Eighty-four and still standing, resiliently erect

Arthur Black takes a look at Hugh Hefner's ... enduring ... legacy

Hey fellers! Knock back a couple of Viagra tabs and shuffle down to the newsstand just as fast as your walker will roll — they’re selling the October issue of Playboy magazine for only 60 cents!

The fire sale price for the monthly mag is a promotional gimmick thought up by the head of the operation — old Priapus himself— Hugh Hefner. Not only has Hef downshifted the price to its original 1960s level, the October issue itself has a ‘60s retro vibe to it. The cover features a — yes! — Playboy Bunny with fluffy ears on her head, unlikely boobs spilling out of a too-tight satin bathing suit, a smile as wide as a Steinway keyboard and a tray of cocktails in her hand clearly intended for the Lord of the Manor and guest.

Hef says the whole idea is to celebrate the ‘60s when Playboy magazine took off and the first Playboy Club was opened.

“It’s hard for me to put into words the fact that, obviously, everything changed for me in that time frame,” says Hef.

Yep.  And then for Hef it never changed again.

For 50 years Hugh Hefner has been living the wet dream of a college frat boy, circa 1960. He rises about noon out of his circular revolving bed, not bothering to change out of his silk pyjamas, greets his covey of Playboy bunnies and assorted Hollywood hangers-on, drinks gallons of Diet Pepsi (up to 30 cans a night) and … parties on.

Hefner’s been living in a cartoon time bubble, periodically diving into the bunny pool.

Playboy Clubs, which back in the heyday, twinkled in major cities around the globe, were created to replicate the goings-on in the Playboy mansion in Chicago. Lots of booze, expensive food and, if you didn’t squint too hard, waitresses that looked exactly like the signature Playboy magazine playmates — doe-eyed girls with big smiles and amped-up cleavage tricked out as make believe bunny wabbits, from the perky little rabbit ears on their heads right down to the oversized cotton puffballs sewed on to their cabooses.

I went into a Playboy Club once, about 20 years ago. I happened to be in New York to tape a radio show, saw the iconic Playboy rabbit head logo on a bronze plaque outside of a club in downtown Manhattan and thought: why not?

Inside, it was dark and smoky, there was some lounge lizard-y music percolating out of the sound system and a motley collection of male customers scattered singly at tables, most of them wearing cheap, ill-fitting suits. They looked like extras from an off-Broadway production of Death of a Salesman.

Talk about losers. These were guys whose idea of a good time was paying to be served drinks by a rabbit with big jugs.

For all Hefner’s philosophical gushings about sexual revolution and hip sophistication, these boys looked an awful lot like a gaggle of Johns caught in a back-alley Rub ‘n Tug.

Ah, well, Hefner is nothing if not resilient.

Just last year, the octogenarian copped some more headlines by announcing his forthcoming wedding to … Crystal, I believe it was. Aged 24.

The wedding didn’t work out (Hef was dumped at the altar) but it provided fodder for more late night one-liners. David Letterman: “Hugh Hefner, 84, is marrying his fiancé, aged 24.  This guy has Viagra prescriptions older than that.”

But who knows? Hefner’s nobody’s fool and a wily old cuss to boot. Chances are he’ll still get the last laugh, much like another octogenarian of note.

After Winston Churchill finished posing for photographs on the occasion of his 80th birthday, the photographer thanked him obsequiously and, while packing up his equipment, told the British statesman that he “hoped he’d be able to photograph him on his hundredth”.

Churchill gazed at the photographer balefully and replied: “I don’t see why not, young man.  You look reasonably fit to me.”


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