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Tag: hugh hefner

The In Crowd

Over at Esquire, Chris Jones has a long piece on Hugh Hefner:

Playboy will survive, at least as a company, as a business proposition, as a brand owned and managed by private-equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management. The white rabbit will still be on T-shirts in the Czech Republic and beer bottles in Brazil. The magazine will probably continue to exist in some shape or form, profitably perhaps only in countries like Mongolia, like Thailand, where it still means the things that it doesn’t mean here anymore. There are still places in the world where Playboy represents change, not changelessness. Cooper Hefner might succeed in becoming the company’s new face, which will look so much like the old face that it will take a moment to remember that the party, this particular party, will be over. It’s not just this universe that will collapse when it loses its center. It’s not only these bizarre, beautiful, damaged, openhearted people who will be left homeless, who will be cast adrift absent the anchors of Manly Night and Mexican Train. All of us will lose something. Hugh Hefner is no longer ahead of his time; time has caught up with him. And you can feel, late at night, when the Mansion is quiet, that this place is already a museum, and it isn’t hard to imagine those tourists in the van at the bottom of the driveway lining up for their tickets to Heaven on Earth and being allowed through that gate, and they will look at these rooms, at the bed with its black satin sheets, at all that dusty underwear hanging from the chandelier, and they will smile and shake their heads in wonder. But Playboy, at its best, wasn’t just an artifact of its time. It helped make us who we are. Yes, Hefner’s magazine was a Rorschach test. It was also a stick in your eye. “It had lightning bolts coming out of it,” Jimmy Jellinek says. For sixty years, Playboy has been on the right side of history — on sex, birth control, civil rights, AIDS, gay marriage, war, social tolerance, personal liberty — while also serving as a vehicle for that history. But it wasn’t Playboy, really. It wasn’t the brand or the rabbit. It was him. It is him. And without him, it will be no more.

That’s not a very nice thing to think about. Why even think about it? It’s better to stay here, fixed in time and space, and to escape into another movie, into another Movie Night in a lifetime of Movie Nights. In the interest of time, Hefner dispenses with his usual introductory speech, which he normally reads from notes written by his friend Dick Bann. This further departure from routine is also regarded solemnly, but soon the room rallies, and Hefner receives his customary round of applause all the same. Then the lights go out. The movie starts. Here is our host, only a little behind schedule, with his wife at his side, and his brother behind him, and his friends all around him. Hefner pulls up his blanket closer to his chin, making sure he’s sharing it with Crystal, making sure she’s comfortable and enjoying her piece of cake. Then he sinks back into his favorite spot on the couch, and all things are possible. The place feels warm, and it smells like popcorn.

[Featured Image by Danielh85]

In Living Color

LeRoy Neiman died yesterday. He was 91.

“Dying for Art’s Sake,” is an essay Pete Dexter wrote about Neiman for Esquire in July, 1984. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

LeRoy Neiman has just been murdered in Milwaukee.

The clipping came in the morning mail—he thinks it was from Milwaukee—a review of his new book of paintings and sketches. “I don’t know why people aren’t nice,” he says. I am talking to him on the phone now. “Are you nice? Listen, there have been thousands of pictures taken of me. I’m a reasonably good-looking human being, aren’t I? Why would an editor want to use a picture where I have an hors d’oeuvre sticking out of my cheek? I wouldn’t do that to him. I always make things look their best…”

“That’s Milwaukee for you,” I admit.

“No, that was a newspaper. The guy in Milwaukee was very clever. He quoted every bad thing anybody ever said about me, but didn’t really say anything himself…Hotel room paintings. What’s wrong with paintings in hotel rooms? A lot of my paintings are in hotel rooms, so what? Art is where you find it. Oh, and they criticized my chin. Did I tell you that? They said I had a weak chin.”

“In Milwaukee?”

“No, in the newspaper. If you’re feeling nice, perhaps it would be amusing to visit, but I don’t need criticism. So if you’re not nice…”

I tell LeRoy I will try to write nice, but I can’t promise. He invites me up to his place in New York anyway. The place in New York is most of the third floor of a large apartment building across the street from Central Park. There is an efficient-looking woman with the purest features I ever saw—one of those noses that looks like somebody took two weeks to get the flare in the nostrils right—who seems to run things for him, jars of paint and brushes all over the place, walls covered with painting and prints and sketches, most of them of athletes. There is a giant oil representation of a Las Vegas crap table learning against the far wall, done almost entirely in red. Floors, background, faces, clothes.

