Hugh Hefner: A Man of Many Appetites
Who: Hugh Hefner, Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Chief Creative Officer of Playboy; and Kevin Burns, Executive Producer, E!’s The Girls Next Door
Where: Playboy Mansion West, Holmby Hills, Calif.
When: Sept. 2008
The Dish: I received my first invitation to the Playboy Mansion last month and thought I knew what to expect. After all, I watch E!’s The Girls Next Door, which shows life at the Mansion with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his live-in girlfriends. Not only has the estate been in lots of films and TV shows, but its reputation for rollicking parties and grotto antics is legendary.
But as I gained access to the mansion at the famous “talking security rock,” pulled my little blue VW into the circle drive and started a tour with the estate’s PR guy, I was struck by one surprising thing: The place is dead quiet. At least in these daylight hours.
The main house, which was built around the same time 82-year-old “Hef” was born, employs nearly 80 full-time staff, and is roughly 21,000 square feet with 30 rooms. The 5.7 acre estate comprises Playboy offices, a private zoo, a bath house and an aviary.
Before meeting up with Hef and Girls Next Door Executive Producer Kevin Burns, I scoped out several rooms, including the study. It looks like any old mansion study full of leather and wood and bound things—until you notice the nude bust of former Hef flame Barbi Benton and other art featuring naked breasts.
“Hef lives in Hef’s world,” Burns tells me over lunch in the Mansion dining room. “He knows what he likes and he’s built a home around it.”
The mansion is a fantastical testament. The living room/screening room boasts a full-size theater screen, a huge old pipe organ and comfy seating for many. Hef is a film fan and has company over most nights, often to watch movies. He prepares notes about the feature and gives a talk beforehand. VIDEO: Life is clearly good for Hef. Watch what he says when I ask if there’s anything that, you know, keeps him up at night.
BREAKFAST IN BED
The mogul sleeps until 11 am or noon most days, and when he wakes he calls down to the kitchen, where the staff knows to have his meal ready to serve in bed. This may account for the sleepy, bustle-free vibe I got at just past noon.
He rarely eats with his guests (when asked later why, he tells me he “enjoys relaxing in bed”), but rather has another bite around 4 or 5 pm before guests arrive, and then has a drink with them (usually Jack Daniels and Pepsi).
Hef is “a creature of regimen,” Burns says, adding, “In a strange way, Hef’s world is already very kind of produced.”
That doesn’t make the E! reality show any less real, Hef explains when he joins the lunch table in—you guessed right—his trademark red silk robe, just in time for dessert.
“One has to remember that it’s real and it existed before the show,” Hef tells me. “We didn’t cast. I read things on the blogs from time to time; in addition to all the nonsense that’s on there right now, they suggest that the girls were cast for the show. We were together for years before.”
The show was devised to be a real reflection of life at the mansion, and that means girls move in and out of the house and Hef’s life, as has been in the news lately. “We always assumed it was an open format,” Burns says.
Hef says the reality show is a bit like home movies and has become a fun part of his still-busy-as-an-octogenarian life. The show is rarely out of production so when there’s a break, he jokes he needs a methadone treatment. “It’s like you’re hooked on something,” Hef says.
Burns and Hef have quite a banter together. Hef starts to joke it would be a great relationship if Kevin were blonde, “but he’s missing a few little…”
“Accoutrements,” Burns says.
“He’s anatomically incorrect,” Hef adds.
Dined On: Hef’s eating habits are tied directly to his Midwestern roots. “I was born and raised in Chicago and my folks were from Nebraska; they were farm people so I grew up on down-home cooking,” he says, listing some of his favorites. “Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob.”
He also has a personal stash of oatmeal cookies, which I get to try. They are unusually good, and I discovered the secret ingredient is simple: extra butter. VIDEO: Watch my introduction to the Mansion’s oatmeal cookie and investigation in the kitchen into the ingredients.
At the same time, the Mansion staff can also prep a four-star full French meal, and they cater the Mansion’s parties and events themselves. This is the same group who prepared our multi-course lunch in thedining room.
I start with steamed mussels in red pepper cream sauce, and I know this is going to sound exactly like the guys who say they read Playboy for the articles, but I would really like to come to the Mansion for another bowl of that stuff.
Given the full catering-style kitchen staff (and insane steamed mussels), I had to ask what it typically takes to have a meal at the Playboy Mansion. Do they take reservations?
“It’s a place unto itself,” Hef says.
“It isn’t a bed and breakfast,” Kevin says, noting that the nightly dinners are a matter of Hef’s generosity with friends. “It’s more like a bed. A bed and bed.”
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