When I found out that my friend, film historian Jeremy Arnold, was a regular at The Playboy Mansion’s storied movie nights, I very calmly flipped out. (What follows is the first part of a two-part blog.)
Me: How did this happen?
Jeremy: I became friends with Hef eight years ago when I interviewed him for Premiere Magazine. We hit it off. He saw me as a fellow romantic about the old movies and old music, and he ended up liking my article, and invited me into his circle of friends. I’ve been going up there for movie nights almost every weekend since.
Me: What films have you seen? What were Hef’s reactions?
Jeremy: Fridays and Saturdays are classics; Sundays are new movies. Hef programs everything personally. Fridays are the more festive classic nights because Hef reads a five or ten minute introduction comprised mostly of comments about film history. One of his friends prepares research notes for him, and Hef goes through those notes and combines them with his own thoughts or knowledge to come up with the final version, which he handwrites on legal paper. Saturdays we just watch the movie sans intro. (Sometimes on Saturday we’ll watch a boxing match afterwards, if there’s a good one scheduled that evening.) Some recent weekends, Hef showed Sullivan’s Travels and High Sierra, The Third Man and Cry Danger, House of Rothschild and Rasputin and the Empress. Two weeks ago he ran Chaplin on Friday and Modern Times on Saturday. Last weekend was his birthday, and we had an annual showing of Casablanca, his favorite movie, followed by caviar and champagne in “Rick’s Café” across the hall. (The dining room was decorated for the event.) For that one we all wore white dinner jackets, and the ladies wore vintage dresses. Generally movies will show up on the schedule again after 4 or 5 years. There are often “new” old movies that pop up, but many of the most famous classics – especially the vintage Warner Bros films, and Astaire-Rogers films – pop up pretty regularly.
Me: What does the place look like?
Jeremy: It’s a giant living room that has a movie screen that rolls down from the ceiling at one end. Hef and his girls sit on the closest leather couch. There’s another leather couch behind it, then a row of armchairs, then a few rows of padded folding chairs, plus various other chairs around the side of the room. In front of Hef’s couch are dozens of cushions which are usually occupied by playmates or other girls that are testing for Playboy and staying at the mansion for the weekend, etc. Some of them don’t make it all the way through the classic titles, but others do. On a side table are little wooden bowls of popcorn for people to take, and in the back are some bowls of M&Ms, chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts, etc., for people to partake of during the screening. Most of the classic are shown on DVD or Blu-Ray with a state of the art DVD projector. The image is excellent. All Sunday movies, and the occasional classic movie, are shown on 35mm. There’s a dual-projector booth in the back and a union projectionist when needed.
Jeremy Arnold will be introducing a screening of Ladies of Leisure at Cinefamily (aka the Silent Movie Theater), next Friday 4/23 at 8pm. He writes for tcm.com and is working on a book about underrated classic movies.
(Movies at the Mansion: Part II will contain the implication of nudity.)