Sedatives to endure so many orgies and animal sex in the Playboy Mansion: a documentary recounts the abuse of Hugh Hefner | icon

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Hugh Hefner was always a guy with a sense of timing. “He had the gift of the perfect moment”, recognized his obituary in The New York Times. He emerged in the early 1950s as a young editor and cartoonist married to his first girlfriend who only had experience in a children’s magazine. Then he invented a product and a character, himself, that were inseparable, that idea of ​​a guy softy and seductive, who puts a little jazz on the phonograph and mixes up a good martini. He intuited where the sexual revolution would go and knew how to offer a perfectly calibrated transgression for popular taste, a capitalist and patriarchal prank that was perfectly adjusted decade after decade to continue rhyming with the times. But when he best demonstrated his gift of opportunity was at the time of his death: the editor of Playboy passed away on September 27, 2017. Eight days later, on October 5, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey posted on New York Times a report on Harvey Weinstein that triggered #MeToo. He left with his dressing gown on and there wasn’t even time to cancel it.

This week it was released in the United States Secrets of Playboy (A&E), a documentary series that reveals what everyone could already guess, that the brand Playboy was not a liberation agent for women and that in the famous mansion there was more than one dirty cloth hidden. Yes El Secreto de Victoria had its documentary series in 2018 that caused its downfall, how could a franchise as ubiquitous, recognizable and potentially problematic as Playboy?

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Hugh Hefner, in his London 'Playboy' mansion, surrounded by the women he called 'English Bunnies', in September 1969
Hugh Hefner, in his London ‘Playboy’ mansion, surrounded by the women he called ‘English Bunnies’, in September 1969Michael Webb (Getty Images)

The series is directed by Alexandra Dean, author of two previous documentaries on Paris Hilton and Hedy Lamarr. So far, only a couple of episodes have aired. The first is based mainly on the testimony of Jennifer Saginor, who gives a much darker version of her experience than the one she wrote in her memoirs, entitled Playground: A Childhood Lost in the Playboy Mansion. Jennifer is the daughter of Mark Saginor, the doctor who was nicknamed Dr. Feelgood for his tendency to prescribe legal drugs, a close friend of Hefner. The author explains in the episode how her strange childhood passed. He was six years old when he visited the Playboy Mansion for the first time and eleven when he settled there semi-permanently after the separation of his parents. It was the house pet. He moved from the game room to the pool and ran between the bedrooms spying on everything that happened there. The bunnies were especially fond of him.

“Dorothy Stratten was my babysitter,” she explains, referring to the Canadian model and actress who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1980, shortly after she had been named Playmate of the year. At 15, Saginor explains in the series, he fell in love with one of the three or four girlfriends officers that Hugh Hefner always had on his payroll, a woman he calls Kendall, though that’s not her real name. The two women began a love affair in which, Saginor now believes, she was projecting her lack of maternal attachment. Hefner knew it because everything was known in that house that, he himself used to boast, was full of microphones and cameras that recorded everything. On one occasion, the founder of the magazine called him into the room and invited him to participate in a threesome with Kendall, despite the fact that Saginor had always seen Hefner as an uncle, a father figure who taught him to play pinball already. value the breasts of the women in the photos that constantly arrived at the house. Although there was complete gender separation in the mansion (until it ended), little Jennifer was allowed to sit at the men’s table and participate in that screening process. They looked at photos of girls from all over the world and decided which doctor was going to do breast augmentation surgery on one – she had one herself when she was 15 – and which surgeon could do rhinoplasty.

Despite that invitation to her bed, which was not consummated because the other girl began to cry, what definitely made her feel betrayed by Hefner was the fact that he boycotted her interviews when he published his book. In it, by the way, he was very careful not to speak ill of him.

Actresses and presenters Lauren C. Mayhew, Aude Ranoux and Lauren Thomas, with Jennifer Saginor (right), during a party at the Roosevelt Hotel in November 2007.
Actresses and presenters Lauren C. Mayhew, Aude Ranoux and Lauren Thomas, with Jennifer Saginor (right), during a party at the Roosevelt Hotel in November 2007.Matthew Simmons (WireImage)

In the series, several former playmates they refer to Hefner as a “monster” since Playboy as “sect”. Some of the scandals that were flying over the Playboy Mansion but that never quite scratched Hefner’s reputation are listed: the death of Dorothy Stratten herself, the suicides and deaths by overdose of several girls that happened in the house and that barely transpired, the Bill Cosby case –the mansion was one of the places where the comedian began his career as a sexual predator, drugging girls and then raping them–, the suicide of his assistant, Bobbie Arnstein, in 1984. If all that did not serve to sink the brand, it is speculated in the documentary, is partly due to the close relationship that Hefner cultivated with the forces of order and also because of the arsenal of compromised tapes that he kept from all the powerful who had passed through the mansion and that he used as blackmail .

