A Job Made in Heaven: Playboy Enterprises, Part I
PROLOGUE: I was a corporate executive at Playboy Enterprises in Los Angeles, during the last of its heyday years. It was during that time in 1981 that the company was forced to close down its highly profitable Playboy London Clubs and more than 100 betting shops across England as a result of its violation of that nation’s gaming establishment laws. They constituted the Playboy’s major profit center, accounting for 85 percent of the Chicago-based company’s pretax profit.
Employees were understandably concerned and over the next couple of years, lay-offs occurred throughout 1983 and 1984.
Playboy’s identity has represented many different ideas to people. Religious people have hated its founder Hugh M. Hefner and so have many feminists. Others believed he was a sage who opened the doors to the sexual and drug revolution.
Since Hefner’s death, countless articles have been written about him, especially about the juxtaposition between Hefner’s exploitation of women versus his editorial and monetary support to women’s political issues such as National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, as well as other issues such as the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards and the initial funding in1979 of the Children of the Night, which has rescued more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.
Children of the Night is a non-profit organization that was initially funded by the Playboy Foundation, which has rescued more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.
Additionally, hundreds of other non-profit organizations held fundraisers at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. For years, The John Tracy Clinic, which helps children with hearing loss, held its annual tennis fundraisers at the Mansion. They were sold-out events.
Magazine, June, 1982.
Political candidates had their fundraisers there too, including Senator Edward Brooke, the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate; John B. Anderson, a Republican from Illinois, who ran for U.S. President; Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles; Eugene McCarthy, who ran and lost to Robert F. Kennedy in the Democratic primary, as well as Governor Jerry Brown of California.
Through the years, literally, tens of thousands of women and men paid money to go to these charitable fundraisers at The Playboy Mansion.
Why? I discovered the answer working for Playboy Enterprises. The charitable aspect was only an excuse for going to these events, although some people wouldn’t admit it. There was something elusive about the Mansion that exuded sex for most people. It was if someone had taken an enormous atomizer, filled it with an aphrodisiac and sprayed it throughout the entire property. So, when most people went to the Mansion events, they felt sexy and they were happy. I saw this phenomenon over and over again. I felt it, too.
the popular vote. Hefner, a supporter of Anderson, held a fundraiser for Anderson at the Playboy Mansion.
It was in late spring, 1978, in Chicago at the Drake Hotel when Christie Hefner hired me to fill a newly created position, as Corporate Director of Community Relations at Playboy Enterprises, Inc., where I would be reporting to her and to Margaret Standish, who was the head of the Playboy Foundation.
Christie and Margaret were in the Chicago headquarters and I would be in the Los Angeles office at the 8560 Sunset Boulevard corporate office with its famous, but small “rabbit head” logo shining from the building’s roof-top.
My role was to promote the so-called “good side” of Playboy and the Playboy Foundation. Christie suggested that the evening before I started work, I should go up for a 7:00 dinner at the Mansion in Holmby Hills. She would be there and I would be meeting Hefner, and then tour the zoo, the grotto, the tropical garden greenhouse and the game room.
A week later after my meeting with Christie, I drove to the Mansion on the Westside’s Charing Cross Road. I was excited, but surprisingly not nervous. Once inside the gated grounds, I looked up a high grassy hill, caught a glimpse of the grand “Gothic-Tutor” house and then slowly continued up to the circular driveway to the front entrance where I was greeted by a waiting butler.
The butler led me through the house’s large wood-paneled foyer to the dining room where I interrupted a lively conversation between silk pajama-clad Hugh Hefner, who sat at the head of a long table with actor James Caan, comedian Bill Cosby, and Christie Hefner. Everyone stood up for introductions.
Christie invited me to sit to the left of Hef, as he was known to friends. As if we were in a restaurant, a kitchen staff member explained the specials of the day and we ordered whatever we wanted and conversation resumed. It turned serious.
We discussed the situation regarding the 63 Americans who had been taken hostage in the American Embassy in Iran some months before, as well as whether the Dodgers or the Giants would win the pennant.
Then Bill Cosby turned to me and said, “I like your name. Pax Quigley. Imagine, you’re a football ball player.” He took his index finger and began drawing an imaginary line down the dinner table and talked as if he were a sportscaster. “And there goes Pax Quigley holding the ball, crossing the forty yard line, to the thirty yard line, and, and …” he looked up at me, grinned and continued, “She scores a touchdown!” I stood up and curtsied. Everyone broke out clapping, except Caan who booed as if he were on the opposing team.
After the main course, Hef announced that we would “have our dessert in the game room and play some pinball and have more fun.”
Hef got up from his big chair and we followed him out of the main house to the game room, that housed some fifteen different types of pinball machines.
Hefner liked to play pinball. Since I wasn’t very good at it, Christie gave me a lesson. Soon I got the hang of it and, while eating ice cream, we all switched on and off to other machines for about 45 minutes.
