Here at long last: the second half of Jeremy Arnold’s tour through The Playboy Mansion.
Me: Any permissive behavior or hints of bad behavior or feelings that something may be going on somewhere or orgies?
Jeremy: There’s nothing like that going on. It’s far more ordinary than you would expect. Just a bunch of friends gathering for food, conversation, laughter and movies.
Sounds awful. But you’re absolutely sure?
I am absolutely sure.
Yes. Even during the parties you pretty much never see anything like that. I’m telling you, the image of the mansion from the 70s is so strong in the public consciousness that everyone thinks it’s still like that. It isn’t.
Fine. Let’s go back to the food.
I mentioned the snacks during the movie. On Sundays there is also a full buffet dinner, with many delicious appetizers, entrees and desserts. There’s a bar and bartender every night, too. Every night after the movie there are little sandwiches, cookies and coffee. People stay and discuss the movie and just hang out for awhile before heading home. Sometimes we’ll go to the gamehouse and play pool or arcade video games.
Who else is there?
Old friends of Hef’s. Most have known him for decades. No huge celebrities, but some people are somewhat famous, and others are just ordinary people. Ray Anthony (big band trumpeter) is always there. Also Chuck McCann (actor/comedian). Occasionally Mort Sahl stops by. Bob Culp was a regular. Johnny Crawford (actor/musician) is part of the group. Then there are various people who are film historians, music historians, etcetera – just people Hef has befriended due to some common interest. Some have been connected to Playboy for many years. One used to be a photographer and social secretary at the mansion and now she and her husband are just part of the social group. On Sundays there tend to be many more young women because hey come up earlier for “fun in the sun” – an afternoon of hanging out by the pool. And they stick around for dinner and movie. Sundays are the busiest, with around fifty to sixty people. Fridays are usually around twenty or thirty people, and Saturdays are usually under twenty.
How would you describe Hef’s tastes? I mean, within classical Hollywood cinema?
Hef especially loves pre-code Hollywood films, as do the rest of us up there. The raciness of those pictures always feels nicely heightened when viewed in such a sexual place as the Playboy Mansion. This weekend Hef is running a 35mm print of Murder at the Vanities, one of his favorites. In fact, he funded the restoration of it several years ago.
I should add something important, which is… Hef is a romantic. He really is. He loves the old studio-era movies (and music) because they tend to be romantic, or at least come from a romantic time in American society. He has said that he attributes everything about his life to a love for these movies and music. And he wouldn’t be happy just watching them by himself – that’s why he opens his home to his friends. Much better to watch these films with an appreciative audience. He is one of the most generous and kindest, and smartest, people I know, with a good heart and a strong sense of justness, openness and decency.
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.