bogdanovich and Shepherd were equally haughty and equally unpopular in Hollywood, but their relationship was finished by the time Dorothy was picked to play John Ritter’s love interest in They All Laughed, which Bogdanovich obviously hoped would reverse the trend confirmed by his latest empty-seater, Saint Jack, a portrait of a pimp, funded partly by Hugh Hefner. Even as his empire was floundering, Hefner couldn’t resist risking money on a movie. Dorothy, meanwhile, had married Paul Snider, though the marriage was naturally hushed by Playboy and Snider’s influence on Dorothy’s life and career was already waning, so that the unfolding noir scenario seems inevitable in hindsight: Dorothy, an unspoiled Cybill Shepherd, became Bogdanovich’s new girlfriend, and Snider, confronted with her bid to divorce him, reacted in magnified pimp form, blasting her face off with a shotgun and turning the gun on himself. Dorothy’s remains were cremated and buried within sight of Marilyn Monroe’s crypt in Westwood Memorial Park. Hefner was nearly as devastated as Bogdanovich. He had lost his most promising protégée in a manner that would horrify anyone but especially horrified him, a bloody refutation of his make-believe world of breezy coupling. He was further dismayed by Teresa Carpenter’s article, which posited that Hefner, Bogdanovich, and Snider were variations on the same sexist male, but only “small-time” Snider had taken sexism to its logical extreme. Hefner had always been disconcerted by feminist critiques of Playboy. As far as he was concerned, he had done a great deal to liberate women from the scourge of puritanism, and those who disagreed, under any flag, were themselves puritans.

Dorothy Stratten

“Death of a Playmate” was the basis for Star 80, a movie directed by Bob Fosse, with Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy, Eric Roberts as Snider, and Cliff Robertson as Hefner. The Bogdanovich character was renamed and played by a Brit, Roger Rees, in a kind of Groucho-mask move to evade a possible lawsuit from Bogdanovich, who had been as bothered as Hefner by Carpenter’s Village Voice version of the case. Hefner revised her version in Playboy, while Bogdanovich wrote The Killing of the Unicorn, a book about Dorothy, in which he accused Hefner, a “hygienic super-pimp,” of forcing himself on her, contradicting Hefner’s credible claim that he and Dorothy had never had sex. Even Carpenter accepted that “fucking Hefner is a strictly voluntary thing. It never hurts a career, but Hefner, with so much sex at his disposal, would consider it unseemly to apply pressure.” Bogdanovich retracted his allegation after Hefner suffered a stroke that he attributed to the stress brought on by The Killing of the Unicorn and, to a lesser extent, his latest special lady, a young Canadian who flaunted all his bylaws, sleeping around and demanding his fidelity and raging when her whims weren’t indulged. Friends urged Hefner to break with the girl, afraid she would thwart his recovery, but he allowed her to stay until she elected to leave, as if to punish himself for any overlooked part he might have played in the death of Dorothy Stratten.

*****

There had been promising Playmates before Dorothy Stratten, beginning with Jayne Mansfield, who appeared anonymously as Miss February 1955 and soon became famous as “the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe,” signed and groomed by Monroe’s studio, 20th Century-Fox, as a replacement for its most troubled and troubling star. But Monroe was irreplaceable, as Fox came to realize, and Mansfield was finally more famous for being famous than she was for her movies, though one of them, The Girl Can’t Help Ita rock & roll musical, is still noted for its Technicolor performances by Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent. The director of that movie, Frank Tashlin, later worked with Stella Stevens, a cash-strapped single mother, recently dropped by Fox, when she posed as Miss January 1960, to her regret: “All of a sudden I got sidetracked into being a sexpot. Once I was a ‘pot,’ there was nothing…legitimate I could do.” Her words are pertinent to other Playmate actresses and even to Hugh Hefner, consigned as he was to the same Hollywood ghetto as his discoveries. Marilyn Monroe never entirely escaped it. She mined publicity gold when she acknowledged her nude calendar photos, but it was a Faustian bargain that sealed her image as a sex symbol and compromised her credibility as an actress. Stella Stevens, an earthier Monroe type, was directed in the course of a long career by the likes of Sam Peckinpah and John Cassavetes, but she never quite broke through as a major star. Still, until the nineties, she was the sole Playmate, aside from Mansfield and Monroe, to headline a “respectable” movie.

Claudia Jennings, who had thought herself too modestly proportioned to test for Playboy, and Victoria Vetri, who was called Angela Dorian as Miss September 1967 and Playmate of the Year 1968, were the two most successful Playmate stars of less-than-respectable movies in the pre-VHS era. Vetri reverted to her real name on the advice of Roman Polanski while shooting a small part in Rosemary’s Baby, his horror classic. Jennings had a small part in a science-fiction cult classic, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, but she was better known for drive-in fare like Truck Stop WomenGator Bait, and Unholy Rollers, the last a knockoff of The Kansas City Bomber, which starred Raquel Welch, the premier sex symbol of the day, as a roller-derby queen. Vetri, in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, approximated Welch’s role as a cavewoman in One Million Years B.C., but after a final drive-in movie, Invasion of the Bee Girls, she all but disappeared from public view. Jennings persevered. Her audition as Kate Jackson’s replacement on Charlie’s Angels is said to have been a grand slam, but she was rejected by ABC executives because of her Playboy association.

jennings ross denberg myers read

Another drive-in-movie actress, Yvette Vickers, may similarly have been hindered by her Playboy association. A moon-faced blonde of conspicuous acting talent, Vickers had lead roles in Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman and Attack of the Giant Leeches—behemoths loved to attack her, it seemed—but after she appeared as Miss July 1959, she was reduced to bit parts, including one in Hud on the arm of Paul Newman. It’s a pity she never made a movie with Russ Meyer, who photographed her centerfold, just as he had photographed his wife, Eve, as Miss July four years earlier. Unlike many exploitation filmmakers, Meyer revered strong women, and he cast accordingly in movies that became wildly popular with hipster kids of the eighties and nineties, especially Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, with Sue Bernard, Miss December 1966, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, starring Dolly Read, Miss May 1966, and Cynthia Myers, Miss December 1968. Roger Ebert, the screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, saw wasted potential in Cynthia Myers, a voluptuous pinup favorite of American troops in Vietnam. Playboy After Dark was the only television show that hired her, and despite her affection for horror movies, she never acted in one.

Horror, ostensibly the antithesis of Playboy, is nonetheless about mating, more often than not, so that it’s the genre most receptive to Playmates, the one that makes them pay for the futile lust they inflict on men and the absurd standard they impose on women. Hence, Ruthy Ross, Miss June 1973, who had the quirky charisma of a Warhol Superstar and a Mensa-level IQ, was stalked by a homicidal psycho in The Centerfold Girls; Ashlyn Martin, Miss April 1964, was sacrificed to a pagan goddess by another psycho in Blood Feast; and Jean Manson, Miss August 1974, was shackled and lashed with a whip by still another psycho in Nightmare CircusMeanwhile, because beautiful women are inherently cruel, or so they’re perceived by ignored admirers, there are horror movies with Playmates as monsters rather than victims. Anulka Dziubinska, Miss May 1973, a radiant Brit of Polish extraction, was one of the titular Vampyres, while the creature of Frankenstein Created Woman was Susan Denberg, Miss August 1966, an Austrian based in England, where both movies were shot. Denberg and Hefner once double-dated with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, who was also acquainted with Misses October 1970, Mary and Madeleine Collinson, the stars of Twins of Evila period vampire movie with a sister-act gimmick. Polanski remembered the Collinsons as the “spectacular Maltese twins” sent by Victor Lownes, whose London residence they shared, to console him after Sharon Tate died at the hands of the Manson Family.

collinson twins dziubinksa bell wood

When they weren’t killing people or being killed, Playmates typically served a decorative purpose in movies, per Jean Bell, Miss October 1969, dancing in pasties in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets; Azizi Johari, Miss June 1975, stripping at the nightclub owned by Ben Gazzara in John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie; and Donna Michelle, Playmate of the Year 1964, cavorting wordlessly with Warren Beatty in Arthur Penn’s Mickey One. Donna Michelle was one of several Playmates to garnish the beach-party movies of the sixties. Another, Sue Williams, Miss April 1965, is the first officially confirmed to have had breast implants, though she got them after her centerfold was published, using the modeling fee to finance the surgery. Jo Collins, Playmate of the Year 1965, had forgettable parts in two beach-party movies, but when she traveled to Vietnam to personally deliver a lifetime Playboy subscription to a wounded soldier, she loosely inspired the indelible Playmate sequence in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which had Linda Beatty, Miss August 1976, and Cyndi Wood, Playmate of the Year 1974, choppered to a burlesque stage in the jungle, where, vamping to a cover of “Susie Q,” they caused sex-starved GIs to riot. Linda Beatty and Cyndi Wood were both high-IQ Playmates, like Ruthy Ross, and Wood later counseled emotionally disturbed children while pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology. Jean Bell, after starring in a blaxploitation movie, T.N.T. Jackson, attracted international press attention as Richard Burton’s post-Elizabeth Taylor girlfriend. Jean Manson tweaked her first name to become Jeane Manson, a pop star in France. These are the kind of Hollywood endings that Playboy is pleased to recount, and there are surely many more entailing matrimony and motherhood and satisfying, if quotidian, jobs.

