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Hugh Hefner was the king of soft porn – and luxury living

I got to know Hugh Hefner quite well when I lived in LA in the nineties and was a fairly regular visitor to the Playboy Mansion. As the Times of London’s Hollywood Correspondent, I was a regular on the guest list for The Playmate of the Year awards and occasionally was asked over for one of his supper evenings in his private cinema – with drinks served by waitress-style bunnies. During one Playmate of the Year awards in 1992, I wrote a piece for The Spectator about covering the LA riots from his study as the city went up in flames.

Hefner’s life philosophy was that ‘Life is too short to live somebody’s else dream’. But reading through the early obits, people think that Hefner was just talking about his liberal attitudes to sex and turning the Bachelor Lifestyle into an art form… but he wasn’t. He was also referring to his philosophy about the ‘service lifestyle’ he pioneered at the Playboy Mansion.

My point is Hefner’s legacy is not only about being a progressive cultural pioneer who made soft pornography acceptable for the middle classes. But rather his ‘Room Service’ lifestyle at the Playboy Mansion – swimming pool, team of butlers, personal chef, cinema, jacuzzi etc – was twenty-five years ahead of the modern developer obsession, with what developers like Candy & Candy call the ’24-hour service lifestyle’, or what Finchatton call a ‘ world-class serviced residence’.


When I first visited the Playboy Mansion back in the early 1990s, there were exactly the sort of close-circuit TV cameras on the gates, and banks of more security cameras inside – along with satellite dishes – that you would expect to find today at an oligarch’s house in Cap d’Antibes. And well before Trump had his first jet, Hefner had converted an entire commercial airplane into a private plane.

When it came to being a Master of the High Net Worth Universe, Hefner was years ahead of the likes of today’s HNW individuals – in a quaint age when just having multimillions made you super rich. Our houses – and mansions for that matter – reveal who we are; and Hefner’s mansion was an extension of himself. He saw that the very rich people wanted to live along similar principles as wealthy Romans or Medicis – waited on hand and foot and allowed to create their own mini-universe where the house resembled a Private Embassy.

When Tom Wolfe interviewed Hefner back in the 1960s at the Playboy Mansion, Hefner boasted to Wolfe that the mansion was operated like a five-star hotel. Back then, that was a radical thing to say. Now it is commonplace. Hefner’s legacy today is as much how he re-invented the idea of the uber-wealthy modern ‘HNW lifestyle’ as much as how he re-invented the idea of acceptable adult magazines. Concierge apartment buildings owe much to the service legacy of the Playboy Mansion. These flats are targeted at those wanting a hotel existence – room-service, spa, 25 metre pool, round-the-clock concierge team of Four Seasons staff, butler service, laundry, babysitting and even dog walking services.

So Hefner was well ahead of his times. Architectural historians will one day date this trend back to the 1960s and the Playboy Mansion where such service facilities were installed. Although I think it’s fair to say that the bunny exercising that Hefner had was rather different from the pet walking services offered by these fancy new apartments.

William Cash is the founder of Spear’s magazine

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