Then, I smelled something … marijuana. Christie took a hit and passed the joint to me. I thought really quickly, ”Well, if she’s smoking, I guess it’s okay for me.” I took a hit and passed the joint to Caan. The joint came around again and I took another smaller hit.
About ten minutes later, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10 — too late for me. I told Christie who announced that I was leaving. The three men protested, but I said, “Hey, tomorrow’s my first day on the job.” Apparently, they understood.
Escorting me back to my car in the driveway, Christie explained to me that tomorrow we’d meet in the Playboy building lobby on Sunset at 10, introduce me to everyone, and show me my office. Also, I would get a tour of the Mansion in the afternoon. She added that the Mansion staff had put my name on the list so that I could go there anytime I needed. Day or night.
“To get you to know about Hef and Playboy, we’d like you to spend some days there looking through his scrapbooks (at his death, there were approximately 3,000 scrapbooks) in the scrapbook room on the second floor. You’ll meet Mary O’Connor, Hef’s assistant, who will help you.
She also pointed out that there were two fundraisers coming up at the Mansion in the next two nights: Tomorrow’s was for COYOTE — and both fundraisers were funded by the Playboy Foundation, which, she added, I would be representing on the West Coast.
Second night at the Playboy Mansion
I was back up at the Mansion at 8 p.m. for the COYOTE event. There were lots of cars waiting around the circular driveway for valet parking.
Walking into the large foyer, I was struck by the number of men hanging out, grabbing hors d’oeuvres from waiters’ platters, and sipping wine. But where were the women? I slowly made my way through the crowd and through the double glass doors onto the large flagstone patio that faced an expanse of lawn back-dropped by the lighted walls of the grotto. And there were more men! Eventually I saw the women who were mostly scantily dressed and rather sexy. (Disclaimer: I hadn’t had the time to research what COYOTE stood for).
Don Rogers, who was Playboy’s P.R. man, explained that COYOTE stood for “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics” and was founded by WHO (Whores, Housewives & Others) in 1973 by Margo St. James, a former prostitute, who was campaigning for decriminalization of prostitution. I started laughing and asked why COYOTE members were at the Mansion. Throwing up his arms, Rogers matter-of-factly replied, “We’re giving them some financial help. Why not?”
I stayed to hear Margo St. James call for the legalization of prostitution. The men hooted and applauded. Frankly, I was disturbed by their exuberance and left early. I hoped that I would never have to publicize Playboy’s involvement in the campaign. Christie never did ask me. Today, legal prostitution is present only in Nevada with its 19 brothels.
Third night at the Playboy Mansion
I was more prepared for the next evening’s fundraiser for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) What I wasn’t ready for was the strong scent of marijuana when I walked into the foyer. NORML folks were well-prepared with “refreshments.” It seemed as if everyone was smoking it.
Most of today’s pot smokers and medical marijuana users don’t know that as early as 1971, the Playboy Foundation had quietly provided NORML with an initial funding of $5,000 and became its primary funder during the 1970’s; giving them $100,000 a year for seven years. Also, the magazine had focused attention on some of the most egregious acts of the war against marijuana smokers. Today, the organization has a large grassroots network with 135 chapters and over 550 lawyers. I guess Playboy put NORML on the map but Playboy preferred to stay under cover.
The following morning, I went to Mary O’Connor’s tiny office on the second floor of The Mansion to look at Hefner’s scrapbooks. Mary was six feet tall and prematurely grey. She was known to have spent more time with Hefner than anyone. She had been his trusted secretary, confidante, and adviser for more than 40 years.
She was considered “the Mother of the Mansion.” She took care of the Playmates and other women who stayed in one of the eight dormitory-like rooms. I once peeked into one of the rooms; they were dark and dingy. When the house was originally built in 1927, these rooms were the servants’ staff quarters.
I liked Mary immediately. She had a wry sense of humor and already knew that I was told to spend time looking at Hefner’s scrapbook. She laughed and said, “you can be there for months. There’re a couple of thousand scrapbooks. We have some ready for you.”
I went to a small room off the dormitory rooms and spent a number of hours over the next couple of days looking at the photos. I finally got bored and couldn’t look at another picture. Except I spent time looking at the photos of Hefner with Barbi Benton (aka Barbie Klein), who was his girlfriend from 1969 to 1976. I focused on his eyes and the expression on his face. I was taken at how he looked at Barbie and I felt he was really in love with her. She appeared on the cover of Playboy four times and in additional nude layouts in two more issues.
Later I found out that Mary had “other” duties. She had good connections with the UCLA and USC sororities. Almost every week, she’d talk to the sororities’ House Mothers, asking if any of the coeds wanted to come up to the Mansion for Friday night dinner. A Playboy limousine would pick up the young women and later bring them back to the sororities.
Once while at the Mansion at a Friday night dinner, I made a point of sitting next to a 19-year-old coed from USC.