But Dorothy Stratten isn’t the only Playmate who figures in the Hollywood anti-myth of noir. Five years after Marilyn Monroe fatally overdosed in a noir scenario with long legs, Jayne Mansfield, her movie career in ruins, was killed in a gruesome car crash, along with her reputedly abusive boyfriend and their twenty-year-old driver, as she toured as a nightclub act in the South. Claudia Jennings, who had developed a taste for cocaine, an occupational hazard of her time, was also killed in a car crash, this one in Malibu. Ashlyn Martin led “a rather sad life,” according to her Blood Feast costar Connie Mason, Miss June 1963, and attempted suicide at least once before a mortal attempt in her forties. Susan Denberg likewise attempted suicide and spent much of her late twenties in and out of mental institutions while working as a topless dancer in Vienna. Victoria Vetri, paying the bills as a waitress in her sixties, “would walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard and go, ‘People recognize me,’” or so a witness was quoted after Vetri shot her husband, fifteen years her junior, as he walked away from an argument. He survived, and Vetri was sentenced to nine years in the California state penitentiary for a crime that reminded some of Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s iconic noir that concludes with a man being shot as he walks away from his older lover, a faded movie star with delusions of enduring celebrity. Yvette Vickers made her screen debut in Sunset Boulevard, but it was her drive-in movies that led to long-distance friendships with late-arriving fans, though she barely interacted with her neighbors in Benedict Canyon. One of them, noticing that Vickers’ mailbox was deluged and receiving no answer when she knocked at the door, broke into her cottage and found her dead amid countless empty liquor bottles and a trove of memorabilia later junked by Vickers’ philistine half-brother. Her corpse had been mummified by a space heater still running approximately eight months after she collapsed beside it and died of heart disease at age eighty-two. This case, too, has been compared to Sunset Boulevard. Yvette Vickers is visible in that film for less than thirty seconds. She has no lines.

*****

Prop Hollywood sign

Hefner regarded the eighties as a “dark decade” for Playboy, which continued to tank until it was gradually reconfigured by Christie Hefner as, in her words, a “global multimedia lifestyle brand” that drew “on the heritage of the magazine and the good life” for a “new generation of young women [who]…thought the rabbit head was cool.” This cool factor was due largely to the rise of hip-hop and its veneration of the pimp, a close relative of the aristocratic rake in his dandyism and sweet tooth for quality merchandise, animate and otherwise. Hefner spent much of the early hip-hop era married to Kimberly Conrad, Playmate of the Year 1989, after he tellingly forgot to bring the ring to the ceremony and joked to ex-girlfriends at the reception that the marriage was a mistake. If he was seeking sanctuary, he didn’t find it, and when he and his wife separated in 1998, he was startled by the excitement he stirred as he made the rounds of L.A. clubs with his “party posse” of three blondes, two of them twins who referred to each other, gangsta-style, as “nig.” The original party posse was replaced and expanded to seven, a blonde for each day of the week, and if one of them dropped out on reaching her centerfold goal or was discharged for cuckolding Hefner or for neglecting such duties as watching classic movies with him—some of the girls had never seen a black-and-white movie until they had no choice—there was always another blonde waiting to assume her spot and receive a weekly stipend, with bonus money provided for breast implants and other cosmetic procedures, including the professional application of chemicals that kept her blonde, and more money still for the gowns she wore to the Hollywood galas frequented by her benefactor, who, flanked by his chorus line of blonde replicants, would pose for paparazzi like the star of a musical with two distinct scores: the Irving Berlin or Cole Porter score of his dreams, and the hip-hop score heard by young people, especially young males, as they cheered for him in the same way they cheered for Ron Jeremy, the middle-aged, overweight porn star as preposterous and therefore heroic as Hugh Hefner. Young females, on the other hand, tended to see Hefner as a kind of pimp Santa Claus who could give them everything they wanted except sex, which would have to come from less geriatric sources. Sex occurred offscreen, mercifully, on The Girls Next Door, the “reality” television show that documented life at the Playboy Mansion, spotlighting the three blondes—Hefner was back to three: Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson—who were tenured there. None of them were Playmates, but the show made them almost as recognizable as three other blondes—Pamela Anderson, Miss February 1991; Anna Nicole Smith, Playmate of the Year 1993; and Jenny McCarthy, Playmate of the Year 1994—who had finally fulfilled Hefner’s bygone hope that mainstream stars would emerge from Playboy, even if they didn’t achieve stardom in movies. Two more blondes—Shannon Tweed, Playmate of the Year 1982, and Erika Eleniak, Miss July 1989—had some success in movies, and Eleniak starred in a few major-studio releases. All of these women, save for Bridget Marquardt, had their breasts augmented, in three cases after their initial Playboy appearances. So did the three blondes who became The Girls Next Door after the first three vacated the mansion. In a striking exchange on that show, Hefner told Barbi Benton, who had surfaced as a reminder of his pre-blonde past, that plastic surgery had improved to the point where it was hard to distinguish real breasts from synthetic ones, a remark less incisive about plastic surgery than it is about Hefner’s Californicated vision. As John Rechy wrote of Los Angeles in his novel City of Night, “You can rot here without feeling it.”

But Hefner has never really lived in Los Angeles; he’s lived in an English castle in a redwood forest near Beverly Hills, insulated from the L.A. where bottle blondes and breast implants are scarce compared to his side of town and, certainly, the six acres he owns of it. Yet after residing in that town since the early seventies, he’s still unable to navigate it as well as he can navigate Chicago, as demonstrated on another episode of The Girls Next Door, one that saw him return to Chicago for the first time since the nineties and play backseat driver while being chauffeured with his blonde phalanx on a promotion tour that stopped at the erstwhile Playboy Mansion, a stately building with no pretensions of being anywhere other than Chicago’s Gold Coast. Maybe it’s happenstance that the Playboy empire began its decline when Hefner turned his back on Chicago, but regardless, he should have left his trademark costumes behind. Pajamas aren’t suited to the California sunlight, and a tuxedo is best seen indoors at night, as any classic-movie fan should know. Meanwhile, a koi pond is to nature what silicone breasts are to real ones, and the most convincing personal use Hefner ever made of his tennis court was during the roller-disco era, when the court was converted into a rink skated by Hefner in a feathered “Indian” headdress borrowed from one of the Village People.

Hefner by Magnum

Now Playboy Enterprises has followed its founder from Chicago, where it closed its headquarters in 2012, to Beverly Hills, where it splits an office complex with a talent agency. The magazine, marginalized like so many others in the digital age, can only afford to publish ten issues a year, and its circulation of a million is falling. Christie Hefner resigned from the company in 2009, but her youngest half-brother, Cooper Hefner, an aspiring filmmaker, is poised to become its chief ambassador as his eighty-eight-year-old father, of necessity, slows down. This May, for the first time since he began to formally introduce the Playmate of the Year at an annual media luncheon held on the lawn of his castle, Hugh Hefner wasn’t at the event. His back was ailing him, so he stayed upstairs in the house with his third wife, the former Crystal Harris, Miss December 2009 and one of the replacement blondes on The Girls Next Door. Crystal Hefner is sixty years younger than her husband and seven years older than Cooper, who stood in for his father at the luncheon; and later, appearing sadly shrunken, Hefner came downstairs with Crystal and, together with Cooper and Kennedy Summers, Playmate of the Year 2014, they posed for photographers. Kennedy Summers wants to be a plastic surgeon. She looks something like Nicole Kidman, and a celebrity resemblance was always a boon for Hefner, who still selects every Playmate. Miss June 2014, Jessica Ashley, calls to mind Katie Holmes or, as Hefner might see her, Natalie Wood circa Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. She wants to be a writer, and on her Playmate Data Sheet, a feature added in 1977, she lists a single “turnoff”: “I can’t really get warmed up for a man who doesn’t stimulate my mind. We’ll read Henry Miller together or we won’t be together, baby. Sorry!”

The apology is gratuitous. Jessica Ashley may not know it, but by advocating Henry Miller in Playboy, she’s doing what the magazine did best in its heyday. Men and boys would buy it or steal it for the nudes, but later, leafing through it, they found themselves at a paper cocktail party where writers like Miller and Nabokov and Vidal were mentioned, and foreign films and destinations, and posh drinks and dishes, and Latin terms—fellatio, cunnilingus, coitus interruptus—for common sexual practices that seemed uncommon until Playboy confirmed their universality. Only in Hollywood movies had most Americans glimpsed the world they encountered in Playboy, but those movies omitted references to subversive writers and “lewd” acts, partly to placate moral guardians but also because Hollywood considered its audience too moronic to apprehend them. Hefner, by contrast, welcomed his audience to the cosmopolitan party he himself wanted to attend, supplying readers with some of the needed nomenclature, as well as paper dates who, in addition to playing the bait in a bait-and-switch operation that ended in edification, were fighting puritanism by being good girls who liked sex. Of course, if he had absorbed some of the very authors he published, he might have emphasized other factors as being more destructive to healthy sex, and health overall, than puritanism. How is puritanism at fault for the erratic mood swings of Miss February 1971, Willy Rey, who, like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, was a prescription-drug casualty? Was it puritanism that caused an obsessed fan of Miss January 1991, Stacy Arthur, to drive from California to Ohio, where she lived, and gun down her husband in a murder-suicide? Is it the reason that Star Stowe, Miss February 1977, turned tricks on the street in a downward spiral that placed her in the path of a likely serial killer? Her strangulation murder remains unsolved.

But Hefner would sooner trade night for day than probe that kind of darkness or, for that matter, the kind that clouded his personal life, as if his controlling nature and Frankensteinish need for duplicates had nothing to do with the fits and indiscretions of his speedily replaced favorites. There’s no defeating the pathologies of noir as decisively as he believed he could defeat puritanism by challenging censorship laws—he challenged them with admirable success—and winning hearts and minds with his starlet factory. To date the factory has produced some 700 variations on the same basic type, discounting the calendar models of Playboy’s first year, though they too acted as bait in its bait-and-switch operation, which never worked as well on the Internet. Most visitors to Playboy.com take the bait and run, and the magazine in whatever form isn’t as edifying as it used to be, and even if it were, America is emotionally and economically a harder place than it was when Hefner was planning Stag Party, so that fewer people identify profit in learning “interesting” things for the sake of learning them. Will it get them a job? Will it make them popular? It might with Jessica Ashley, but she’s an exception. She’s Playboy’s Playmate of the Month, to be followed by another, and another, at least, surely, until Hefner departs conclusively for Westwood Memorial Park, where Dorothy Stratten’s ashes are buried near the bones of Marilyn Monroe, which will rest forever beside those of Hugh Hefner in the adjacent crypt. Hence, to cap a life packed with realized fantasy, he’ll realize a final fantasy as the mate of a stranger, though they once spoke briefly on the phone about a cover photo that would feature Monroe clasping a white fur stole given to her for Christmas by “Playboy,” the company or its rakish rabbit mascot. She died soon after that talk and Hefner proceeded with the cover, substituting Miss July 1961, Sheralee Conners, for the Golden Dreams girl whose Hollywood ending cut to black, while his own would slowly dissolve.

