Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Hugh Hefner* * *
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
– sp – Filmmaker Brigitte Berman won an Oscar for her documentary film about iconic musician Artie Shaw. Hugh Hefner is a great jazz aficionado and founded the acclaimed Playboy Jazz Festival which is how they had occasion to meet and get to know each other. Berman then decided that she wanted to make a documentary about Hefner but one, which shows the largely unknown side of the man who in most people’s minds represents the Playboy lifestyle of beautiful women and lots of sex. Hefner liked the idea of such a film and gave Berman free access to his vast archives as well as participating in extensive interviews with her. Friends of Hefner such as James Caan, Tony Bennett, Dick Cavett, Joan Baez, Jessie Jackson, Jim Brown, Bill Maher, Dick Gregory and others also gave very fascinating interviews. What emerged in the two hour and 4 minute film was a picture of a hardworking man who was determined to be a success. He loved women (many women) and did not believe that he was demeaning them by making them sexual objects. More to the point of the documentary, he had a sense of fairness and acceptance that was completely color blind at a time when much of the country and certainly the entertainment industry was not. He did not allow discrimination towards blacks to occur in his Playboy Clubs and commonly showcased black entertainers on his after hours TV shows. Interviews with Jessie Jackson, Jim Brown and Dick Gregory were extremely clear on this point. Hefner also did not hesitate to have writers, who were blacklisted as communists or communist sympathizers by the nefarious Senator Joseph McCarthy, to continue to write for Playboy magazine under their own name, which was unheard of at that time. This film is not only enlightening about these contributions of this man but it also is quite entertaining as it includes wonderful clips of Sammy Davis Junior performing as well as adlibbing on the Hefner TV show. There was a young Tony Bennett performing in his relaxed style. We saw a beautiful Joan Baez singing and youthful Pete Seeger doing his thing with some injected clips of the craggy older Seeger reflecting on the significance of Hefner’s support of him and his causes. James Mark Stewart provided an excellent original score for the background of most of the movie There are a few counterpoints to the Hefner’s views about sexuality and the Playboy life style which are periodically presented in the film by such people as Susan Brownmiller, Pat Boone and others. They are shown as weak rebuttals, at times almost humorous. It is clear that this film is an admiring tribute to Hefner now in his 80s. Ms. Berman director, producer, writer and editor told us that Hefner was extremely pleased and touched after seeing the documentary. The filmmaker said that she wanted to show him objectively as he really was which led me to ask her if there was anything in the film that Hefner didn’t like? She said no. The film comes to an end with Hefner being true to his philosophy and reinventing himself after two marriages by now having seven intimate girlfriends which he then cuts down three. There is a very revealing statement by this older guy reflecting on his life. He indicated that he understands that his outgoing life style of loving and enjoying many women has to do with the fact that his parents were very cold and rejecting. In fact as a child he says he was never hugged. Even though he has had a very successful life, it is sad to see the lingering effects of what has been missing from his childhood. 2010

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