Interview Date: 04/12/2010
Run Date: 04/15/2010
Bullz-Eye.com’s publisher, Gerardo Orlando, caught up with Hugh Hefner days before his 84th birthday bash that took place in Las Vegas at the Playboy Club at the Palms. Hef is a cultural icon and is widely admired for his accomplishments with “Playboy,” so it was a thrill to have the opportunity to speak with him. Hef discusses a new film project about his life being written by Diablo Cody and mentions that Robert Downey, Jr. has expressed interest in the role. He’s also excited about a new documentary about this life that will be widely released soon.
Hugh Hefner: Hello there.
Bullz-Eye: Mr. Hefner, how are you?
HH: I am very well.
BE: I’m Gerardo Orlando from Bullz-Eye.com.
HH: It is my pleasure.
BE: It’s my pleasure as well. And I want to start by congratulating you on your birthday.
HH: Well thank you very much.
BE: Are you excited for all of the weekend’s festivities?
HH: Yeah, looking forward to them.
BE: So tell me, you’re going to The Palms again, and obviously you have a business relationship with them, but it’s almost become a home away from home for you. It seems like a place where you’re comfortable and you really enjoy yourself. I know you don’t travel a lot, but it seems like that’s one place you really enjoy.
HH: I think that’s absolutely true. In other words, The Hefner suite at The Palms and The Playboy Club are really my second home.
BE: Initially was this purely a business decision to affiliate with The Palms or was there something about George Maloof and the family that drew you to them?
HH: Well, it was a business decision but it was because of Mr. Maloof and because of what he accomplished with The Palms. We had a lot of options, a lot of alternatives and we had been out of The Playboy Club business for a long time and we needed to do it right. I felt that George and The Palms was the right place and I think that it proved to be true.
BE: Well I’ve been there and you guys certainly did a wonderful job. It’s a great club so it certainly has been a success for you.
BE: So tell me, it’s been an interesting couple of years for yourself and anyone in the publishing business. Playboy is going through some transitions for years your daughter Christie was CEO, helping you run the business. Now she’s moved on and things have changed. How has that affected you on a personal level? What’s the new atmosphere like?
HH: Well, these have been difficult times for a great many people, and certainly especially for magazine publishing. So we’ve been going through these difficult economic times. Christie stepping aside was obviously a part of that. But within that context, you know, on a personal level I’m in a very good place. I’m in a very good personal relationship, enjoying good health and enjoy my life very much. This, on many levels, is one of the happiest times of my life.
BE: That’s great to hear. In terms of the magazine itself, obviously, back in the day when you started it, you were involved in pretty much every aspect in putting the magazine together. And I’m sure that’s evolved through the years. How is it now? Are you still day to day involved in each issue of the magazine? Are you knee deep in the photo editing? Or has that evolved through the years or in recent times?
HH: I am still very actively involved in the magazine itself. Obviously the company is a much more complex organization now, and that’s handled by a lot of other people.
HH: I’m still very intimately involved in the magazine. We have a very good new editor, Jimmy Jellinek. He and the major staff are based in Chicago but I am contact with them every day. I just got off the phone with him a few minutes ago. And I’m still very much actively involved in the putting together of each issue. Picking and approving each cover, each centerfold, the pictorials, the cartoons, the party jokes, the letters and overseeing the bringing together of each issue.
BE: That’s great. And, you know, I wanted to get your opinion on some things. I mean you’ve always been such a keen observer of American culture. You were knee deep in a lot of the changes in the latter part of the last century. We’ve gone through a difficult time here in the country over the last couple of years, including a difficult recession. The economic crisis has affected people in some interesting ways. Where do you see us going from here? What are you seeing in terms of the trends out there and where do you see us headed?
HH: Well it’s difficult to look around that corner. One hopes that the recession is receding. I’m old enough to have lived through The Great Depression. I was born in 1926.
HH: And you know, sometimes economic depression sometimes brings people together. That has not been in the case here and I’m sorry to see that. What I really hate, quite frankly, beyond the recession is the extent to which the country has been split asunder. I think we need to get our priorities back and start thinking about one another and, you know, paying attention to what really matters.
BE: Playboy for years celebrated the consumer culture in many ways - the finer things of life. Is that something that maybe in the last ten years sort of spun out of control a little bit? Did we go a little too far? Was a little bit of retrenchment, maybe some self-reflection, needed for the country?
HH: I’m not quite sure what it is you mean. I would certainly say that there has been a dumbing down of society and the new generation has lost some of their way, in terms of style and etcetera. But I think that on many other levels, we’re in a much better place than we were when Playboy began.
BE: Right. And in terms of the magazine, where do you see it going? Do you see any changes ahead? Obviously there are some exciting new things on the technology side with something like the iPad for example. The possibilities seem endless now. While the internet gave us one thing, and that’s what we do here at Bullz-Eye.com, it was a new way of publishing and obviously very powerful. But the iPad sort of takes it to a new level where you can regain some of the lush experience that we had before in magazines. So that now the pictures can be sharper, you can literally page through an archived version of Playboy and it’s so much easier now. Obviously it just got released, but I can imagine where there would be tremendous opportunity there.