Sharelee Conners cover

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

D.R. Haney D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

79 Responses to “Playboy in the Dark”

  1. Terry Keefe says:

    Only 10 issues a year now! Didn’t know that.

    As an teenager growing up in a small town, with big showbiz dreams, I was an obsessive reader of the magazine. Like many, I always saw actually going to the Mansion as a Mecca of sorts. The fortysomething version of myself finally got there for the Halloween Party in 2009.

    I would later learn that tickets to the party actually cost around $1000 and there were at least some revelers there who had paid the sum for this dream chance to party at the Mansion. I used some press bs-ing to get on the list for free, and most there probably did something similar. I don’t think Paulie Shore or Ron Jeremy paid that night either.

    The party delivered on the teenage fantasy – there were plenty of naked women, but what I remember most was entering the famed Grotto to see a group of people watching as a naked, middle-aged couple fornicated on the ledge of the pool with the faux rocks. When they finished, the bald, pot-bellied man stood up naked, threw his arms victoriously into the air and shouted “YES! I f*****d in the Grotto!” He clearly expected applause. He got crickets. An uncomfortable silence lingered as the audience drifted back out. It was a Mecca for him too, I suppose. I have a feeling he and his mate were among the $1000 ticket payers and they were getting their money’s worth.

    Hefner was there, of course, dressed in prison stripes for his costume, with a group of Playmates dressed as cops. He looked very tired and ready for bed.

    Thanks for another great article.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I’m so relieved that you enjoyed the piece, Terry, and moreover, that you took the time to comment. I wasn’t expecting to receive any comments at all, except, possibly, “tl; dr.” And, you know, fair enough. Brad would have preferred the piece shorter, I’m sure, so if anyone has any complaints about the length, he’s in no way to blame.

      I decided not to include myself in the piece, departing from my norm, but Playboy very much influenced my idea of urban life when I was a kid, and then of course, I grew up and learned that urban life wasn’t at all the way it was presented in Playboy. Still, like so many other people, I went out of my way to glimpse the Playboy Mansion in my first week or so in L.A. I was being driven from Hollywood, where I was staying, to Roger Corman’s office in Brentwood, and the car was on that very stretch of Sunset Boulevard anyway, so I asked my driver if she wouldn’t mind making a quick detour, and of course not much could, and can, be seen from the street. Now I don’t think I’d particularly want to go to the mansion, though of course, if I found myself invited, which will never happen, I would certainly accept.

      I once did a movie with an actor who had worked as a butler at the mansion for a long time, and from him I got what I considered a pretty good idea of life there, before and after Hefner’s marriage to Kimberly Conrad, who wasn’t liked by much of the staff, not least because she had banned the girls. Hefner might have saved himself some trouble if he had asked the staff for its impressions of his wife-to-be. On the other hand, I think he was determined to get married at that point. What else was left? And of course there was also the stroke and the Canadian girl, just prior to Kimberly Conrad, who had put him through the ringer, which he probably enjoyed in his way, because that, too, was a novelty for him, after a string of more or less compliant girlfriends. It was often their personal ambitions that got in the way, even with Barbi Benton. She would go off on singing tours, or to tape “Hee Haw” in Nashville — she was a regular on the show — and how is a media magnate to keep himself occupied except with orgies and the like?

      I remember reading something years ago by a writer who had stayed at the Chicago mansion and accidentally walked into Hefner’s bedroom, where he saw Hefner in his round bed with several Bunnies, and the writer said that Hefner didn’t look joyous at all; his expression was wistful, if not bored. Anyway, I think the fatigue you saw has been there for quite some time.

      The couple in the grotto would be Exhibit A, I think, as to why one should really think twice before engaging in public sex at a gathering peopled largely by twentysomething fitness fanatics, but their self-delusion is such that I imagine they weren’t permanently crippled by the lack of applause.

      • Terry Keefe says:

        There was a feature script I read a few years ago, which may have been called “The Bunny Factory,” and which was based on some sort of memoir by a female former Playboy publicist for a few decades. It was quite good and I would have liked to have seen it made. I don’t know how accurate it was but there were some great moments in it.

        The script posited that the “Girls Next Door” entourage are sort of treated like concubines – they are given spending money and a room to live in. They are expected to hang out with Hef a certain number of hours a week, although not necessarily have sex with him. At the same time, some of them do.

        The set-up reminded me of the Zhang Yimou film “Raise the Red Lantern,” about a feudal Chinese man with a number of wives and whichever wife the husband sleeps with gets a red lantern hung outside her door – and this gives her control over the household staff and the other wives. Hef apparently had a “#1 Girl” among the Girls Next Door, and this changed from time to time. The #1 Girl wielded much more power with the Mansion staff and over the other girls. So, the Girls competed for the position. Or they just left at some point.

        Duke, I’d highly recommend attending a party at the Mansion before Hef departs this dimension. It was a capper of sorts to an obsessed adolescence of Playboy for me and very much got it out of my system. It would also make for a great postscript for this article. I actually attended another party there a decade before but it was a very tame affair, sponsored by Stoli for some corporate clients. No debauchery and largely a bunch of guys standing around waiting for the wildness to start, which it never did. I suspect that is usually the norm for events there. The Halloween party and the Midsummer Nights Dream party are a different story. The Halloween event did have a very noticeable element from Porn Valley there, and I think that was the difference. I was happy to attend but never need to go back either.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          You know, one thing I cut from the piece is that Hefner’s mother lived to be 101, so between his genes and what I’m sure is an excellent physician — or several — I think he’s going to be around for a while yet.

          I have a friend who attended an event at the mansion not unlike the one you mention: a staid affair having to do with a charity, I think, or maybe it was just some business thing. Anyway, at some point, he said, the doors opened and Hefner was sort of wheeled out for a second to wave, like a British royal, to the guests, and then the doors parted again and he disappeared through them, and that was it. He must have had to do that sort of thing thousands of times.

          I didn’t know very much about the twenty-first-century world of Playboy until I began to research this piece, and I read parts of a book called “Bunny Tales,” or something like that, written by one of his latter-day blondes, and her accounts jibe with what you say of “The Bunny Factory.” It reminded me very much of another book I read a few years ago, “Some Girls” by Jillian Lauren, who was in the harem of the prince of Brunei. Same deal: a number-one girl, the chief consort, and the girls of lower stations scheming their way to the top. Also, while researching this piece, I watched, for the first time, “The Girls Next Door,” and Hefner would introduce Holly, on that show, as his “number-one girlfriend.” I’m not sure when “girlfriend” became the term of choice, but the old term, “special lady,” which was never official, had a certain…je ne sais quoi.

          I have a theory that Hefner’s later preference for platinum blondes was an attempt to recreate the affair with Karen Christy — the most passionate of his life, he has called it. It would take a lot of platinum blondes to equal her, I daresay.

          If you find yourself with some idle time, I invite you to click in some of the links I embedded. There’s some fascinating shit in there! Oh, and “Playboy After Dark” is a gem of a show, one of the best of all late sixties/early seventies time capsules. Then again, the magazine is a fantastic time capsule, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I am, obviously.

          • Terry Keefe says:

            Thanks, I’ll check out the links. Just looked up Yvette Vickers and saw that she’s the Laughing Girl on the Phone at the Sunset Blvd New Years Eve Party. One of my favorite scenes.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Yeah, I linked to a clip of that bit. She was the real thing. After she died, “Los Angeles” magazine published an article about her that suggested, by of explaining her lack of success, that her manner was too sexually frank for the times. Anyway, she deserved much better than what she got.

      Interestingly, her Playmate story presented her as a beatnik. I don’t think she had much, if anything, to do with the beat scene.

      Not to assign homework — we’re all constantly assigned homework in the digital age — but here’s a link to the “Los Angeles” article:

      http://www.lamag.com/features/2012/02/01/left-behind1

  2. Best damn article I’ve read in ages! I just finished reading it aloud to Erica. She loved it, too.

    I am flabbergasted that Roger Corman, reputed to be a notorious cheapskate, hired a driver to bring you to his office in Brentwood. I’d heard that his offices and “studio” were situated in an abandoned lumber yard in Venice.

    “He labored exhaustively during Playboy’s ascendant years, popping Dexedrine, washed down with Pepsi, to stay awake in the master bedroom of the Playboy Mansion and micromanage his editors with fastidious memos about every aspect of the magazine and the growing empire it ballasted.”

    Hefner, the Selznick of smut.

    Your article, perhaps restoring some your cuts, should be published as a Kindle Single.

    I can’t wait for your essay on Christopher Jones.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      What a pleasant surprise, Peter. Thank you, and thank Erica, too.

      I can’t remember if I told you that I already started the Chris Jones piece. I have about 1,500 words — God only knows how long it’ll turn out; I can only pray it’s not as long as this one — but I put it down because of new developments. There are a couple of other pieces I may attempt before going back to it.

      Oh, and the reason that I was driven to Roger’s office was that I was camping on the floor of one of his assistants. She was the one who drove me. I didn’t have a place to stay, and she very kindly put me up.

      Now, don’t you feel some sympathy for Hefner? A man who suffers a stroke because his reputation is besmirched must be very sensitive in his way, yes? One of his girlfriends said that in theory she could date other men, but if she so much as kissed one of them and he found about it, he seemed so hurt that she didn’t want to hurt him again. It’s very odd that a man with so much romantic experience — he, of course, would say “romantic” rather than “sexual” — would have so many apparent doubts as to his attractiveness.

  3. Very entertaining and informative as always, Duke. My knowledge of Playboy was sadly quite limited prior to this. I knew of it and I knew a few things about Hef and so on, and I knew about the reputation it once had as a place for good literature, but not much more than that. What a fascinating history.

    When I was in China and researching my Burroughs book I had to look into the sixties porn mags that started as Playboy knock-offs, as they, too, tried to emulate Playboy’s idea of featuring quality writing in among the naked (albeit far more explicit) pictures. I made friends with the former editor of one, who’d attempted to get Burroughs to do an undercover investigative journalism piece on Scientology, which just ended up with Burroughs studying with them for six months and writing propaganda pieces in an effort to turn Britain’s porn “readers” into Scientologists. He admitted that no one really read the words in the mag, and so he didn’t mind publishing it – that having Burroughs’ name on the front was beneficial. They also had no shame about positioning themselves as a cheap copy of Playboy, rather than anything new or innovative.

