What’s the Playboy Mansion like? It’s a question I’ve been asked several times when people discover I’ve actually been there.
It’s far less swanky than you think and much more commercial than you’d hope.
Because Hugh Hefner used it to entertain a host of people (and push his Playboy brand), it was a lot like a museum, filled with artifacts that remind you of another time. The grounds are filled with birds and animals; the pool area almost always had a playmate or two eager to do an interview.
The house itself looked like an old English manor. It had a big staircase, long windows and furniture that looked like it belonged from another era. Of course, other touches made it seem anything but. In addition to iconic pieces (like the bust of Barbie Benton in Hefner’s office) and bowls of M&Ms around each room, it was very much a house you wouldn’t want to spend time in.
The yard – filled with plenty of activity and a pool that never seemed to settle down – was more interesting. Nearby, game rooms and guest quarters (which looked like they hadn’t been updated in decades) were filled with old pinball machines and other games (which required no money to operate). Occasionally, a star (like James Caan) would be lounging in one of the rooms.
Because Hefner didn’t hang with his guests at all times (most often, he’d make an appearance, then head back to his quarters on the second floor), the Playboy vibe came from the folks who considered themselves part of his inner circle.
The playmates, too, provided ambience. Most often, they’d be dressed in business suits (no, not bikinis). Occasionally, one wouldn’t wear a blouse under her jacket, but this was very much a business setting for them.
At the pool, guests would usually have to imagine what went on there since, on the occasions I was at the house, no one was using it. A sign over the entry said, “Welcome to our Ool. There’s no ‘P’ in it. Keep it that way.” Nearby, a button (presumably for a Jacuzzi) was labeled “your pleasure.” Don’t ask.
Hosting events almost every night of the week, the staff whisked food in and out with amazing speed. The place was run like a machine. Guards were everywhere and, yes, if you wandered off you could be encouraged to get back on track.
I did, however, get to go into Hefner’s office to use his private bathroom. It was like most any other mansion-like bathroom, but filled with touches only Hefner could provide. Use your imagination and you should be able to envision what I saw. The office was like something out of “The Godfather.” It featured plenty of leather and artifacts. Think: Hard Rock Hefner.
There was a screening room, too, where I saw clips from a Hefner television project. It wasn’t what you’d think when someone tells you “we’re going to the screening room.” It was more like something mom and dad might rig up if they were going to show home movies.
Hefner, though, was everything you thought he’d be. Yup, he turned up in pajamas. He held a pipe, too, and made his way through the guests offering polite greetings -- nothing intense, nothing complex. In no time at all, he was gone.
His presence, however, was definitely felt.
And, that’s the way the world will be without him. While times have definitely changed, he left an impression.
The Playboy Mansion was just one part of it.