Details, Apr 2007
The 81-year-old master hedonist on juggling three girlfriends and why watching movies is better than sex.
Photograph by Lionel Deluy
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I hear they’re planning a movie of your life.
Yes, Brett Ratner’s directing, Brian Grazier is producing. They’ve talked about Hugh Jackman to play me, but I don’t know if that’s definite.
Was it the movies that inspired you as a young man?
Absolutely, but not only movies. F Scott Fitzgerald was a great inspiration. Because I grew up in the 30s, during the Depression, and I looked back at the Jazz Age, the Roaring 20s as the party that I had missed. And the way Fitzgerald lived and chronicled that time, he was so much part of it – I absolutely identified with that as a kid.
For many of us who grew up in the 80s, the 70s was the party we missed.
That comparison is reflected in my life. Because the so-called sexual revolution came to a rather abrupt halt in the 1980s – you had the anti-sexual part of the feminist movement, political correctness, Ronald Reagan and the Christian Right. And in 1985 I had a stroke, and it was because of that stroke that I got married, against all odds, for a 2nd time. That relationship lasted 10 years, we had 2 children. When it ended – and the failure was not mine, I worked very hard at it – I came rather emotionally beat up and bruised and picked up where I had left off. That was when I met a young actress named Brandy Roderick, and about 3 weeks later a pair of twins, Sandy and Mandy Bentley.
Was that the first time you had 3 girlfriends at once?
Actually four if you count Sandy’s room-mate Jessica. It was an overreaction to the difficult times I had had in the marriage.
Your lifestyle is almost mythical, it’s arguably your greatest achievement. Tell me about the bad days – do you ever wake up thinking “oh christ, here we go again, yet more bunnies, does it ever end…”
No, never! But of course I have bad days, everybody does. There are disappointments, both personal and in business. But I see my life like a movie – you need the tough times to have a good drama. And my tough times are in the context of knowing how very lucky I am. I’ve looked over the fence. There’s no grass that’s greener than over here. Within the context of my own dreams, I’m the luckiest cat on the planet and I know it.
The pajamas – was that a schtick that stuck?
Sure you could say that. I was working a lot at night at the mansion in Chicago and there really wasn’t a lot of point to get dressed. Then we got to a point where it was expected of me. People were disappointed if I wore a suit.
How many pairs are we talking about?
I have about 200 pairs in 20 different colors. Silk pajamas and velvet or satin smoking jackets. All custom made.
The Girls Next Door – do you love them all equally or just pretend to?
No, I love Holly the most. It wasn’t planned that way. Five or six years ago she was simply one of 7 girlfriends. I downsized to 3 about 4 years ago and then of course the TV show started. In the process of all of that, I fell deeply in love with Holly. I feel that she’s the relationship that will last the rest of my life.
How many times have you said that before?
Never! Well, I was married twice, so I probably thought that those marriages were going to last the rest of my life. But I’ve never said that this was, in effect, a soul-mate. Somebody who has such common interests. It just doesn’t get better than this.
But you’re nearly 4 times her age. What common interests?
You would think the age disparity would make a big difference. It doesn’t. She’s in love with old movies, she’s in love with music from the earlier period. Oh yes, absolutely. And she’s blonde, like all of the girlfriends I’ve had since my marriage – probably 25 of them, all told-. I think that comes directly out of fantasies fuelled by the movies I grew up on, that came out of the 1930s – with Jean Harlow, Busby Berkeley and his showgirls. Since my marriage, I’ve reconnected with the dreams and fantasies of my childhood. Without question, I’m living out an adolescent boy’s fantasy. And doing it very very well!
What about when Bridget and Kendra get jealous?
They don’t. Certainly when there were seven girlfriends there was jealousy and competition. That’s one of the main reasons why I downsized. But whether it’s three or seven, it’s easier than one wife. They’re not going to give you a hard time because you always have an alternative.
Have you always had a primary girlfriend among all the others?
So despite all your girlfriends, you’re monogamous deep down.
Well, I don’t know if monogamy is really the word because I’ve certainly been very capable of loving more than one person at the same time. I mean, they’re all my girlfriends – I sleep with them, you know.
How important is sex in your 80s?
Oh very important! I still have sex several times a week. But I’ve also settled down in many ways. When we get invitations to this club or this party, I pick and choose. It isn’t a party every night. The best times of all for me are the quiet times at home.
Do you ever think – not more sex, can’t I just have a cup of tea and watch a movie?
I’m not sure about the cup of tea, but without question, relaxing in bed and watching a movie is one of my favorite things to do. When you talk about sex it’s the cuddling, it’s the intimacy that matters.
We seem to live in a schizophrenic time – an explosion of pornography and yet a very conservative culture.
But that’s reflective of what this country is all about. Remember America was founded by Puritans who left England to escape religious persecution, and promptly turned around and started persecuting people who didn’t agree with them. That’s who we are. My parents were Puritan. And the creation of Playboy and my life are a response to that repression.
Would you describe yourself as a liberal?
Absolutely. I was a Democrat, even as a kid, because Roosevelt represented what I believed in.
Who do you fancy, out of the current crop of candidates?
Either Obama or er, Hilton…
Yes, she’d make a great first lady! No, I mean Hilary. I’ve given to both those campaigns equally. The important thing is to get a Democrat in. The problem is – and we see this with Bush – we live in a technologically remarkably sophisticated world but we deal with it like superstitious savages.
There’s this abiding belief that the afterlife is somehow better than the life we have now.
Not better than my life! Jay Leno once said, “if there is a heaven, where’s Hefner going to go?”