    It’s sort of hard for me to imagine Playboy actually existing anymore. It really does seem like something that might’ve happened wayback, or viably into the 80s, I suppose, but to still be around today – even in decline – is incredible. When I went to LA I visited a Hooters because, to me, that seemed to impossible to exist. It was fun but at the same time so plastic and absurd that the fun stemmed from laughing at it. I think that a trip to the Playboy mansion would be much the same.

    I guess what’s weirdest is seeing the Playboy logo everywhere. Even in conservative parts of Asia you see it – even kids wearing clothes with it on. Granted, those people don’t really know what it means… but some people do. They certainly do in the West, and it’s funny to me that it used to conjure the image of naked women, and now for probably the majority of people it’s just a fashion logo, more connected to a lifestyle of luxury than nudity. I think it would be amusing to walk around with a T-shirt or a pair of shoes with the “youporn.com” logo on it. Then, if people ask, just say it’s because you’re an advocate of the lifestyle. We all sit in front of computer screens these days, so it’s not untrue.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, don’t think someone won’t walk around with a “youporn.com” T-shirt. Someone probably is, right now.The Playboy rabbit head, of course, bears only a slight relationship to the Playboy ideology at this point, just as the famous Korda photo of Che Guevara bears only a slight relationship to Che’s ideology. I say slight rather than none because I think the Guevara image is especially favored by young people who think of themselves, often in hazy terms, as politically progressive. The rabbit head, incidentally, was designed in about twenty minutes, according to Art Paul, and it will surely outlast the magazine. I would guess that magazine will eventually go the “Life” route, with the monthly edition giving way to occasional editions. That idea has probably already been floated by Playboy honchos. The catch may be that newsstands are disappearing, and stores like Walgreens and 7-Eleven, which sell the “Life” special editions, won’t stock magazines with nudity. Anyway, that’s Playboy’s problem and not my own, obviously, but I think Hefner has to be given credit for durability, if for nothing else. It’s truly remarkable that the magazine is now sixty years old. He outlived his competition. Hustler and Penthouse both still have print editions, I learned while researching this piece, but they’re both dying, and Larry Flynt has said that doesn’t expect Hustler to be around much longer. Penthouse was sold by its publisher, Bob Guccione, while Guccione was still alive. He lost everything, due to some very bad business decisions, and ended up dying in Plano, Texas, an odd location for a New Yorker and former Londoner.

      I mention Guccione specifically in light of your remark about the Playboy imitator who published the Burroughs piece. When Hefner and Guccione would snipe at one another in public, Hefner would dismiss Guccione as an imitator, as if that might wound him, but Guccione would state frankly that he began Penthouse as the U.K. answer to Playboy, and I doubt it ever bothered him even remotely that he had made his fortune by copying someone else. He was a painter who stole outright from Picasso and the Postimpressionists, and that never bothered him, either, apparently.

      I didn’t really expect you to read the piece, David, with it being as long as it is, but in fact I wrote it specifically for people unfamiliar with the history of Playboy, so I’m glad, obviously, you found it fascinating. It fascinates me, I suppose, specifically because of my interest in the early sixties, an interest that has absolutely nothing to do with “Mad Men,” and it’s hard for me not to think of the early sixties, in America anyway, without thinking of Playboy, which was at the peak of its influence at the time. American even had a playboy president, and Hefner attended his inauguration, with a Playmate as his date. Oh, and here’s an anecdote that suddenly occurs to me: when JFK was assassinated, Hefner was in the middle of a hot-and-heavy romance with Donna Michelle, a Playmate I mention in the piece, and she was irritated when she couldn’t find anything to watch on TV but assassination coverage, and also by the fact that Chicago nightclubs all closed in a show of respect.

      But, hey, she was only eighteen.

      • B Maddox says:

        Good stuff, but goddamn that was long! Mentioning Guccione reminded me of those Penthouse letters. Jesus, nothing before or since could make laugh that hard, emphasis on the hard. Except maybe Suzanne Pleshette back in the day.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yeah, it is long, I know, but it was written for a book, not for the internet. I suppose I could’ve serialized it, but I don’t think people come back for new installments, generally. Anyway, thanks for sticking it out and for leaving a comment.

          Speaking of letters to Penthouse, do you happen to attend college in a small Midwestern town where you live next door to a very attractive coed, and you never thought it would happen but a second ago there was a knock on your door and there was said coed? Yes? Okay, I’ll let you back to it. But please take notes for your forthcoming account.

          Signed,
          (Name and address withheld by request)

          • For me, just like Mr. Lincoln’s legs, it was just the right length.

          • B Maddox says:

            haha exactly!

            I was just fucking with you about the length (that’s what she said!). Yeah, this would definitely make an interesting book, figured that was the case. I’d buy it. Really liked B4L. That may have been the last time we spoke, actually, not long after its release.
            As to the other, I did have a couple of run ins with the Mad Englishman of Mulholland Drive. Always fun.

            Good to talk to you, man.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Thanks, Peter. I’ve never heard the Lincoln’s-legs line, but I’ll have to steal it and file it away, so don’t be surprised it it shows up in a message to you one day. Then, of course, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it from you.

              It’s hard to believe it’s been five years, Mr. Maddox. Yes, I remember that talk on the phone, and of course I’m pleased more than I can say that you enjoyed B4L. I didn’t know you’d read it! Thanks. Jason Maddox thanks you, too, for his family name. I may have mentioned to you that I was originally thinking of Greg Maddux, but then I thought, No, no, no, spell it with an o, like that guy I know, not with a u, like Greg Maddux.

              I have a few Mad Englishman stories to swap with you, if you ever have a moment to break bread or overstimulate yourself with caffeine one day. We must already have spoken about the death of Lionel, a.k.a. Detective Bob, yes? Here’s the thing that I learned while preparing this piece: he was in Galaxina, with Dorothy Stratten. I would’ve preferred hearing about that to talking about David Mamet. He worked with Mamet also, obviously.

              • Someone (supposedly) asked Abraham Lincoln how long his legs were.

                He replied, “Long enough to reach the ground.”

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Did you know that it was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do; one of these days these boots are gonna walk over you”?

                  Oh, I’m laugh riot, I am.

              • B Maddox says:

                Just saw this. Always up for communion. It was after our last that I got your book, actually. How could I not? Lionel went too young, but he’d been everywhere, it seemed. 6 degrees and all that. I envied his Mametology. My number’s in Pasadena, still, seven nine three five eight ought eight. I’ll see what google does with you, but I have a feeling there’s a bit more volume to sift through in your case, haha. Call anytime, though, if you feel like catching up. Look forward to the book. Hopefully it will have a foldout.

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Noted on all fronts.

                  I must say, it’s agreeable to communicate here and not on Facebook for a change.

      • The magazine I was referring to way Mayfair, another of the UK imitators. like Penthouse, I think they felt no shame in doing it.

        For me, any period of history is sort of tied to whatever literature I know from that time. The sixties is about Burroughs in London for me, and he wrote for anyone that would take his writing – and a lot of porno mags did.

        Oh, and this month’s Playboy has a feature on “living with Hunter Thompson” – http://www.playboy.com/playground/view/35-years-of-hunter-thompson

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yes, I saw that there was something about Hunter Thompson in the current issue. I’ll have to read that. I guess there’s some edification left in the old rag after all.

          I had always thought Mayfair was the original U.K. counterpart to Playboy until researched corrected me. I guess Mayfair filled the slot after Penthouse defected to America, though Guccione maintained a presence in London for some time afterward.

          It seems perfect that Burroughs was published in porn mags. Kerouac, of course, had a regular column in a Playboy imitator, Escapade, and he once published a piece in Playboy, though Hefner wasn’t keen on the beats. He once said something to the effect of, “Kerouac has a few beat guys over in the corner, but we’ve got all the rest,” and launched what he called the Upbeat Generation in response to the beats, the idea being that the beats were down on materialism and they were just so depressing.

          The man did love Hollywood musicals, after all.

  4. Blair Humperdink says:

    Lavish, decadent, shrewdly collected and delectable. My dear, it was like strolling in the moonlight over to the pond for catfish and biscuits and then you applied the butter.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      That’s probably the nicest thing anyone will say to me all year, Blair; thank you. I hope to see you on this side of the pond the next time I’m round these parts, and I will certainly try to have some butter on hand and, if I can manage it, champagne.

  5. Shelley says:

    Sometimes people are just born at the worst possible time. I think if Monroe had come of age with the feminist movement’s power behind her, she would have survived.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      In fact, I don’t think she’s gotten credit as a protofeminist. Executives at Twentieth Century-Fox may not have thought of her as a rebel, but that’s what she was. She was often placed on suspension at 20th Century-Fox for refusing to comply with its demands.

      One of Monroe’s recent biographers, Lois Banner, has written about Monroe as a protofeminist:

      http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jul/21/marilyn-monroe-feminist-psychoanalysis-lois-banner

      Banner’s book about Monroe — Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox — was one of my sources for the circumstances of Monroe’s shoot with Tom Kelley.

      • I don’t wish to be argumentative, though it seems I’m always read that way for disagreeing (maybe I’m just disagreeable [smiles wryly]), but I don’t think Monroe was a proto-feminist merely because she asserted herself against Fox. There’s a whole history preceding her of stars bucking studios over career choices — Cagney, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland all fought with Jack Warner and their careers survived. De Havilland’s legal victory over Warner Bros. even established legal precedent regarding the seven-year studio contract.

        Also, to give credit where dubious credit is due, I believe it was Gloria Steinem, who first floated the Monroe-as-feminist meme in a 1986 coffee table book she supplied the text for.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          The book had those wonderful photos by George Barris, yes; the ones taken on the beach at Santa Monica.

          I read a piece by Steinem about Monroe when I was preparing to write about her two years ago, and I don’t think she portrayed her as a protofeminist at all; she portrayed her as a victim of the patriarchy, more or less. It was, in other words, a feminist reading of Monroe, but she wasn’t a feminist in it. I haven’t read the book, but I would assume it’s in line with that piece.