I haven’t done a lot of painting myself, unless you count water towers, but I recognize a work in progress. I figure he does all the blues next, then the yellows or whites. I figure, what he’s got there is a primer coat.

“That’s not finished, is it?” I say.

LeRoy seems pleased I have intuited that.

“No,” he says. “I haven’t decided what to do with it yet.”

“Well,” I say, “I think you’ve about done what you can with the red.”

The phone rings then, and the woman answers it. “LeRoy,” she says, “I’m sorry to interrupt…”

The call is about appearing in a movie. He takes it in the vestibule, but the acoustics in the place are terrific, and I can hear what he says at least as well as whoever is on the other end. Better, probably, because he keeps having to repeat himself for the other end.

“Yes,” he says, “a thousand a day and expenses…”

He wants a thousand dollars a day instead of a straight fee for the job because it might rain wherever the job is, and he doesn’t want to be sitting around somewhere getting wet for nothing.

He comes back into the studio and I compliment his acoustics. “This place is better than Lincoln Center,” I say.

LeRoy looks around the room, probably misunderstanding what I have said. “I’ve got an apartment on the ninth floor too,” he says. “But I never go up there. There’s furniture and a beautiful view, but it depresses me. And I’ve got a house in Great Gorge, New Jersey, but I haven’t been there in four years. I love the place, I just don’t like to be inside it. I have to keep it, though, you’ve got to have a house in the country.”

It is the pictures of the athletes that have made all this possible. They showed up first in Playboy magazine, which started running LeRoy’s stuff back in the Fifties. Then Roone Arledge of ABC Sports put them on television and turned LeRoy’s work into the most recognizable art in this country. Nobody is exactly sure why.

Eventually, of course, LeRoy became as famous as his pictures. He wore his white hats and trained his moustache to grow almost to his ears, and he had fascinating cigars.
I don’t know how he does it, but LeRoy’s cigars are always two minutes old. He carries them in the left side of his mouth, and they are always long and dark with half an inch of cold ash at the end. Then some wiseass editor in Milwaukee runs a picture of him eating hors d’oeuvres.

And you wonder why artists are moody?


“I like being outrageous,” he says. “It is the worst possible thing for my income and standing in the art community, but I don’t care. Why should I behave myself now, after all these years?”

I ask LeRoy what kind of misbehaving he means. Does he give sheep for wedding presents? Has he gotten drunk at parties and tired to deliver babies? He shakes his head no.

“I don’t actually do anything,” he says, “except be conspicuous. It keeps me revved up.”

The phone rings again. The woman answers it. “LeRoy,” she says, “I’m sorry to interrupt…” This time it’s some Brazilians, wanting him to come to a party at Regine’s.

“Everybody always wants things from me,” he says after he has hung up.

The Brazilians, it turns out—at least these Brazilians—are economically advantaged people. LeRoy says they wear the best clothes and drink at the best clubs and introduce all the new trends.

“They amuse me,” he says, “but I am not one of them. I am part of their scene—the same three hundred people show up everywhere around the world—but I’m not a member. I never judge them, I am never shocked by their conduct.” He sees I don’t understand. “A lot of them steal,” he says.

That’s the same way it is with LeRoy and athletes. “I don’t get too close to them personally,” he says. And this reminds him of the safari with Hef.

Hef is Hugh Hefner, who owns Playboy. He is one of the three people LeRoy names when I ask who his friends are. The other two are artists he sees once every two or three years.

“It was while we were in Africa,” he says, “that I noticed the natives were always jumping. Any little noise, they’d jump. They watched each other every minute. Hef and I and four other guys and six chicks went around the world to break in the new plane. You know, a pleasure trip. But in Africa, I saw these jumpy natives and realized that danger makes you aware. That’s how I am, too. Aware, observant. Nothing can sneak up from behind. That allows you to be outrageous.”

“You see, you come to a moment sometimes when you know you shouldn’t do something but you take the chance and do it anyway. The moment occurs in sports, it occurs in art. That’s the moment of creation, taking the chance. And sometimes it comes out fine, and sometimes you get murdered.”

I notice, however, that his paintings aren’t about the moment, they depict the population of a best-possible world.

