The dark and distressing side of Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion
For more than 40 years, Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion was synonymous with glamour, beautiful people and a lot of sex. The Disneyland-equivalent for lustful men, and any ambitious scantily-clad model's contentious ticket to fame, it was the place to be - and the man who built the Playboy empire was the bachelor to be seen with. However, those who cohabited with him reveal another story altogether.
Rather than a hotbed of passionate romps, their narrative paints a portrait of a desperate old man who was determined to keep up the image of a fast-living Lothario. Accounts of more recent years inside the 5.3 acres estate describe how the former pleasure palace had become a depraved retirement home. British glamour model Carla Howe told The Sun that the Playboy Mansion was no longer "a place of excess with orgies and topless girls", and instead saw a frail Hef - who reportedly popped so many viagra pills to keep up with the pace, he made himself deaf - going everywhere with a group of nurses, making brief appearances at parties and settling down to a game of chess. She added that the damp and worn-out residence dealt out a curfew time of 9pm and served up hospital-standard food.
It comes as no surprise that Hugh Hefner was not the man he used to be. Having started his Playboy success in the 1950s, by the time of his death he was 91-years-old, an age where many people have given up on a sex life. After all, can't an old age man have some peace and quiet (albeit with stacks of viagra tablets on hand)? But reports suggest that, even during the glory years, at the end of the day it was all just a glittering facade. Life as a Playmate was a hellish black hole of control and abuse.
The image of Hefner, as painted by Izabella St James, showed the deeply unsettling nature of the place. We all knew that the women in the millionaire businessman's life women functioned as nothing more than accessories and status symbols, but when one delves into the particulars, the inside story goes beyond just women living as objects of male desire and instead shows them being controlled in every single aspect of their lives.
St James, a law graduate, told of how she was invited to move in with Hefner and his seven other official girlfriends in 2002. But the Playboy Mansion was far from what she expected. From the bedrooms to the carpet to the mattresses, each and every thing in the house was old and decrepit and, despite sitting on a goldmine, Hefner at first refused to renovate or even buy them new bedsheets. Eventually he was persuaded, but the bunnies were forced to turn in every single receipt before they were reimbursed.
Under his orders, the bedrooms were to look girly with white carpets and pink walls, yet these would be stained and filthy within months due to untrained dogs, spillages and dirty shoes. Many bunnies were willing to put up with this lacklustre lifestyle due to their weekly allowance of $1,000, which the businessman would hand out on Friday mornings in crisp one hundred dollar bills. However, of course, this cash - which was later taken away completely - was one of Hefner's favourite ways of holding power over his subjects.
According to St James, the bunnies were not given their allowance if they had been badly behaved that week. The definition of badly behaved could range from lack of sexual participation in the parties he held twice-weekly in his bedroom, to being drunk in public, to coming in later than the 9pm curfew; Hefner would always know if they were late due to his private logs.
Former Playmate and star of The Girls Next Door, Holly Madison's book shed some further light on the tragic lifestyle that the Playmates endured in her tell-all memoir, Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny. One chapter of the book tells of how Hefner would take photos of his girlfriends every night before they went out and have them delivered to each girlfriend's door the next morning to amplify pressure that they should always look perfect, create drama and infighting and set his girlfriends against one another. If they didn't look as he thought they should? He was certainly not shy about telling them. Madison remembers how she came back from the salon one day with shorter hair and lipstick on, only to be told "I hate the whole look. I hate the makeup and I hate the red lipstick.".
Going on insider accounts of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, there was simply no end to this strict code of conduct, whereby this master of emotional abuse would burst into bathrooms while they were naked to take pictures, dock their pay if they ate on duty and banish them from the house if they had male visitors.
However, perhaps worst of all is the account of Jill Ann Spaulding, a young model who was determined to make the Playboy centrefold. It was always said that bunnies were not forced into sexual encounters if they didn't want to be, but her story suggests this could have been a fabrication.
It's an acknowledged fact that Hefner used to make his girlfriends wear identical flannel pyjamas before the bedtime routine; if they took the bottoms off, they wanted to be intimate that night, if they kept them on they did not. However, Spaulding told of how she determinedly kept her bottoms on and was targeted by the others present, with the girls making it clear she was expected to strip. She said: "I was terrified. They were all looking at me, including Hef from the bed — just staring straight at me. I said firmly that I couldn’t join in. Hef looked absolutely furious, and one of the girls hissed at me that I was disappointing him. I didn’t care. Hef’s face was like thunder but I was left alone."
The wannabe model was dismissed from the mansion and replaced soon after, but her story stands as a prime example of the oppression the women living there were put under. After all, the man himself spoke against feminism in 1970, stating: “These chicks are our natural enemy. What I want is a devastating piece that takes the militant feminists apart.”
A few former bunnies have told of how they suffered from depression while cohabiting with the millionaire playboy, with Madison even claiming that she suffered from depression and considered suicide while there. But the question is: If these reports of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion are in fact true, why did so many girls stay? Tragically it seems it was just for the fame, fortune and the chance of being on the front cover of Playboy. Oh, and the plastic surgery Hefner would buy them for their birthdays, of course.
Ultimately, although the dark side of the Playboy Mansion was down to the magazine founder himself, there's no denying the fact that much of the blame rests on the bunnies' shoulders as well. Hugh Hefner was a man trying to live out the fantasy he has been selling to people since 1954 - and women who willingly put themselves under his roof were only helping him.
Unfortunately, upon his death in September 2017, his former girlfriends all seemed to remember nothing of the sort, tweeting posts that thank him for changing their lives and heralding him for being an icon. But, if the rumours are true, behind their computer screens is a different tale. It's just a shame they seem to have forgotten it.