          It’s true that actresses before Monroe stood up to studio bosses, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t themselves protofeminists. Also, I believe it was a revolutionary act — maybe a small revolutionary act but a revolutionary act nonetheless — for Monroe to brazenly acknowledge her nude photos, against the advice of her handlers; but maybe you don’t see pushing the envelope in that way as protofeminism. I don’t know. Trying to make a case in this matter is, for me, akin to trying to make a case for the Who as a protopunk band. I see them that way, but others, with stricter definitions than mine, would disagree. Anyway, personally, I tend to associate rebellion with early feminism, or protofeminism, and as I wrote, I do think of Monroe as rebellious in ways for which she didn’t get much, or any, credit.

      • Aitch Cee S says:

        There are so many bios. of MM and Lois Banner’s has to be one of the best. The stuff about Dr. Greenson and Mrs, Murray, whom Greenson placed to be MM housekeeper and found her dead, is really interesting stuff, and fairly unexplored.
        Don’t think she was murdered but a lot of “incriminating” evidence WAS taken out of Marilyn’s house shortly after the suicide, that seems proven now.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I finally concluded that MM deliberately committed suicide, after years of thinking it was an accidental overdose and even entertaining the idea of murder. I watched a TV show about her death while researching another piece, one about MM exclusively, and a scientist approximated the number of Nembutals she would have taken, based on notes in the autopsy report, and the number worked out to be around 24, which is exactly how many Nembutals MM had in her possession after picking up a prescription, her first for the drug in a while, the day before her death. I don’t believe anyone can take 24 pills accidentally. Also, Greenson seems to have known MM was in particularly bad shape that day, so that he atypically asked Mrs. Murray to spend the night. Another biographer, Barbara Leaming, believes MM sent Greenson a final clue as to her intentions: she phoned him, just before he left for dinner with his wife, ostensibly to remark on the call she had just gotten from Joe DiMaggio Jr., but then asked Greenson if he had taken her Nembutal during an emergency counseling session at her house. Leaming believes the tipping point for MM’s suicide was Greenson’s date with his wife, oddly. In his notes about that day, he said that MM complained a lot about not having a date on a Saturday night, so that Greenson’s date must have felt like a mockery — you know: everybody’s got somebody but me. She definitely died before midnight, and of course that points to a whole other mystery: when exactly her body was discovered and what was done before the police were notified. Greenson had ties to a lot of movie people, as you know, so he might have taken it upon himself to remove anything at MM’s house that would put his executive friends in a poor light. I don’t think there’s any question that Mrs. Murray was working as a spy for Greenson. MM’s relationship with Greenson was very odd, but I don’t believe that she had decided to fire him and Mrs. Murray, as some of her friends later reported. I think that’s something they invented after the fact, without knowing they had invented it, to redeem MM. They couldn’t accept that she would go on allowing herself to be controlled by Greenson (though she also controlled him), just as they couldn’t accept that she had intentionally killed herself. Strangers continue to try to redeem MM, as if her brilliant legacy as a model and entertainer isn’t redemption enough. She was, I think, a kind of genius in her way, but certainly not in private life.

  6. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    First of all, this makes me even more excited to read the complete collection of essays. Secondly, only you could get me to read a piece on Hefner. I’ve never been that intrigued, I guess, but alas you’ve proven with your storytelling magic that his is a fascinating background. I learned some interesting things for the sake of learning them! See how you change the world, or at least a few of us, one essay at a time? Even more fascinating are your accounts of the model/actresses and the over all connection to cinema. I’d never really considered the image of the playboy rake and the staging of those early photographs as having cinematic roots. The connection to sci-fi in particular reminds me of your “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” essay. And, oh, the Yvette Vickers’ lonely end. When that happened, I had my students read an article about it that explored the implications of her virtual interactions with fans online and her lonely real-world death. They were generally of the opinion that she wasn’t lonely or alone at all, thanks to that online life. I’m of the opinion that it’s still pretty depressing. And now I’m rambling, but just wanted to stop by the comment boards to let you know how much I enjoyed the read!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I figured a piece about Hugh Hefner wouldn’t be up your alley, Cynthia, so I wasn’t sure that you’d read it, but of course I couldn’t be more pleased that you did. In truth, Hefner doesn’t interest me much, either, certainly in terms of character or personality; but I’m very much interested by the gulf between image and reality. In a perfect world, I might have written an entire piece about Victoria Vetri, but I sent her a note in prison — a mutual friend supplied her address — and she didn’t respond. The note was enclosed in a Christmas card. It’s very difficult to choose the right Christmas card for a stranger in prison, let me tell you. There was nothing much I could add to the stories of Yvette Vickers or Dorothy Stratten, which have been covered extensively, and it’s very difficult to learn information about Sue Williams and Susan Denberg, so finally I thought I would try to do a piece that encompassed the entire Playboy world, and anyway, I did feel I could shed a little light on certain aspects of it, specifically with regard to the influence of the Hollywood star system on Hefner’s creation of the Playmate. I had never seen anyone else speak of that, but it seemed glaringly obvious to me. Also, it began to strike me, more and more, that the Playboy empire began to collapse at the approximate moment that he moved to L.A., and I found it interesting that he had rejected the urban side of L.A., which was available to him when he was inhabiting the penthouse apartment on Sunset Strip, for a phony country estate, though there’s no way to prove a connection, of course. The timing of A. C. Spectorsky’s death is also interesting. It’s commonly thought that Playboy began to fade because of the very permissiveness it introduced — you know, the first victims of the revolution are the revolutionaries and all that — but I was trying to say, wait, a few other things happened at the same time that may have been equally significant, if the Playboy empire was significant in the first place, as I think, culturally speaking, is the case. Meanwhile, I thought of you every time I revised the piece and came across that “When Cynthia got mad she threw things” line, though I can’t even imagine you getting mad, let alone throwing things.

      Was the article about Vickers you assigned the one in “Los Angeles” magazine? I was corresponding with one of her own correspondents when that article appeared, and he asked me to buy a copy and send it to him, which I did. He hated the way it made her appear crazy, and also that it painted her as a loser. But here’s the thing: she was missing for at least eight months, and none of her online friends, in that time, apparently thought to report her missing to authorities. I’m not trying to suggest they were bad friends but, rather, that virtual friendship has limitations that people often don’t wish to face when they tell themselves it’s as good as or even better than real-life friendship, if only because it offers greater control, which I think is its greatest appeal.

      Thanks again for slogging through 8900 words. I would like to believe that, in the context of a book, it won’t feel so long.

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        Well, now you have to write an essay on the Vetri communication attempt titled “It’s Very Difficult to Choose A Christmas Card for a Stranger in Prison.” At the very least, that would be the great first line of an essay I would eagerly read!

        I might have also seen the article you’re referring to, but the one the students read was this one from the Atlantic Monthly: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/ Really, it merely uses the Vickers story as the framework for a larger conversation on social media.

        Ha! I wish I was the sort of Cynthia that got made and threw things. That sounds like great fun.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I hadn’t though thought of the prison line as a potential title, but hey, when I see you use it as one, I think it’s the greatest title I ever came up with. However, the title would be longer than the piece, since I never had an interaction with Victoria Vetri.

          Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article, which I read and enjoyed. “What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.” I don’t understand how your students could read a line like that one and arrive at the conclusions they did. Personally, I see a very definite relationship between the rise of computers and my own loneliness. It’s much more difficult to get people to do things, I’ve found. Even talking on the phone is an ordeal for them.

          We should start thinking about a Halloween collaboration, by the way. I have been thinking about it, but I haven’t come up with any ideas.

          • Cynthia Hawkins says:

            Maybe a Vetri essay could be your Waiting for Godot. But, yes, let’s plan something soon! Soon enough that I can watch whatever movies you’ve seen that I haven’t. Perhaps we can cover something unexpected — fitting for Halloween but not necessarily of the horror genre. I’ll be thinking ….

            By the way, I’m doing something in the 48 Film Competition this year, and I wish you lived in SA so I could strong-arm you into joining the “fun”!

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I had to look up the 48 Film Competition. I’m always lagging in matters like that one. Anyway, if you’re in front of the camera as well as behind it, you’ll rock it with the “Breathless” look.

              How about Tron or 80s action movies as a theme for a collaboration? Oh, wait, that’s been done. Are you into Poe?

  7. Duke. The Internet equivalent of appointment television.

    I’m late, but still here to say that your details and thoroughness here are impressive, as always. I’ve never heard these tales of pregnant Playmates and the noir aftermath of some of the others. And if the eighties were a dark decade for Hefner, my grade school friends and I were never informed, with our stashed magazines like stolen Hope diamonds. Now it’s amazing to think how tame the nudity is in Playboy, when compared with the likes of streaming digital sex or even Maxim or most billboard ads for things like web hosting solutions. Despite Playboy’s full frontal shots, it’s practically wholesome now. Thinking about it this way, and as you describe Hefner’s ambition and work ethic, he actually shares a fair amount in common with Walt Disney. Both men created their own fully realized fantasy kingdoms, ignoring any collateral cultural damage and categorical exploitation in the pursuit, and managed to bring so many people worldwide in on their illusion. They also both have a thing for castles apparently. Maybe one day the two entities merge and we get a Playboy Epcot ride. Okay, fine, maybe not.

    Also, I seem to remember, from some bygone flurry of commenting, that you know almost every Playmate of the Month by heart. Is something like this true? If so, not surprising, and explains your ability to cull all these facts and anecdotes. Otherwise, feel free to disavow this claim completely. Or take it for the faith in an innocent Hollywood ending that it could be too.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I only remember the ones from my teenage years. I have a particular sort of memory. As a child of six or so, I could name every U.S. president in order, and I was always good for dates of historical events and which actor played which part in which movie, etc. People have suggested that I try out for “Jeopardy,” and I almost did once, but I got lost on the way to the audition and never made another attempt.