“I like things to their best,” he says. “I like beautiful things, like chandeliers. But I think, for instance, you can say as much about war by painting the enthusiastic young soldiers marching off as you can by showing the dismembered bodies.”

I ask, “Where is the chance in that?”

LeRoy leans closer. “Have you ever heard of Mad Dog Vachon?” he says. “Andre the Giant? They’re wrestlers. Very big people, and very crude. A person I know called and asked if I would come to Ottawa, Canada, and sketch wrestling. They were doing a telecast, and wanted me at ringside to give it credibility.”

“So I flew to Montreal and we took a limousine—you’ve got to insist on a limo and the best room or else they’ll take advantage of you—and we drove about one hundred miles to the arena. I had a chick with me—a magnificent animal—and they put us right at ringside.

“The man who arranged for me to be there had told me that Mad Dog would point at me and call me names as part of the show. After the wrestlers were introduced, Mad Dog pretended to suddenly notice me sitting there, and he yelled, ‘I want that man removed. I want to see what he’s drawing.’

“I turned to the chick and said, ‘He’s really good.’ Then Mad Dog reached through the ropes and grabbed my leather drawing pad. I take it everywhere, and nobody is allowed to do that. I tried to pull it back. I said, ‘All right, that’s enough. These are my sketches,’ but Mad Dog pulled the pad and me with it right out of my seat, and then he crumpled up all my drawings.”

And you wonder why artists are so moody.

LeRoy says, “I yelled at him then that he had gone too far. He picked me up over his head and began whirling me around and around, the crowd went crazy, and then he finally threw me on the floor. That’s how wrestlers take criticism. I picked up my things and told the woman I was with that they had gone too far. We went back to the dressing room to complain, and after a while Mad Dog came in and said, ‘I didn’t do nothin’.’ Unbelievably crude.

“Then we went back to the limousine and two of the wrestlers followed us out and asked for a ride back to Montreal. One of them sat on the set with us, the other one sat on the jump seat. Huge, bruised men. We got about halfway to Montreal and one of them said, ‘We got to stop and eat.’

“I said I wanted to get back to Montreal. They said no, we had to stop. I refused. They seemed very civilized until we went by the truck stop and one them looked outside and said, ‘You remember the night we cleaned that place out?’…”

LeRoy sits quietly, in the middle of the memory. “I don’t associate with crude people,” he says after a while. “I came from a broken home and poverty, and I don’t want to be around that now. I am a working man’s artist, but I don’t know any working me. I champion their cause, but I don’t have any of them I talk to.”

“Why not?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “I don’t have to,” he says. “I’m an artist, and I can do what I want.”

[Mad Dog Vachon picture by Hieram Weintraub]

Old Man Bunny

Charles McGrath on how Hef got his groove back in the New York Times Magazine:

Hugh Hefner already has his final resting place picked out and paid for: a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe’s in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Not that he has plans to use it anytime soon. Hefner, who will turn 85 in April, lives these days what appears to be the life of an invalid, or even of a cosseted mental patient: wearing pajamas all day; rarely venturing out of the house; taking most of his meals in his bedroom — the menu seldom varying, the crackers and potato chips carefully prescreened to remove any broken ones. He is hard of hearing in his right ear and has an arthritic back that causes him to lumber a little when he walks. But he is in otherwise enviable shape for an octogenarian.

Fully recovered from a 1985 stroke, he appears to have all his marbles and an undiminished energy level. He still manages to have sex, popping Viagra as the occasion warrants. And thanks to the surprisingly successful reality show “The Girls Next Door,” he has a brand-new fan cohort: women, even many middle-aged ones, who no longer regard him as a degrading smut peddler — the publisher of a magazine that Gloria Steinem once said made a female reader feel like a Jew studying a Nazi manual — but as a benign and indulgent paterfamilias, a kind of fairy godfather turning worthy, wholesome-looking young women into platinum-haired, big-bosomed princesses whose every need is provided for.

Hefner — or Hef, as he is known to just about everyone — is famous for bestowing presents of plastic surgery on his many girlfriends and may well have gifted himself. His neck is taut and wattle-free. His skin, owing to infrequent sun exposure and generous bastings with baby oil, has a Madame Tussaud-like smoothness and suppleness. One former girlfriend has said that in the bedroom, with his clothes off, he practically glows in the dark.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver