One man’s Play­boy: En­coun­ters with Hefner through the years


LOS AN­GE­LES It is time to con­fess some­thing I did as a teenage mail han­dler in the late 1960s, when Play­boy reigned supreme, its rab­bit-head logo stamped on a volup­tuary em­pire of pub­lish­ing, tele­vi­sion, restau­rants and bun­nies.

Each month, I would in­ter­cept a half­dozen copies of Play­boy mag­a­zine at a busy Los An­ge­les post of­fice, slip them out of their plain brown wrap­pers and set them aside. Postal work­ers with a free mo­ment would pass the mag­a­zines across the desks and can­cel­la­tion ma­chines. Then they care­fully tucked the is­sues back into their wrap­pers and sent them on to their right­ful sub­scribers.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, com­plaints cropped up in Play­boy’s let­ters-to-the-ed­i­tor col­umn: Some prankster at the post of­fice had put a postage­due stamp across the Play­mate of the Month’s breasts.

Though tempted, I never did that — I had too much re­spect for the mag­a­zine. I had read Play­boy since I was 13, thanks in large part to a crusty old news­stand op­er­a­tor who would will­ingly sell a copy to any kid who had the 75 cents to pay for it.

I knew about Hugh Hefner. Who didn’t? Depend­ing on your per­spec­tive, Hefner — who died this week at age 91 — ei­ther launched the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion or set women’s rights back by half a cen­tury. Or both. But in the pages of Play­boy, he seemed im­pos­si­bly cool, with his pipe and silk py­ja­mas and the ap­par­ent abil­ity to at­tract all the most beau­ti­ful women in the world, first to his Chicago man­sion and then to a spec­tac­u­lar cas­tle in the tony Brent­wood sec­tion of Los An­ge­les.

Even if gen­er­a­tions re­told the joke that they read Play­boy for the ar­ti­cles, Hefner was se­ri­ous about words. In the pages of Play­boy, I dis­cov­ered the works of writ­ers like Kurt Von­negut and Ray Brad­bury, af­ter pe­rus­ing the pho­tos, of course. Years later, I got to tell Brad­bury that I came across one of his great­est short sto­ries, “The Lau­rel and Hardy Love Af­fair,” in Play­boy. He said he had a spe­cial af­fec­tion for the mag­a­zine, which se­ri­al­ized his break­through novel “Faren­heit 451” soon af­ter it was founded.

The first time I en­coun­tered Hefner was nearly 20 years af­ter sort­ing those mag­a­zines. In 1988, he called a news con­fer­ence to an­nounce he was coun­ter­su­ing a woman who had sued him for pal­imony. To get there, I trav­elled up along the tur­reted, Tu­dor-style man­sion’s long drive­way to a big foun­tain, care­ful to obey the sign that read “Drive Slowly, Play­mates at Play.”

Hefner was nearly 62. But mi­nus the pipe and trad­ing his py­ja­mas for a leisure suit, he looked pretty much like the guy in the mag­a­zine. M&M can­dies, said to be his favourite, were in bowls ev­ery­where, and re­porters were en­cour­aged to in­dulge. The man whose mag­a­zine of­fered de­fin­i­tive ad­vice on scotch and other whiskeys, had his favourite bev­er­age in hand, a Pepsi.

He an­grily claimed it was his former lover and not he who had cheated re­lent­lessly dur­ing their re­la­tion­ship, which sounded kind of odd com­ing from a guy who had boasted of bed­ding more than a thou­sand women. Friends tried to warn him about her, he said, “but I just saw what I wanted to see.”

Then, re­gain­ing the old Hef spirit, he added, “I want you to meet my new lady,” and in­tro­duced a woman I de­scribed in a sub­se­quent story as a “tall, beau­ti­ful blonde model.” An ed­i­tor cut out the word beau­ti­ful; in ret­ro­spect, it prob­a­bly was re­dun­dant, this be­ing Hefner.

She was Kim­berly Con­rad, soon to be­come Hefner’s sec­ond wife and later mother of his youngest sons, Cooper and Marston. Asked her age, she replied with some em­bar­rass­ment, “I’m 24. But I’m al­most 25.”

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