One of the most valuable testimonies is that of Sonda Theodore, Hefner’s girlfriend in the seventies. When he caught her Playboy, he was 50 and she was 19. Their relationship lasted five years, during which Theodore took cocaine and quaaludes, a sedative-hypnotic, to keep up with the daily orgies with men and women that Hefner forced on him. He liked to watch what she did with the guests he was bringing. On one occasion, Theodore explains, he was caught “in sexual activities” with his dog. “He pretended that it was a one-time thing, that he was being silly, but I never left him alone with my dog ​​again.” It is not the only act of bestiality that is mentioned in the series. An old “mother bunny” (the playmates mature women who were in charge of training the young women who were arriving), PJ Masten, explains in the series that he saw how Hefner forced the actress Linda Lovelace to perform fellatio on a German shepherd.

“Everyone was laughing when Linda got out of the limo. I was drunk and drugged. They drugged her so much that they made her perform oral sex on the dog. Do you want to talk about depravity? This is disgusting”. Masten herself has horror stories to explain. She was one of Bill Cosby’s rape victims in 1979. It happened in a Chicago hotel. “I had blood running down my legs because I had been sodomized,” he cries on camera. “Blood was falling on the ground. I put on my clothes but there was a lot of blood. I was dripping all the way to the lobby of the hotel”.

Hugh Hefner surrounded by models Holy Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson during the 2007 Monte Carlo Television Festival.
Hugh Hefner surrounded by models Holy Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson during the 2007 Monte Carlo Television Festival.Eric CATARINA (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

In addition to giving space to these heartbreaking testimonies, which join the series with another that was just as difficult to watch, the one that Netflix dedicated to Jeffrey Epstein, Alexandra Dean tries to frame the Playboy empire in its different incarnations. It’s especially revealing to look back at Hefner’s final years, well into the 2000s, when adult magazine sales plummeted and the impresario refocused the franchise on reality television, with Girls Next Door, offering a white version of what it took place in the Playboy Mansion and showed him with three young girlfriends. When the first three girls left the show after five seasons, Hefner replaced them with three other blonde girls, and ended up marrying one of them, Crystal Harris. He was 85 and she was 25. All this was happening under the blinding light of the mainstream, in the very center of entertainment for all audiences, on the E! channel, the same one that saw the birth of the Kardashians.

one of three neighbors (so the “girls next door” of the title could be translated) originals, Holly Madison, already wrote a book in 2015 telling her experience and provides new details in the series. Madison was one of Hefner’s partners from 2001 to 2008. In the series she describes a twilight version of the same nightmare as the rest of the women: the constant harassment of Hefner, who, helped by Viagra, continued to demand sex without a condom every day. days, the feeling of being trapped in a cult – all the girls had to be home before nine and were actually encouraged to never leave the house – the mandatory cosmetic surgery to look like the rest of the playmates. On one occasion, she had the idea of ​​cutting her hair, and Hefner yelled at her. She told him it made her look old and “cheap”. Before leaving the house altogether and undergoing therapy, he began to harbor suicidal thoughts.

What is striking is that Playboy as a brand it still exists and is desperately trying to distance itself from that past, as if Disney disowned Walt or Apple from Steve Jobs. After the first two episodes of Secrets of Playboy, published a statement on Medium condemning the “horrible actions” of its founder. “We believe and validate women and their stories and support all the individuals who have come out to tell their stories. As a brand based on a positive vision of sex, we believe that security and trust are basic and everything that deviates from there is inexcusable, “continues the writing.

The team you have now Playboy recalls that he is no longer associated with Hugh Hefner’s family and that they are now “an organization with 80% women” that intends to value the good of his legacy, which in his opinion has to do with freedom of expression and with the possibility of having “safe conversations about sex, inclusion and freedom”.

Hugh Hefner at Heathrow Airport, surrounded by models in June 1966.
Hugh Hefner at Heathrow Airport, surrounded by models in June 1966.Ted West (Getty Images)

The Playboy brand is now owned by the Mountain Crest conglomerate, which paid $381 million for the franchise, including $142 million. The magazine, the product that for decades gave meaning to the entire empire, no longer exists. The last issue was published in the spring of 2020, after 66 years in circulation with different variants of a risky combo: photos of naked women and powerful articles, some, in their golden age, signed by the most famous writers of their generation. Now Playboy is a product brand. He sells sex toys, clothes and video games in which the famous bunny always appears.

Although in the statement that was issued this week and that seeks to position Playboy as an epitome of feminist expression – “we continue to redefine the obsolete canons of beauty and advocate for inclusiveness in terms of gender, sexuality, race, age, ability and location ” –, on their networks, which alternate the promotion of products such as sweatshirts and t-shirts with photos from the magazine’s archive, most of the photos that are posted continue to be of thin, blonde women with enormous and artificial breasts, just like Hefner liked them. Except this week, that the community manager saw fit to rescue an image of singer Lizzo (African American, plus size) from a 2019 report. As a franchise, Playboy has things going for it, starting with brand recognition, but it also faces an almost impossible task of separate from his past. And the series still has eight chapters left.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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