Hugh Hefner—7 Centerfolds of Separation
I never worked for Mr. Hefner. So, I never entered “the Mansion.” But I knew a waiter who did. It was an ambition, he declared to me one day, while working a catering job at a mansion down the street, which he explained, thus: “I want the perspective on life that comes with people like him.
Hugh Hefner created a perspective on life, living and living well, which enlightened my father’s generation, and, along with Sunset Magazine, enlightened my own—or, at least, made life interesting in interesting ways at the start.
To wit, a few details honoring Hugh Hefner’s life, which I pull from my memory, episodes connected with the fount of the Playboy philosophy.
First, there is the word: philosophy. I think I discovered the word in the pages of his magazine. “The Playboy Philosophy” floated in 1960s font above ink drawings of people and things that suggested pleasure and adventure. Not a bad start on the concept—Thank you, Mr. Hefner—especially given the mangle most historic theorists have made of thinking about thinking and the good. At least the good, as proscribed by Mr. Hefner, was connected with pleasure and happiness, and was within earthly reach, at least in the living rooms I frequented as a child.
When I got my first job as an Alameda Times-Star paperboy, as a child, I celebrated the Playboy lifestyle each Wednesday afternoon, in my markedly Italian neighborhood, whose food and entertaining philosophy is worth a separate discussion. Inspired by the Playboy After Dark mood in the late afternoons, with my parents and sister occupied elsewhere, I tiptoed to the liquor cabinet with “Hef” in mind, a copy of Trader Vic’s bar guide under my arm and the example of old neighborhood, garage entered wine cellars turned bars. I folded the once-a-week “shopper,” in the family garage, while sipping a cocktail.
I mixed my first Manhattans across the Bay from North Beach, the Condor Club, the hungry i, Finnochio’s, Chinatown and Russian Hill. All the good stuff, which you were likely to find covered in the pages of Playboy. Later, when I lived in Manhattan—or the City, as some borough hierarchists call it (not to be confused with The City—or San Francisco—which those of us growing-up on the shores of islands in SF Bay call the later)—um, as I was saying, when I lived in the City (i.e., Manhattan), I actually worked for Playboy Enterprises. Well, for one concentrated, short period, at least.
I was charged with catering sales, which necessitated several trips to the Playboy corporate offices and its warren filled with charming young office workers in mini-skirts and suites with ties—and plenty of Vargas paintings. I was producing a portion of a party opening the Playboy Jazz Festival at the company’s mid-town, Fifth Ave. located penthouse/office complex, whose blustery terrace did not suffer floral arrangements lightly. That was the closest I came to entering the Playboy Club.
The closest I ever got to a Playboy bunny, though, was Barbi Benton, who, according to my late, great friend, Michael Carbone, attended our high school, La Sierra, in Sacramento. However, his story—or my memory of it—might be apocryphal, having just consulted “Hal,” and his ever growing Wikipedia. Apparently, Ms. Benton attended our rival high school, Rio Americano.
However, Ayn Rand went to the Playboy Club (bet you were waiting for that name to appear). Well. It’s true, according to my late night memory of someone’s memory.
A publicist working for the magazine arranged for a radio interview. But Miss Rand got stuck in New York City traffic, so, in a reckless leap of something-or-other, the publicist went on air as Ayn Rand. After a frightfully bad interview, and while fearing holy Russian hell, as the publicist tells it, Miss Rand was remarkably poised. She, confronting the masquerading publicist, sometime later at the Playboy Club: “Now that you had appeared as me, I will appear as you.” And then, without batting an eyelash, the author intercepted a group of visiting VIPs, explaining she was the club publicist, starting her tour with the declaration: “Do you know that Mr. Hefner sleeps with all the Playboy bunnies?” When Miss Rand turned to the aghast publicist—justice served—the publicist introduced the novelist-philosopher to warm applause and smiles.
If there was warm applause and smiles, much, much later, I never learned about them. But I did—sorta—enter “the Mansion” by way of Mr. Hefner’s bedroom and in the form of a VHS cassette tape consisting an unreleased cut of a documentary (about the philosopher mentioned above), on which I did some producing and composed a musical score. The tape landed in the bedroom because that was also the screening room. Having entered “the Mansion,” albeit, in my own way, the presence of any post-screening applause is a speculation for the ages.
Hugh Hefner, one of the better lights of our age, dead at 91.
One last thing: I wish I still knew that waiter, the one who spoke of “Hef” and his perspective on life. Rather than writing this, I would have preferred to have invited that nice waiter over for Manhattans—to raise a glass and toast the passing of a man, who, at least in my book, was the first to give philosophy a good name.
Jeff Britting, a composer and author, is working on an opera based on Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun and a collection of Hollywood-themed short stories.
(The views expressed here are the author’s. He does not speak for any other person or organization.)
GET IN ON THE CONVERSATION