Yesterday was the 89th birthday of someone who was one of the most important influences in my life. Playboy founder Hugh Marston Hefner turned 89 years old on April 9. We all know about the magazine he created, but I want to tell you about the impact he had on my life and so many others, in another way.
Hef was a game changer. For anyone who's ever had a chance to meet him or get to know him, they will know that he is a living icon--a man who saw no color barriers before any other, one who gave a voice to some of the greatest writers of our time as well as artists, and yes, LIBERATED women like me to choose what they wanted to do with their life regardless of the thoughts of narrow minded people.
I first met him when I moved into the Playboy Mansion on State Street in the early '70's. I remember my first impression of him was that he's such a gentleman. He was polite, funny and smart and surrounded himself with like minded people. There was always a lot of diversity at Hef's parties and he was an early advocate of the civil rights movement. He fought for equality before it was fashionable and I always admired him for that.
In 1974, I was invited to transfer from my job as a Bunny at the St. Louis Playboy to Chicago, Playboy's hub, after I appeared in a "Best Bunnies" photo pictorial. I couldn't drive up 55 fast enough in my little green MGB! I remember how quaint life was at the Mansion. Hef has always been a traditionalist, a surprise with his forward thinking attitude, but true. For his 49th birthday celebration on April 9, 1975, a note was slipped under each Bunny's door saying simply, "It's Mr. Hefner's birthday, and he is asking you to join him tonight at 9:30 PM for cake and ice cream in the Ballroom. Have fun." How cute is that?
My husband and I are still invited to the parties at Hef's Holmby Hills Mansion (Playboy Mansion West). On the many occasions we've been, Hef has always been a gracious host. Actually, all the Playmates are welcome at the Mansion. Hef always says "once a Playmate, always a Playmate," and won't allow anyone to be called a "former Playmate."
Hef has always given back, too. Since the '90's, he has devoted a lot of his time to philanthropy and civic projects. He directed the Playboy Foundation to institute the Freedom of Expression Award, given annually at the Sundance Film Festival. He personally endowed the "Censorship in Cinema" course with a $2 million donation at the University of Southern California where he is a guest lecturer. He has also been a major contributor to the efforts of the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore classic films, a passion of his. He sponsored the American Cinema series on PBS and contributed to save the iconic Hollywood sign from extinction.
I'm forever thankful for Hef and Playboy. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Thank you and happy birthday Hef from a grateful Playmate! Long may you reign!
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Tags: Bruce Jenner, Candy Loving, Christie Hefner, Cooper Hefner, Crystal Harris, Crystal Hefner, Debra Jensen, Debra Jo Fondren, Hef's birthday, Hefner's birthday, Holly Madison, Hope Olson, Hugh Hefner, Janis Schmitt, Leroy Neiman, Lisa Sohm, Marcy Hanson, Marston Hefner, Patti Connors, Patti McGuire, Playboy, Playboy Bunny, Playboy Playmates, Sylvie Garant, Terri Welles, Victor Lownes, Victoria Cooke