HH: I agree with you. I think the technological changes have opened up all kinds of opportunities, and it makes it a very, very exciting time.
BE: Tell me about Crystal Harris. I’ve been reading that you’re just thrilled with the relationship. Obviously it’s going very well. You seem very happy, like you said earlier.
HH: Well that’s absolutely true. She’s a very special lady and I’m very fortunate to have found her at this point in my life. All things given, I think that we will be together the rest of my life.
BE: That’s wonderful to hear. In terms of your life, I also read that there’s a movie in the works. Is that something that’s a project that’s moving forward?
HH: Yes, Brian Grazer of Imagine is producing the film and we’re waiting for a screenplay.
BE: Has someone been commissioned to write it? Is it based on any of the recent books like the Steven Watts book or is this something more personal where you’ll have a lot to say about the screenplay?
HH: Yes, and Diablo Cody is working on the screenplay.
BE: That’s exciting.
HH: Yes. And Robert Downey Jr. has expressed interest in portraying me.
BE: Really? Oh wow! Well that would be really interesting. If he does as good a job as he did on “Chaplin” I’m sure you’ll be very pleased.
HH: Who incidentally, as a matter of fact, about a week ago we ran “Chaplin” again.
BE: I actually read that. I was surfing around the web and I saw that as one of the recent things that you guys did. So I also wanted to ask you, I’m a huge football fan. I’m an Ohio State guy. Do you still follow Illinois football closely?
HH: No, not like a used to.
BE: You were a pretty big fan back in the day.
HH: Oh yes, when I was a student and in the years immediately afterward, I really followed the game.
BE: A lot of young people look at your story, and it’s a remarkable story what you were able to do. You really epitomize the self-made man. Not just in a business way, but you really constructed the life you wanted to live. Obviously not everyone can do it quite to that level, but what advice would you give to young people, particularly young entrepreneurs. For someone who has dreams and is starting out, what advice would you give them?
HH: I think the most important thing is to hold on to your dreams; to stay focused on all of the dreams that you really have when you are young. There are a lot of things in society - peers, society itself, family, that can prompt looking the other way or changing the direction of your life. But I think that the dreams you dream when you’re young are the dreams that will make you happy, and I think you should hold on to them.
BE: Well, I think that’s great advice. Like I said, I think you’re, especially with our audience, very much admired for everything you have accomplished. So I’m sure people will be happy to hear that. What’s next for you? Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to, besides the movie?
HH: Well, there’s a major documentary on my life, produced by Academy Award winning Canadian woman, Brigitte Berman, on the other half of my life called “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel.” It just screened at The Museum of Modern Art and will be in limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles this summer, and then out on DVD later in the year.
BE: And you’ve seen the final product?
HH: Yes I have and it’s very, very good.
HH: It’s about the Hefner that most people don’t know about.
BE: Really? So what would be one thing we would learn, you know, without giving away the movie? But in terms of the Hefner we don’t know, there’s so much about you that we do know.
HH: Well what people don’t know of course depends on the people.
BE: (laughing) True.
HH: Long ago, I said that quite frankly my life is like a Rorschach test, an ink blot test. People can make their own dreams and fantasies and prejudices onto my life.
HH: What you know about me is very much related to…it’s very subjective and very personal.
BE: Yeah, I think you’re definitely right about that. And speaking of someone who you have had some battles with through the years, I ran across a quote doing some research. Gloria Steinem, she said “to make amends with him would be like a Jewish person making amends with an anti-Semite. I’m not going to do it.”
HH: There’s something very sad about Gloria. She’s a very talented lady who got lost early on. You know, she first established her fame by doing an undercover piece on the Playboy Club in New York. It was a silly piece because it didn’t have much reality in it and most of the bunnies were not about it. And I think that she’s felt obliged to somehow justify that ever since. I think that not only Gloria but the women’s movement, the portrait of the women’s movement that got caught up in the anti-sexual, anti-Playboy part of it hurt the movement and really it is counterproductive because very obviously, the major thing that women get out of emancipation is sexual freedom.
BE: Right. That’s definitely interesting that she would still feel that way after all these years. And finally, one last thing. You mentioned earlier about just the feeling in the country, how divided we are. Are you hopeful that we can get past that with the new president and that we can make some progress?
HH: I’m always optimistic and I hope so.
HH: I think we need to get back to basics and we need to get out of all of this international entanglement.
BE: I gotcha. Okay, Mr. Hefner, thank you very much for your time.
BE: Congratulations. Happy Birthday again and enjoy your weekend.
HH: Thank you. You have a good day. Thank you.BE: Okay. Thanks. Bye.