      A friend of mine is a librarian, and as I remember this story, a book arrived at the library with every Playboy cover in it, the sort of book published by Taschen, and a young woman of twenty or so, someone born in the early nineties, looked through it as he watched, and he was expecting her to remark about the sexism of the photos, but to his surprise, she found them “innocent.” Even the “notorious” cover I mention in the piece, the one of the girl masturbating at the movies, seems innocent to me. There was an obvious sense of humor in it, so that I find it difficult to understand the furor it produced. Have you heard the T-Bone Burnett song “Hefner and Disney”? It’s pretty clever, I think.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj6gKxMzzG0&feature=kp

      I love that you write about stashing copies of Playboy like diamonds. I had them stashed everywhere when I was thirteen and fourteen. I remember Stefan Kiesbye posting a piece here at TNB five years ago in which he recalled discovering pornographic magazines in the woods as a child. That was a common experience in the pre-Internet world, of course. There was something simultaneously thrilling and eerie about it.

      I need to write some shorter pieces, not only for my proposed book but so that they won’t require scheduling to be read by those who would kindly take the time to read them in the first place. Anyway, there’s no such thing as being late to my parties, meager affairs that they are. You’re always welcome, even if you skip a few — but only a few!

      • Ha! Figures that T. Bone Burnett is way ahead of me (‘they didn’t know any better and they didn’t know any worse’!) I should have figured someone had already put Disney and Hefner together, which means a Playboy theme ride could be a possibility. It wouldn’t need to deviate from the established ritual of standing in a slow line twitching with anticipation and then arriving to an experience that’s over before you realize it.

        The observation has been made many times in these online years, but I can’t imagine what the easy availability of porn is like for boys hitting puberty now. My guess is that half of the fun, and mystery and mischief, is taken out of it, but no doubt older guys said that about Hef’s centerfolds in the 60s. Still, remembering a litany of dream girls like no one can anymore has to be good for something.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, it’s been good for one thing: my friend Joe directed a movie, “One Night with You,” in which he has a character, played by the well-known actor James Hong (Faye Dunaway’s butler in “Chinatown”), instantly rattle off the name of a “Kittycat of the Month,” or something like that, and point to his head and say, “I’ve got them all memorized.” When I attended a screening, I turned to Joe at that line and he immediately started laughing.

          Here’s the trailer of “One Night with You.” The bar at 0:50, by the way, is Club Tee Gee, which is where Jim Cassady likes to hang out after he moves in with Nancy in “Banned for Life.”

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WKs7IE4Mk4

          Hefner himself has said that greater permissiveness has led to a less romantic atmosphere, which I’m sure is true. It’s very hard to see how a man with an orgiastic sex life can long for romance, but I guess, like Walt Whitman, Hefner contains multitudes. Oh, and of course it was long ago said that the Playboy Mansion is “Disneyland for adults,” though many of the guests were always in their late teens or just out of them, so they may have been adults in a legal sense, but they were really just kids.

  8. Zara says:

    Oh, I am so very late to this – apologies.
    I, like others, have never really been that interested in Playboy or Hefner but you have made the whole Playboy empire more than interesting and very much more three dimensional with this. Well done.
    The one thing I know about about Hefner and that utterly fascinates me is the fact that he has kept albums of his life – every year of his life collated and curated. That’s a very Warhol thing to do, don’t you think? Can you imagine what a stroll through those books would be like?

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I can imagine because I’ve seen them in a documentary about Hefner. Some of the inclusions take the form of cartoons drawn by Hefner, who at one point wanted to be a cartoonist; and I suppose it could be said that, in a way, he became one, as well as becoming a cartoon. Meanwhile, the magazine can be seen as Hefner’s public album. He seems always to have had a strong sense of his destiny. That’s what Victor Lownes, who’s mentioned several times in the piece, was drawn to in Hefner, he has remarked.

      I had never considered the idea of overlap between Hefner and Warhol, but now that you mention it, both were very strongly inspired by movies, and both produced “stars” in the Hollywood way, and both, despite a lack of charisma, created scenes with themselves at the center, and Warhol’s obsessively repeated imagery — the same Marilyn, Elvis, soup can, etc. — has a strange sort of mirror in Hefner’s obsessively repeated imagery — the same virginal model (later a platinum blonde who could never be mistaken for a virgin) staring back at the viewer. Oh, and of course both Warhol and Hefner had uniforms — though I should use the present tense in the case of Hefner.

      You’re a goddamn genius, ZaraPotts!

      I’m glad the piece worked for despite an understandable lack of interest in the history of Playboy. There has been talk of a Hefner biopic for years and year, and he himself wrote lengthy outlines for it, using “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as one of his models. You know, regular-guy Hef would battle the forces of puritanism while seeking freedom for all. But the most interesting period of his life, to me, is the one in which the Chicago authorities were trying to snare him through Bobbie Arnstein, while Hefner was going back and forth between Barbi Benton and Karen Christy. Alas, that’s not the movie that will get made, if one ever does. Too dark.

  9. Aitch Cee S says:

    Another Playmate in a horror film was Ashlyn Martin Miss April 1964–she played a murdered girl on the beach in H Gordon Lewis classic Blood Feast. She also appeared in a couple of Beach Party movies and the TV show Burke’s Law. Occasionally billed under her birth name Laura Lynn Hale. She is one of those playmates for whom there is no straight answer to her current whereabouts.
    Two enlightening books on Hefner and Playboy, along the lines of this piece, are Bunny by Russell Miller and Bunny Tales by Izabelle St. James, one of the 7 Blondes of the early 2000s.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      I actually drew upon the St. James book, “Bunny Tales,” for the part of this piece dealing with that time period, and her portrayal of mansion life jibes with others I’ve read, including interviews with Victoria Zdrok, Miss October 1994, and a woman named Jill Ann Spalding, who wrote a book about her mansion experience. Now there’s a forthcoming book from Holly Madison, who’s been making headlines by saying she contemplated suicide while living at the mansion. It’s the consensus that finally makes for credibility. On the other hand, there may be a less vocal consensus among women with no regrets about their time at the mansion.

      I didn’t read the Russell Miller book, after reading “Mr. Playboy,” Steven Watts’ lengthy study of Hefner and his empire. Reviews of the two books indicated that they covered the same territory, and I had other sources, from Gay Talese’s “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” to Gretchen Edgren’s “Inside the Playboy Mansion,” which is really a de-facto Hefner biography, and her “Playmate Book,” with its long introduction by Hefner and some of his recollections of various models, including Ashlyn Martin. He writes that her Playmate “name was inspired by a character in Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’,” and since he further writes that she was an “uncommonly bright, well-read young lady,” I had assumed that she came up with “Ashlyn Martin” on her own, but I would now guess it was Hefner who, characteristically, originated the name. In my first draft of this piece, I mentioned Ashlyn Martin in a very long list of Playmates who appeared in horror movies, but the piece needed to be trimmed, so, with some reluctance, I cut Ashlyn Martin and “Blood Feast,” which is, as you say, a classic of a kind, and of course it starred still another Playmate, Miss June 1963, Connie Mason. However, in the course of research, I came upon this:

      http://thecampofthesaints.org/2010/06/14/they-dont-make-em-like-that-anymore-ashlyn-martin/

      You may already have seen it. If not, scroll down to the comments, or better yet, I’ll cut and paste part of the pertinent comment:

      Could you please tell me if this is Ashlynn Martin from 1967? If so, her real name was Laura Lynn Hale and she was my first cousin. She died many years ago of suicide.

      True or false? I mention in the piece that Sue Williams/Hamilton killed herself with a shotgun, but I don’t believe Playboy has ever confirmed it. However, unlike Ashlyn Martin, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt in the matter:

      http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5832467

      There’s also a discussion about Sue Hamilton’s death on her IMDb page, initiated by an apparent fan who dug into her history through public records.

      I’m fascinated by cult figures — and Playmates certainly qualify as cult figures — who disappeared. My novel, “Banned for Life,” is about a music cult figure who disappeared amid various rumors, none of which prove to be true. Anyway, Aitch S, I really appreciate your comment. Maybe another of Laura Lynn Hale’s relatives, or a friend, will see this thread and contribute to it.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hopefully you’ll see this message, HCS.

      Last night I had an odd itch to check out the IMDb thread on Sue Williams, and that led me to discover the beach-party blog and your exchange with the blogger there. I’ve commented on the blog, and I will correct this piece later.

      It does appear certain that Ashley Martin killed herself, yes? That’s what I gathered from the beach-party blog.

  10. Aitch Cee S says:

    yes that blogger 24 femmes, pulled all the latest information together and all evidence points to a mix-up of a Karen Sue Leavitt Hamilton, who killed herself with a gun, and Sue Williams Hamilton who is merely unaccounted for at present.
    I’ll read your response and the info, above, thanks for that!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      It’s still awaiting moderation, or something like that. Hopefully it gets posted.

      Oh. Wait. I see it just got approved.

      • Aitch Cee S says:

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/Playboy-Playmate-Ashlyn-Martin-Laura-Hale-1963-68-Handwritten-Diaries-Letters-/221759104851?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item33a1df6753

        Read this e bay item, personal papers from Ashlyn Martin, looks like she was a more or less a paid escort/date to the rich famous and powerful. Another whereabouts unknown, only rumors of a suicide and the comment from the “relative: fueled that I think.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yes, I saw yesterday, at the beach-party site, a link to the eBay sale of Ashlyn Martin’s belongings. Fascinating! I don’t agree with the beach-party blogger that it’s being sold by a relative; the seller specifically says that he or she “once spent some time trying to research this woman’s life, but I just never found the time to complete the project,” and I see no reason to disbelieve him or her. Ashlyn/Laura had four siblings, I believe, and one of them must given this stuff to the seller, or possibly he or she somehow inherited it. In any case, if I had the money I would buy the collection and use it as the basis for an essay. Of course the seller refers to Sinatra as Ashlyn’s “client,” but my impression from the seller’s description was that Ashlyn started, anyway, as a kind of groupie who earnestly believed that Sinatra and the others were interested in her and gradually realized that she she was being used by them, so maybe in time she began to approach it all as a “professional.”