“Are you having a good time here?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “it’s real pretty here.”
“Do you plan to come back?”
“God, no. The men here are so old,” she whispered, rolling her eyes.
In other weeks and months that followed
During my stint at Playboy, I was asked to be on a number of Advisory Boards. One was the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center where I suggested that we have a luncheon meeting at the Playboy Mansion, and I would give them a tour of the grounds.
Since the board was made up of men except for me, they liked the idea. One day, shortly thereafter we met at noon for lunch there and I gave them the tour. It so happened that on that afternoon four women were sitting topless on chaise lounge sofas around the pool area. We passed them by on our way to the zoo area. On the way back, one of the men asked if they could walk around the pool again. Unfortunately, (for the men) when they returned, the woman had put on their bikini tops. As we left the area, I kidded with them about missing a second ‘look’ at the pool. They all started laughing.
John Sack was Esquire’s war correspondent in Vietnam and also editor for Playboy magazine. In ”M” (New American Library, 1967), John followed an infantry company from its training at Fort Dix to battle action in Vietnam. Praised for its mix of compassion and objectivity, the book grew out of an Esquire cover article, ”Oh My God! We Hit a Little Girl,” which remains the longest article to appear in the magazine. Some of his other books proved more controversial. While writing ”Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story” (Viking, 1971), an account of how William H. Calley Jr. came to be convicted for massacring Vietnamese civilians in My Lai. Photo: Larry Logan
Around that time, Christie wanted to add more staff to my department. Linda Tillman, an attractive African American woman who was in personnel, was transferred to my area. Her brother was a guard at the Mansion. Linda said she could tell me “all about what happens at the Mansion.” I said that I didn’t want to know because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do a good job.
Christie also decided to hire a recent Playmate in my department. The 25-year-old pretty woman was very well-educated and even studied in Europe. She was nice to work with and eager to take on responsibilities, but a month into her job, she came to work later and later. We all got in at about 10 a.m., but she began arriving at noon and even showed up at two in the afternoon. She also looked tired and her once-smooth face broke out in pimples. I told her that she had to come in earlier like we all did. I soon discovered that she got hooked on the Playboy Mansion late-night scene of drugs and sex, and, unfortunately, our promising star had to be fired.
Playboy magazine’s 25th Anniversary was coming up. Christie told me that I would be going out with Playboy photographer, Dwight Hooker, to hunt for the Anniversary Playmate.
The plan was to publicize the event in major college towns’ newspapers announcing that Playboy magazine’s representatives were seeking the 25th Anniversary Playmate. The ads informed where and when Playboy’s staffers would be conducting interviews.
The first stop was Columbus, Ohio. The photographer and I had a two-room hotel suite for interviews and photo-taking. We started at ten in the morning and worked until six in the evening for two days. I was amazed at how many women showed up. There was almost a continuous line outside our hotel door, except when Dwayne and I broke for lunch.
When the applicant came in, I would give her a standard form to fill out and ask her a few questions. Two questions brought the most enlightening answers:
“How did you find out about our ‘open-call’?” and “Why do you want to be the 25th Anniversary Playmate?”
A very high percentage of the women responded that their “boyfriends, brothers.” and even their “fathers and mothers” told them about the ad and “encouraged” them to go to the “interview.”
Others said that it was “a chance to become famous” or “to be a movie star.” A few just wanted the money, or so they could leave Columbus.
My biggest surprise in the answers was to the question:
“Are you willing to pose full-frontal naked?”
Everyone of them said “yes.”
The second stop on our “search” for the 25th Anniversary Playmate was Norman, Oklahoma, home of the University of Oklahoma.
There I heard the same story that I heard in Columbus when I asked:
“How did you find out about our open-call?”
A lot of people of both sexes encouraged these women to go to the interview.
And Norman, Oklahoma was where I met the future 25th Anniversary Playmate. Her name was Candy Loving. She spoke well, was very pretty, but not beautiful, yet had the so-called freshness of a country girl.
Candy, who was 22 years old, worked in a local dress shop was also a waitress when she saw the ad in the local paper. Her (then) husband urged her to try out.
When the final decision was made, I remembered her, and was not surprised. Candy beat out 35,000 other women. After the centerfold and publicity around the 25thAnniversary, Candy then undertook her assignment of traveling throughout the world for a year as the Ambassador of Playboy magazine. Unfortunately, her glamorous career was not ever-lasting.
My next Playboy assignment was to interview upcoming Playmates to see if any of them would be possible candidates for a job position. I remember one afternoon, Marilyn Grabowski, who was Playboy’s Photo Editor, sent to my office an incredibly beautiful young woman who was going to be a Centerfold within two months. I inquired about her future plans.
“I don’t want to be around my town when the magazine comes out on the newsstands. I never told my folks that I posed nude for Playboy. My father would be horrified and embarrassed. I’m taking the $10,000 and going to Europe.
“I have no plans to come back to America.”