Orgy and out

Hugh Hefner’s lust for life

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By CELIA WALDEN

‘Lin­gerie or Less.” If the “strict dress code” on Hugh Hefner’s Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream Party in­vi­ta­tion wasn’t enough to strike ter­ror into any woman’s heart, the warn­ing in small print be­neath — “Film­ing crews will be present” — surely would have been. But this was one of LA’s big­gest an­nual bashes, an in­fa­mous bac­cha­na­lian rit­ual held at the Play­boy Man­sion on the first Satur­day of ev­ery Au­gust, I would get to meet the leg­endary Hef, and there was no way my boyfriend (now hus­band) Piers Mor­gan was about to pass up the op­por­tu­nity to live out the ul­ti­mate male fan­tasy.

In­deed, when he told David Has­sel­hoff — his co-host on Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent back in 2007 — that he was bring­ing me along, the

Knight Rider star sighed, shook his head and said: “Man, you don’t bring sand to the beach.”

Body paint and not much else

I could have been out­raged, but Has­sel­hoff had a point. As we pulled up out­side the Gothic Tu­dor-style man­sion that was home to the Play­boy founder for 46 years un­til his death this week, aged 91, it was sand as far as the eye could see. These women were nipped, tucked and plucked, in mesh, peep­hole and la­tex lin­gerie, and lin­ing up to have their out­fits in­spected (no “over­dress­ing” al­lowed) by a hatchet-faced woman at the door.

In­side we were greeted by a sight that would have made Caligula blush: naked women in iri­des­cent body paint were hand­ing out vodka jelly shots, an Agent Provo­ca­teur-clad Paris Hil­ton was help­ing her­self to oys­ters from the seafood buffet, and wiz­ened oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans — roam­ing about the place look­ing like they were about to fall into the sex­ual equiv­a­lent of a di­a­betic coma — were be­ing held up­right by the pneu­matic breasts on ei­ther side of them.

Get­ting the dis­tinct im­pres­sion my other half would rather I were any­where but by his side, I headed off in search of The Hef, even­tu­ally find­ing him in a Be­douin tent near the grotto in which he liked to frolic with as many as 16 girls at a time — al­ways the last place you look. He was re­gal in pur­ple velour, flanked by his favourite play­mates, Ken­dra, Holly and Brid­get, and smok­ing straw­berry-scented to­bacco from a hookah pipe.

We are not amused

“Could I pos­si­bly meet Mr Hefner?” I asked one of his gate­keep­ers, and a minute later I was in, chat­ting to the man him­self about Brits and Bri­tain, which he said he loved, as one frail arm wound it­self around my waist. “If you could have one fa­mous woman in the world as your next play­mate,” I asked, think­ing this would be my first and last chance to ask Hugh Hefner any­thing, “who would it be?” “Your Queen El­iz­a­beth,” he flung back, quick as a flash. “Wouldn’t she look cute in bunny ears?”

Four years passed be­fore I met Hefner again — four years the Chicago-born me­dia mag­nate had spent try­ing to in­ject new life into the ail­ing brand he’d started in 1953, when his mother gave him $1 000 to launch Play­boy mag­a­zine. De­spite hav­ing ex­panded to in­clude tele­vi­sion, film, re­sorts, night­clubs, prod­ucts and char­i­ties over the years, Play­boy En­ter­prises could never re­cap­ture its ’70s hey­day, when the mag­a­zine was sell­ing seven mil­lion copies a month. At this point it was down to un­der a mil­lion and fad­ing fast — un­like Hefner, who was in fine fet­tle and about to marry his third wife, the 24-year-old for­mer play­mate Crys­tal Har­ris.

The 60-year age gap wasn’t a prob­lem, he as­sured me — look­ing, as al­ways, like the tom-cat who just keeps get­ting the cream. “Sur­round­ing my­self by young peo­ple helps keep me younger,” he went on, “and plus, you do reach a point where you think ‘maybe it’s time to set­tle down’.”

When I asked whether he’d be hav­ing a stag night, how­ever, Hefner snorted in­cred­u­lously: “I’ve been hav­ing a stag night for the past 50 years.”

To have and to hold

He was mis­chievous and funny, a man-child who re­fused to ac­cept that adult­hood was a place where dreams go to die, and as with our first meet­ing I found it hard to muster any real sense of out­rage. He was nei­ther the Cit­i­zen Kane nor the Jay Gatsby he was so of­ten com­pared to, although he was per­haps as nos­tal­gic and ro­man­tic as Fitzger­ald’s hero. And when he spoke of old screen stars like Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Gina Har­low and Dorothy Lamour, or the love songs he adored, his voice wa­vered with emo­tion.

“I’m to­tally ca­pa­ble of be­ing a good hus­band,” he ex­plained when I asked why a man who had based his life on re­ject­ing monogamy was get­ting mar­ried at 85. “I can be de­voted, sen­si­tive . . .” Faith­ful? “Yes,” he ex­claimed. “Ab­so­lutely. I do think that monogamy’s . . . pos­si­ble. I just don’t think it’s the nat­u­ral way of things. Some­times it works and some­times it doesn’t. The only im­moral­ity is in the ly­ing: it’s in the hypocrisy.”

And I be­lieve that it was this de­sire to fight hypocrisy and the re­pres­sion he’d grown up around that pow­ered Hefner. As the son of con­ser­va­tive, Mid­west­ern, Methodist par­ents (his fa­ther, Glenn, was an ac­coun­tant and his mother, Grace, a teacher), he told me that he ac­cepted that he “fell a lit­tle far from the tree” but that he also “had a real prob­lem with that re­pres­sive at­ti­tude to­wards sex”.

It sur­prised me how vis­i­bly ir­ri­tated Hefner be­came at the men­tion of the fem­i­nists who have ac­cused him of de­grad­ing, ob­jec­ti­fy­ing and abus­ing women. Af­ter all, be­tween 1963, when Glo­ria Steinem pub­lished an evis­cer­at­ing piece based on her ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing un­der­cover as a Play­boy Bunny, and 2011, when the “Ef­fOf­fHef” cam­paign­ers scat­tered rab­bit drop­pings out­side his new London club, there hadn’t been any great thaw­ing.

Dream on, Hef

But Hefner was cross, he said, be­cause they “got it wrong”. Got him wrong? Yes, he nod­ded. “And the rea­sons for that are un­der­stand­able. But the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion was for both sexes. I’m a cham­pion not just of women but of women’s rights,” he main­tained. “Look: I’m cel­e­brat­ing life. I ac­cept that it isn’t for ev­ery­body but my be­lief is that it doesn’t mat­ter how many boyfriends or girl­friends you have if you treat them well. In the end, I want to be re­mem­bered as some­one who has had some pos­i­tive im­pact on chang­ing so­cial sex­ual val­ues.”

If that was Hefner’s dy­ing wish, I’m afraid it won’t come true. How much that mat­ters when the man spent his life liv­ing out ev­ery dream he dreamt up and will now lie in a plot be­side Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe for eter­nity, I’m not sure.

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

EM­PIRE OF FLESH Hugh Hefner with bun­nies Sheila Lev­ell, left, and Holly Madi­son at the Play­boy Man­sion in Holmby Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, in 2003. On the first Satur­day of Au­gust ev­ery year, Hefner threw one of the big­gest bashes in LA at the man­sion.

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

VOLUPTUOUS TASTES Hefner in front of a wall col­lage of cen­tre­folds from Play­boy, which he launched in 1953.

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