By Rocky Lang from his book Growing Up Hollywood
The first time I saw Hugh Hefner in person was when he emerged from the thick shrubbery in my family’s backyard zipping up his fly, followed closely by his smoking-hot Playmate girlfriend Barbi Benton. While the party was being held to raise money for the legal defense of former RAND Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who had recently shocked the country with his release to The New York Times of classified government Vietnam War documents nicknamed the “Pentagon Papers,” Hefner was apparently having his own party in the bushes.
My parents were progressive activists for the Democratic Party, supporting liberal causes and using their Hollywood clout for fundraising. This night in April 1973 was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. Barbra Streisand took singing requests for phoned-in donations out by our pool; Ted Kennedy showed up, too, and the movers and shakers of the entertainment community limo’d over in droves—if for no other reason than to be at the place to be seen. Fundraisers and funerals are great places to network, and this party was happening. Sammy, Dean, and Frank stopped by, and three of the former members of The Beatles dropped in for a little drink and dope (the ashes of which they casually deposited in a tremendously expensive Joan Miró sculpture on my mother’s coffee table).
In those days, the studios sent completed-but-unreleased movies to important Hollywood actors and executives to view in their home screening rooms. That night, Hefner asked my father if he could get him on the Universal Pictures list so he could screen films at the Playboy Mansion. Dad agreed to it, as he was trying to talk Hefner into hiring my brother Bob for a job within his Playboy business empire. A friendship was born of mutual needs.
The parties at the Playboy Mansion in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles were legendary. Tales of hot sex, cold drinks, and a mythology that preceded its image were ever present in the lore of Hollywood. It was a tough ticket, and only the beautiful people were invited. I had long heard of the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party, which was always thrown on the first Saturday in August and where people would show up in lingerie and pajamas. The fantasies of what would happen at this event were enough to blow up every zit on my face. Outside of knowing the rosters and stats of each player on the Dodgers, I was nearly as well-versed with the stats of the Playboy magazine centerfolds.
So I was stoked when, a little over a year later, my father handed me an invitation to the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party and told me I should take Bob. Dad said the party was so damn big that I could just use his name at the gate and no one would ever notice. I called Bob, who was nine years my senior; I was a sixteen-year-old with a fantasy of potential deflowerization and my brother was a wannabe player. The two of us suited up in our best pajamas and headed to Hef’s.
The Playboy Mansion was constructed in 1927 and has twenty-nine rooms in 21,987 square feet of pure awesomeness. Architecturally, it is sort of a Gothic Revival meets Tudor Revival—but really, it’s just bitchin’ cool.
Bob and I drove up to the house, pushed the buzzer, and gave our dad’s name. The gargantuan front gates swung open. Inside, a valet met us and took our car. We walked to the front door and rang the bell. The door started to open.
Hef bellowed my father’s name in greeting before he’d fully swung back the door. He saw us instead… and we saw there was no party. My brother and I just stood there—silent, in our pajamas—in the perplexed gaze of this powerful media mogul.
“Mr. Hefner,” I stammered, “we are soooo sorry. We thought this was the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party and my dad and mom couldn’t come.”Hef told us we were a month early for that party, but since we were there, we should come in for dinner. Ten minutes later, Bob and I were at the dining room table with singer Mel “Velvet Fog” Tormé, “Slasher Dasher” O.J. Simpson, and Hef himself—all with respective female companions. There were some big boobs and big hair in that room. The food was incredible and the conversation was gossipy. And then, dinner was over. Bob and I had made it through despite our fuzzy slippers.
“Hey, you guys want to see That’s Entertainment?” Hef asked. “I’m sure it’s a swell movie.” Before I could answer, he added. “If you just want to hang, take a swim, or do whatever, have at it.”
My brother and I looked at each other. We decided to take the “have at it” option.
While Hef, O.J., the Velvet Fog and their big-breasted babes went into the screening room, Bob and I headed outside to the backyard. The first thing we saw was the pool, which rivaled that of any resort. Grotto-like and covered in foliage, it had a swim-up bar and waterfalls. Party heaven— except no one was around. No naked women, no music, no happening, no nothing.
I said to my brother: “I’m thirsty, but I don’t want to go back inside and bother anyone. Let’s go home.”
Before Bob could answer, a man emerged from the shadows, surprising us, and said, “What would you like to drink?” It was a young guy with a waiter notepad. “Anything you want, I can get it,” he continued. After a paused he added: “I can get you a lobster if you want. Fresh in from Maryland.”
“No, no thank you,” I said. “Just a Coke, please.”
My brother chimed in, requesting some exotic drink—the kind that comes with an umbrella. The waiter informed us that if we wanted to swim, there were towels in the pool house. I said we didn’t bring swimsuits and he told us that at the Playboy Mansion, everybody swims naked.
“Ahh,” I uttered in understanding.
One never knows what lurks around corners, but I was about to find out. Leaving Bob to find a bathroom, I entered the pool house. I faced a hallway and a number of doors that led to rooms. I opened the first door and walked into a completely red velvet-covered room with a mirrored ceiling. There was a bed and a contraption that looked like a medieval torture stretcher. It had wrist restraints on the top and a chair that slid back and forth, like a coxswain would use. (Yes, coxswain, not cocksman. But they could each find a use for it.)
Okay, that was weird. I left the red room and opened the next door. Same thing, except this room was decorated in royal blue. It finally dawned on me: These are fuck rooms! Wow! The place was freaking awesome. If I could only get invited back and be able to use these rooms. Dream on.
At last I found the bathroom, unzipped myself… and started to hear banging on the wall. I stopped and listened. There were moans and yells and a few utterances that sounded sort of like Klingon. I thought, Someone is doing it behind this wall. Oh my God, I wish it was me.
On the way home, I recounted the story to my brother, who didn’t believe me. Bob and I did attend the Midsummer Night’s Dream Party later that summer and, yes, Hef never knew we were there.
Years later, the man who built a kingdom on sex and publishing hired my brother to work at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—where he had a lot of sex and a lot of penicillin.