          There’s now considerable doubt that Sue Williams is dead, but I think it’s more than just rumor in the case of Ashlyn/Laura. Not only is there a death certificate, there are two sources corroborating Ashlyn’s death, including the “first cousin” I cited in our first exchange and Connie Mason, the star of “Blood Feast.” Yesterday I found this remark from Connie Mason, which I have a feeling you’ve already seen, on the subject of Ashlyn:

          She was a dear friend of mine that I had known since I was 13 years old. She passed away about ten years ago.

          She said that in 1999. She added:

          I have kind of a bittersweet memory of Ashlyn. She had a rather sad life. After I moved to Chicago, she followed me there and lived with me in the Mansion for a while. That’s how she came to be a Playmate. She was a true “flower child.” She was a sensitive and caring person. And beautiful! She looked like a young Ava Gardner! She loved poetry. She was always writing and reciting poems to everyone. She was a dear,dear friend. Ashlyn Martin was actually not her real name. It was Laura Hale. Ashlyn was a name that she found in one of Ernest Hemingway’s novels.

          So, according to Connie Mason, Hefner did not invent “Ashlyn Martin.” Either way, I accept her word that Ashlyn is dead, though of course we only have the word of her first cousin that she killed herself. The cause of death, according to the eBay seller, isn’t listed on the death certificate, but I would bet that the cousin is just that and telling the truth. The eBay seller says that Ashlyn’s 1963 diary details a suicide attempt.

          “Bunny” can be bought on Amazon for a penny, which, unlike Ashlyn’s letters and dairies, is a price within my budget.

          • Aitch Cee S says:

            I have never seen the quote by Connie Mason. I am glad you posted because I wondered what circumstances would bring a 16 year old to live at the Mansion. That part I knew. Sounds like she left home at a young age then, no parents around. I wish Connie would elaborate, like what was going on the last few years of Ashlyn’s life.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I wish she would also. I looked around for a way to contact Connie Mason, but came up with nothing. I presume she’s online. On the other hand, she’s seventy-seven, so maybe not.

              It’s frustrating when you know there are people out there who can answer your questions but they’re unwilling to do it or you’re unable to reach them. I’ve been down this road many times.

              • Aitch Cee S says:

                You did mention Ashlyn Martin and Blood Feast in your article and I missed it reading the first time, my bad.

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Actually, I tweaked the piece to include Ashlyn Martin and “Blood Feast” a few days ago, and removed the bit about Karen Sue Hamilton, and I want to thank you for the role you played in all that.

                  I tried to answer you on the beach-movie blog, but my posts aren’t appearing there for some reason. When I tried to post the same message again, since it didn’t appear the first time, I get a flag saying “Duplicate comment deleted,” or something to that effect. Anyway, one of my comments was about the boob-job business. Sue Williams is credited as the first Playmate to have gotten a boob job, but Connie Mason, who preceded her by a couple of years, looks to me like she had implants: http://www.vintage-erotica-forum.com/showthread.php?t=11357

                  Oh, and I was talking to a friend about Ashlyn Martin’s papers, the ones offered for sale on eBay, saying I would love to get a look at them, and my friend suggested that I write to the seller and ask if he (or she) would photocopy the papers and mail them to me for a couple of hundred dollars, which my friend offered to supply. Do you think it’s worth a shot? It seems to me that it would defeat the entire purpose of the eBay sale, so the answer would likely be no.

                  • Aitch Cee S says:

                    Hey it’s worth a shot, they can only say no! One has to wonder how the seller obtained the collection.
                    I will check the beach party blog.

                    • D.R. Haney says:

                      For whatever reason, my later comments never appeared there. But I don’t think I said anything that I didn’t say here, except that someone identified as “Evelynmacktruitt” added a “Mistaken Identity” section to the Wikipedia page of Sue Williams/Hamilton, or anyway corrected the section.

                  • Aitch Cee S says:

                    Interesting hmmm…I have seen a few corrections now too. Did you say you are researching Miki Dora? http://www.petergowland.com/MikiDora.html

                    • D.R. Haney says:

                      I do plan to write about Miki Dora, God willing.

                      Peter Gowland, of course, was a Playboy photographer at around the time he shot those pictures of Miki. And Miki was an extra in a good many, if not most, beach-party movies, as well as a stunt double for all those actors who didn’t really know how to surf.

  11. Aitch Cee S says:

    Kendra Wilkinson story also jibes with the other women you mention.

    Do get a hold of Russell Miller’s Bunny, it’s forgotten or never made an impact upon release in the early 80s. It’s the same Russell Miller, who was one of the few journalists to investigate L Ron Hubbard and COS in the 70s and 80s. And he came up with a bio. which s became major source for the book “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      This Amazon review of “Bunny” paints a picture of Hefner in much the same light, I think, as I was trying to portray him:

      The book should be put in print if only because it effectively undermines Hefner’s carefully cultivated image as a suave and debonair sophisticate, showing him to be an arrested adolescent and a rube. What do you call a man who for years and years would sleep until four in the afternoon and live on speed and cola? Is it a sign of a sophistication to hire best chefs of Europe just to make fried chicken and ham sandwiches? Miller’s book is chock full of these kind of details about Hefner’s life and together the paint a picture not of an urban Ladies’ Man but of an eccentric, childish, and pathetic hermit. I wish that Mr. Miller had focused more on the moral damage Hefner and his Empire have inflicted upon this nation. He does show how the Playboy Philosophy has devastated the lives of individual women, and tells in great detail how the Bunny Lifestyle is really quite the opposite of its publicised image; far from liberating and joyful, it is enslaving and grimly exploitative. The Bunnies are made to live in quarters just a little more comfortable than the barracks at boot camp while their bosses live in plush and guady opulence.

      • Aitch Cee S says:

        https://beachmovies.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/sue-hamilton-speaks/ interesting interview reflective of the times. Have you read any Tom Lisanti? and tell me when you read the Bunny Book by R. Miller.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I made use of Tom Lisanti’s research recently, when I revised this piece, specifically with regard to Susan Denberg. What he wrote about her in “Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood” has a ring of truth; he cites the years in which her children were born, and the showgirl, restaurant-hosting, and topless-dancing jobs she had during the same period. Hefner remarked of Denberg in “The Playmate Book” that she got “caught up in the swinging London scene, sidetracking her promising career,” which led me to write that she was “based in England,” though she may only have moved to England from L.A. after being in cast in “Frankenstein Created Woman.” In any case, she seems to have remained in England long enough to get “caught up in the swinging London scene,” so until or unless I learn differently, I’m going to stick with my current version.

          It’s difficult to come by reliable information for so many of Hefner’s models. I would love to learn what became of Ruthy Ross and Linda Beatty, for instance, two unusual Playmates of the seventies. I could easily imagine Ross starring in underground movies of the time, which is why I made the “Warhol Superstar” comment about her; and Beatty, credited as “Linda Carpenter” in “Apocalypse Now,” had high-fashion looks that might have taken her further in New York, or Paris or Milan, than they did in L.A. Both Ross and Beatty, from remarks and references they made in “Playboy,” were clearly as bright as they made themselves out to be (Ross claimed an IQ of 142) or were made out to be by others (Ken Marcus, who photographed Beatty for “Playboy,” thought her “one of the most intelligent Playmates I ever worked with”).

          The UPI piece about Sue Hamilton is undated, unfortunately, as I know you know, but if she was only nineteen when it was published, it’s odd that she was already hitched to a fireman. On the other hand, young marriages were far more common in the sixties than they are now. She does sound very (and maybe overly) concerned with her appearance, though, which is in keeping with her boob job and, it seems to me, the suicide rumors, if she later found herself without acting work or prospects for it.

          I probably won’t have time to get to “Bunny” anytime soon, alas.

  12. Aitch Cee S says:

    As Hefner knows, The London Playboy club run by Victor Lowndes was a big part of the “swinging London scene” that distracted Ms Denberg.

    Another “los”t PMOM is Mercy Rooney i think 1972 But her name is Merci Montello in Peter Gowland’s Glamour book published in 1972. Then she married Mickey Rooney JR and used his name in Playboy.( Gowland didn’t shoot) She had ambitions to be an actress and appeared in 4 “sexploitation” film including one with Erica Gavin of Vixen fame. well here is a good blog post about her better than I can explain but she seemingly dropped off the face of the earth as I came up with nothing.

    https://thethoughtexperiment.wordpress.com/2009/12/26/post-holiday-pick-up-miss-december-1972-mercy-rooney-yee-haw/

    Duke I will have to get that Playmate book and see what if anything is said about her and the many other women–

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Ah, yes, The Thought Experiment. I referred to that blog more than once while working on this piece, though I don’t believe I ended up using anything I learned from it. Another blog, Venus Observations, was also helpful, particularly with regard to Mary and Madeleine Collinson, the stars of “Twins of Evil” and favorites of mine, though I had I hunt down a copy of Roman Polanski’s autobiography to get the exact phrasing of his memory of the Collinsons, having lost my copy of the Polanski book.

      http://venusobservations.blogspot.com/2011/11/centrefold-venuses-of-month-october.html

      I was startled to read recently that Madeleine Collinson died last year.

      Mercy Rooney is another model I named and later cut from my long (or it was long originally) list of Playmates who appeared in horror movies. She was in a horror movie called “The Bushwhacker.”

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0212017/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_3

      “The Playmate Book” offers nothing new about her. She did a “Playboy” cover in 1973, around the same time she guested with a number of other Playmates on “The Sonny and Cher Show,” and that seems to have been the end of her Playboy association. I found a newspaper item about her, dating from roughly the same period — something to do with a fringe-theater production that also featured Cyndi Wood, who was on the same “Sonny and Cher” episode. I just searched for the newspaper item to no avail, but it’s late and I didn’t try very hard.

      A few weeks ago, I was listening to a recording of the polygraph test taken by Roman Polanski not long after the murder of Sharon Tate, and at one point during the test he does a wicked imitation of Victor Lownes, who was close to him at the time. In fact, I think Lownes may be among the people getting out of the limousine with Polanski at the funeral of Jay Sebring in this footage, along with Connie Kreski, Playmate of the Year 1969:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB1ow-Uhqrk

      Lownes set up, or helped to set up, Polanski’s version of “Macbeth,” and they had a falling out because of it, though I forget the specifics. I don’t know if Lownes ever quarreled with Hefner because of Marilyn Cole, Playmate of the Year 1973, but Hefner became involved with Cole after Lownes discovered her, and Lownes and Cole later married — in fact, they’re still married. However, there definitely was friction in the Lownes-Hefner relationship, which has long since been resolved. Lownes’s parties in the “swinging London” period, and afterward, were every bit as wild as Hefner’s parties in Chicago and L.A., if not more so. I wrote that Lownes was Hefner’s “style mentor,” but that was probably a role he played semi-consciously at best, just as Hefner was probably a semi-conscious student, adding what he observed of Lownes to lessons gleaned from movies.

