Let’s Play Boy ***

The “boy” in the title, is, of course, Hugh Hefner, who created Playboy Magazine. Just a few weeks after this documentary about his mesmerising life appeared on DVD, Hefner, then 86 years old, married his third wife Crystal Harris, 60 years his junior. Obviously, Hefner is still very much in the news, which makes this film all the more pertinent.

In 1953 Hugh Hefner was penniless, but eager to establish a new magazine. His mother invested $1000, not because of the project but because she had faith in her “boy.” Playboy Magazine appeared as a men’s magazine with a naked woman featured each month in the centerfold. Nude photography in itself was not new; however, it was a surprise that such a magazine could go mainstream, even become genteelly respectable. Hefner originally wanted to name it Stag Party, but that title had already been taken. As a symbol, he debated between deer or rabbits and then chose rabbits, which became, of course, bunnies. At the beginning there were scornful comments from critics about “perversion for profit.” But it soon caught on, even paving the way for similar publications, such as Penthouse. Hefner said, “I didn’t put a date on the first issue of Playboy Magazine because I didn’t know if there would be a second issue.” Naturally, that first issue is a valuable antique.

From a single magazine, Hefner expanded his ideas to create Playboy night clubs all over the U.S. Girls, called “bunnies,” each one beautiful in bunny ears and not much else, served drinks. He opened stores which sold playboy-related merchandise; the largest store was on London’s Oxford Street. The concept expanded into a huge business: Playboy Enterprises, and went worldwide, as far as Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. Sometimes the idea was tweaked to conform to the mores of the area. For example in Indonesia models are decently clothed. In Japan the cover girl may not be nude. The boldest photographs are in the Brazilian issue; in France they are more artistic. The huge wave of clubs and casinos rose into the ‘60s and ‘70s, and then in the 1980s, as the country turned conservative under President Reagan, popularity began to ebb, so that today there are only a few Playboy Clubs in the world.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Hefner has not strayed far from home. Here he built a huge mansion where many bunnies have lived at his expensive and sometimes to his enjoyment. He was married twice before his commitment to Crystal, and from these marriages he has three sons and a daughter. Daughter Christie appears to have the same talent at managing business, and did indeed take over Playboy Enterprises in 1988.

Directors Andrè Schäfer and Ingmar Trost interview Heftner, as well as Wayne McDonald (faithful groupie/collector who seems to own every Playboy memorabilia ever produced), and former bunnies (who trained six weeks for the job), and a popular Bulgarian singer named Kamelia. Kathryn Leigh Scott, a former bunny, discusses her book The Bunny Years. Today the Playboy Logo is no less famous than the Apple Logo. This film is a comprehensive portrait of a defining personality in the 20th century and quite worth your time. (Becky Tan)

Released on December 7, 2012 on DVD