By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"She still thinks he's the devil," says Berman. "I don't agree with her, but I respect her opinion. She fought for that. Indirectly, I was also helped and affected by that whole feminist movement. ... It still is a man's world. Getting less so."
Playboy began during a time of social and cultural upheaval, and Hefner chose to embrace change. He hired Dalton Trumbo to write for the magazine during the blacklist era, defended the confrontational work of comic Lenny Bruce and allowed African-American Dick Gregory onstage in front of a visiting white, Southern audience at his Chicago Playboy Club. The publisher debated loosening sexual values with William F. Buckley on public television, hosted Martin Luther King Jr. at the mansion in Chicago and published the last essay King wrote before his death.
There were consequences. Hefner was arrested in Chicago after printing a 1963 pictorial on Jayne Mansfield. "The real reason behind the arrest," Hefner says now, "was because I had spoken out in an editorial in the magazine protesting Chicago's too-friendly connection to the Catholic Church, and the fact that they had arrested Lenny Bruce. When I objected to that, they came and arrested me."
Berman first met Hefner years ago as a result of her films on jazz greats, including his favorite, Bix Beiderbecke. For the new film, she spent many nights working deep into the early morning in the mansion's third-floor scrapbooking room, reading the history Hefner has kept since adolescence, filled with drawings, snapshots and every article written about him, good or bad. Many times, Hefner was up there too, working on another scrapbook of memories, adding another page to his recorded history.
Berman's most recent visit included a screening of Chinatown, accompanied by an introduction read by Hefner and a lengthy discussion afterward. He is a movie fanatic, hosting screenings at the Mansion three times a week. He produced some feature films in the 1970s but is now more fan than player, donating millions to the USC and UCLA film departments, and he's twice written checks to preserve the Hollywood sign.
There have been discussions of a feature film based on his life going back to the '50s. A movie is in the works, with Robert Downey Jr. expressing interest, and a screenplay to be written by Diablo Cody. "It looks like it's going to happen," Hefner says hopefully. "Brian Grazer has the project, and I said to him not too long ago, 'I don't want this to he a posthumous tribute here.' "
Hefner has his plans for eternity already mapped out, entombed right beside Marilyn Monroe. He owes much to Norma Jean. Her prefame nudes in the first issue of Playboy turned the magazine into an immediate sensation, sending the young, untested publisher on his momentous journey toward becoming Hef. They were born within months of each other in 1926, but he never met Monroe, and only spoke with her once, on the phone in the weeks before her death. He wanted her to appear again on the cover. When Hefner discovered the slot to her left was available at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park, he reserved the crypt. "It seemed to be a natural," Hefner says.
He has other friends buried on the grounds there: among them, Mel Torme, Buddy Rich and Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playmate of the Year, murdered by her husband. Hefner's mother lived to 101, but his father died of a stroke at 80, so the future remains uncertain, and the end is inevitable, though he likes to quote the key lyric to Sinatra's "Young at Heart": "If you should survive to 105/Look at all you'll derive from being alive."
Some things at Playboy are eternal. At the magazine's West Coast offices in Santa Monica, another naked lady is having her picture taken. She is Rachel Summer, a regular over at the Mansion, and her Playmate test is being photographed in Studio A by Arny Freytag, a 34-year veteran at the magazine, with more centerfolds shot than anyone. He will shoot at least 500 pictures of Summer today.
Freytag is working with three assistants, including a female intern, on a simple set of soft pinks and white. Summer stands in a bathrobe, but her nude image from earlier is still on the digital monitor. In it she is kneeling on a white-leather chair, facing the lens with a warm, inviting expression, wearing nothing but a pair of pink socks.
"Most girls don't walk in with a body like that," Freytag says, looking at the screen. "That's pretty rare. That's a pretty awesome body." This is a man who loves his work.
The pinups of Freytag and photographer Stephen Wayda have been at the magazine's visual core these last few decades, hardly shifting with contemporary trends seen in the evolving starlet images in Esquire and GQ — just as Hef likes it.
"I can make any girl look really good," Freytag says. "I believe there is one angle on every face that will look fantastic, and I will go until I find it."
The old man doesn't micromanage the making of these pictures, but once the day's test is done, Summer's session will go directly to Hef. The publisher rarely makes an appearance at Playboy Studios West, but his presence is felt, with stylish framed photographs of the young Playboy founder in the '50s and '60s lining the hallways. And his surprising move to retake full ownership of Playboy is fresh news.