  13. Aitch Cee S says:

    Venus Observations: For my research that is very helpful academic look at the development of Nude publications, from topless or implied nudity in glamour shots to just a couple of decades later the “skin” or “girlie” mags became much more explicit and graphic.
    It further amazes me how truly tame the early Playboy 1950s and 1960s was compared to the later- “material” it inspired, and made possible.

    Victor Lownes also screwed up the whole gambling casino licences thing in England. The couple have lived in
    England all these years. Hefner was with Barbie Benton during the time he had an affair with Marilyn Cole, no surprise there.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Yeah, Barbi had to put up with quite a bit, and she was only a teenager when it all began. On the other hand, most of Hefner’s girlfriends were in their teens or barely out of them, and Barbi certainly benefited from the relationship, publicity-wise and monetarily; he paid her palimony, and while I don’t know the figure, I’m sure it was substantial.

      I gather that you read the Venus Observations “Pubic Wars” blogs from first to last. I did also. A good book could be written about that period, but it would probably be a book with practically no readers. I can’t remember if it’s mentioned by Venus Observations, but Playboy became sort of schizoid when the Pubic Wars began, showing a little more in some issues and much less in others, as little as Playboy dared to publish in the fifties. Originally I had included a few links in this comment to illustrate what I mean, but it looks as though the links include malware, so I just deleted them.

      I believe Mr. and Mrs. Lownes own a house in Aspen, and if they don’t already own a condo in Manhattan, I would guess they’ll own one soon. Almost every millionaire must own a condo in Manhattan these days. Hefner would be one of the few exceptions, but I think he may have been intimidated by the New York sophistication of yore. Today’s obtuse wealthy lack that sophistication, so Hefner would have nothing to fear in New York, though, at age 89, he would also have nothing to gain by straying from his Tudor castle.

  14. Aitch Cee S says:

    Barbi and her husband did or do live in Aspen, it’s famous for a full dance floor disco. I’m living in the same state! but Aspen is a universe away.
    Is there an e-mail or address I could write you?

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Aspen is a world away from most places.But I say that based on hearsay, not personal experience.

      You can write to me at Darylreidhaney at gmail.

      • Aitch Cee S says:

        Sorry I didn’t pick this up before! Been out of the country where spotty internet at best. will be e-mailing soon!

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Welcome home. Any time you’re able to write, here or by email, it will be a pleasure to hear from you.

          I suppose you must have read that Playboy will no longer publish nudes, yes? I think this represents the final victory of puritanism, in a strange way. Everything today is about social media, and Playboy’s content is unacceptable on social media, just as it was long ago deemed unacceptable in convenience stores. Now it’s going to be made acceptable by removing, after more than sixty years, the sinful content.

          • Aitch Cee S says:

            With the demise of print periodicals, Playboy’s history of losing money, (since the 70s) and the competition of “free” internet pornography/nudity I wasn’t surprised; they are just keeping up with the times or so they are saying.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Oh, and should you see this, HCS, I ordered a copy of “Bunny,” which is now on its way to me.

  15. This is a great piece and I am glad that my own research was able to assist you in some small way. I am constantly revising my Pubic Wars pieces as I discover new information or pertinent (or impertinent) pictures.

    A very brief distillation of my Pubic Wars pieces was published in Baron magazine in the UK in 2012 and I received positive feedback about it, so there is some interest in this subject.

    Bill Hedley

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Hey, Bill, it’s nice to hear from you, and for that matter, to “meet” you. Your research was in fact valuable to me, even if I’m no longer sure of which source that provided this or that detail. When I was working on the piece I had books and magazines stacked around my desk while my computer was open to God knows how many windows, including, at least occasionally, your reports not only on the Pubic Wars but various models. Wasn’t there one about Justine Greiner? I’m too tired at the moment to do a quick search.

      My comment about the lack of readership for a Pubic Wars book was a jab at the lack of curiosity of contemporary readers about anything that predates them, not about the subject or your handling of it, in case that wasn’t clear.

      I wish I had caught this comment sooner. I used to get updates about comments, but as it was, I stumbled upon this one.

      Thanks again, and happy apocalyptic new year to you —

      Duke

  16. R. Slowan says:

    An informative and entertaining reflection on the Playboy phenomenon. The font style looks like The New Yorker, and I thought I was reading a New Yorker article, which I hope is a compliment.

    Good job, goes in my Bookmarked archives.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      It’s always a pleasure to learn that the piece is actually, occasionally read and, more to the point, enjoyed; thank you for letting me know.

      The font does recall The New Yorker, it’s true; I had nothing to do with it, but possibly Brad, the founder and chief editor of TNB, had The New Yorker in mind as a model. TNB went through a number of styles before this one, which is hands down the most elegant.

      I was hoping originally to do a piece about Victoria Vetri. We have a mutual friend who provided me with her address in prison, and I wrote to her and never heard back, and a piece about her would be worthless without her cooperation, I decided. Then it occurred to me that I might write instead about the history of Playboy, and one of my inspirations was in fact a piece in The New Yorker. It was a book review, really, of The Playmate Book, which covered every Playmate up to the date of its publication. I had arrived at some ideas of my own about the influence of movies on the creation of the Playmate, and also about the absence of darkness in Hefner’s philosophy, despite his nocturnal temperament, and the ways that repressed darkness manifested in his private life. The New Yorker review hadn’t worked any of those angles, but without that review, I would never have thought to write this piece, which now should really be rewritten, the last bit of it, since so much as has happened in the Playboy world in the last two and a half years, though I hear through the grapevine that nudes may be returning to the magazine.

      • R. Slowan says:

        I remember the review of The Playmate Book in The New Yorker. Not only do I remember that review, but here is a copy of my letter to the editor in regard to that review:

        Joan Acocella (Books, March 20) manages to navigate the potentially tricky shoals of reviewing a book of Playboy centerfolds for The New Yorker without quite running aground, though she does scrape bottom. With the various approaches taken, from Sex Ed (“labia majora”) to saucy (“…Playmates seem to have no point of entry.  And wasn’t entry the idea?”) to erudite (“Ding an sich”) she conveys the impression of a thoughtful tour of Hefneria. The reader knows where the exercise is headed, however: there is no way that Hefner and company are going to get away unscathed. There is the usual nod to the Playboy interviews and the magazine’s commercial success, then comes what is not so much a hatchet job as a fingernail file job, one aimed at leaving a long red welt. One approach is to dismiss Hefner’s image of the good life as the quaint posturings of an era that never was, as a “fantasy.” (Fantasy, in its definition as “the free play of creative imagination,” is a part of the appeal of many magazines — including The New Yorker. But I think something more fatuous was intended) Then there is the cattily subversive (for Playboy’s intended audience) rhetorical slash that “This whole ‘bachelor’ world…is the property of homosexuals.” The centerfolds are dismissed for their “artificiality,” like a “well-buffed Maserati,” the smiles and the snarls “equally fake.”  Instead of being condemned for objectifying women, as in another era of feminist concern, the centerfolds aren’t sexy enough. Printing an array of the centerfolds along with the article was no favor to the writer.  The reader can see that DeDe Lind doesn’t have “a pair of knockers to rival Mae West’s,” that the women don’t “seem like clones” and that their expressions don’t look especially fake, although they may lack the professionalized “sincerity” of an experienced model. With the descriptions thus belied, the rest of the article is looked at askance. One aspect of centerfold similarity that is not commented on is noses.  Cleopatra would not get the nod to be a Playmate. Whatever may project below the neck, the nasal profile is basically snub.  Finally, are we expected to take seriously the statement that in these times a $25,000 fee is “a lot of money”?  Could that really be what Playboy pays for its keystone feature, an amount that is probably less than Hugh Hefner’s yearly outlay for pajamas?    

         

        • D.R. Haney says:

          That’s a killer take on the review. It’s returning to me now that some of the jokes in it were tiresome to me, and also, yes, it was curious that the writer talked about large breasts in the context of DeDe Lind’s enormous popularity with Playboy readers. She was not, by Playboy standards, particularly buxom. Her popularity was due, I’m sure, to Hefner’s incisive remarks in The Playmate Book: the candid photo of her on a “just friends” date with a serviceman and her overall “girl next door” appeal. She was probably the ultimate girl-next-door Playmate of her era. I mean, bloody hell, she looks like she’s on her way to church on Easter Sunday in some of the candid shots, and her centerfold photo is pure Americana. There’s even a Coke on the table in the rec-room setting. Interestingly, though, she appeared on a couple of very early episodes of Playboy After Dark where she’s seen smoking in the background. I don’t think Hefner would have permitted photos of a smoking DeDe Lind in the magazine. That was not in keeping with the girl-next-door thing — not for her. It worked occasionally for others.

          I avoided the use of that term, “girl next door,” in the piece, as you probably noticed. I had seen it too often in pieces about Playboy, and it wasn’t helpful to my thesis.

          Thank you for not taking me down like you did the New Yorker review. I’m sure I would have been crushed. However, I should add that I do think the piece is perhaps too critical of Hefner, per a friend’s remark to me after he read it: “I thought you liked him!” I do like him. I regard Playboy as a great American institution, and overall, I think Hefner’s approach to sex was and is much healthier than the fire-and-brimstone alternative. I’ve come to see that he was much more accurate about puritanism than I allowed. Also, one of the reasons I was struck by the New Yorker review was the mere fact that the Playmate phenomenon had made its way into that magazine in the first place, even if the attitude was dismissive. I expect that, as do you, evidently, and I think it’s because of puritanism, in all its various guises, that Playboy and Hefner’s cultural importance have never been taken as seriously as I would argue they deserve to be.

Leave a Reply