Airbrushed? Like hell.
Anyone who doubts the authenticity of the architectural marvels in Hugh Hefner's life has never visited the Playboy Mansion and met a centerfold.
Rough assignment, I'll admit. But journalism is a calling. I was called. They didn't have to call twice.
If you are among those who believe the whole Playboy empire is hopelessly politically incorrect, you are welcome to stop right here. But try to view this as a tour of historical import. The Playboy Mansion is, after all, the sexual equivalent of Dearborn and automobiles. Or Cooperstown and baseball. Or Broadway and the American theater.
Except this place is closed to the public.
The Playboy Mansion West, home to Hefner and his bunnies since 1971, sits hard by Beverly Hills in an even more upscale enclave known as Holmby Hills.
You hang a left off Sunset Boulevard and go past a couple of fenced-in palaces to a driveway with a big iron gate. Once the guard lets you through, you turn right, head up a steep hill, past some `Children at Play' signs, and park near the black Mercedes limousine with the license plates `HMH 1.'
OK, I can already hear you asking: `Bob, how the heck did you get inside the Playboy Mansion?' Well, I was just passing through town, gave Hef a buzz, and he said, `Hey, old buddy, I'll send a driver right over.'
Yeah, that was it.
Actually, I was in L.A. with a bunch of television writers. Playboy invited the group to a news conference to talk about Hefner's cable TV operation, the Playboy Channel. Several dozen writers -- of both genders -- took advantage of a rare opportunity to visit the Mecca of male hedonism.
That's the boring part. Here's the good part: While everyone else was dining inside a patio tent, your intrepid reporter went exploring. That's how he met Miss March.
She hasn't come out yet. I mean that in the publishing sense. She should hit the newsstands in mid-February. But more on her in a minute.
The first thing you encounter when you head into catacombs leading into what is known as the Beach House is a bank of safe-deposit-box-style lockers. You store your stuff and take a key attached to a big cord you can wear around your neck. Then, presumably, you are free to romp naked without worrying about losing your valuables.
Off that first hallway you find a series of really cool bathrooms with open showers and oak lockers. The bathrooms look like little caves, with stone walls and flagstone floors.
Lot of room for exercise
At the end of the hall, you see an opening in the floor that reveals a tightly wrapped spiral staircase. Take it and you wind up in an incredibly plush workout area, complete with treadmills, Stairmasters, weight machines, a ballet floor, walls of mirrors and the kind of ridiculously expensive audio and video equipment featured for the past four decades in the magazine.
That would be the magazine men buy for the articles on audio and video equipment. Yeah, that's it.
Off the main workout area is a room with tanning beds. Through another door is a big, tiled steam room. But perhaps the most amazing thing you see in the whole workout area is a sheet of paper containing a list of the mansion's telephone extensions.
To get the tennis courts, for example, you dial 246. The main swimming pool has three phone numbers. Not only do all six bedrooms in the Main House have phones, two of the closets do. You also can call the `Film Vault,' `Animal Department Back Cages,' `Gardening Department' and `Scrapbook Research.' In all, your fingers can walk through 94 phone numbers and never leave the property.
I know there are 94 because I counted them. I was just finishing up when Miss March walked in.
Den mother of the month
Kimberly Donley of Scottsdale, Ariz., saunters into the gym, plops down on one of the brown leather couches and starts thumbing through the newly released February issue of the magazine, apparently checking out her competition.
She is not only predictably pretty but pleasant and very cooperative. In a journalistic sense.
Miss March is wearing a blue work shirt, white corduroy jeans, light brown leather boots and long, long, long blond hair. She also is, um, appropriately pneumatic.
She admits to being 27 -- a bit long in the tooth for a new Playmate -- but looks much younger. `I'm the Den Mother of the Month,' she jokes.
These days, bunnies of any age are scarce at the mansion. The 1989 news reports seem to have been accurate, those reports that had Hef's new wife, former Playmate Kimberly Conrad, cleaning out the hutch.
`The girls don't hang out like it's one big party anymore,' says Miss March.
Asked whether Mrs. Hefner is responsible, she says she doesn't know, but that, if so, `I don't blame her.'
Miss March volunteers that Hefner's second wife is `a really great person' and `a really dedicated mother' to their two children, ages 1 and 2 1/2.
Mom is 30. Pop is 66.
Miss March is staying at the mansion because she has a video shoot the following day. Miss April is living here, too, gearing up for some work of her own.
The former has been around for a while because the photographer was trying to fatten her up. Seriously. He wanted her to gain 10 pounds. That assignment was not terribly difficult, given the mansion's 24-hour-a-day chef (in addition to full-time butlers, electricians, drivers, gardeners, et al.).
The fattening-up process now complete, Miss March will arise at the decidedly unerotic hour of 5 a.m. to start shooting the 20-minute video that is part of the standard centerfold contract.
Shooting the magazine photos took three weeks, including a full week just for the one centerfold shot. She posed at a number of locations around town, including the Los Angeles Fencing Academy, `because I fence.' Very lifelike. Miss March got into the bunny business after a friend gave her name to a Playboy photographer. The reaction of family and friends? `My mother's thrilled,' she says without a trace of sarcasm.
She says she has run into actors James Caan and Scott Baio at the mansion. And Atlanta Braves star Dave Justice had stopped by earlier the same day.
Finiding other delights
Then Miss March is off to get her beauty sleep. And your trusty reporter is back on the prowl.
As he leaves the Beach House, he encounters a plainclothes security guard with a walkie-talkie, and wonders whether Hef subscribes to the Frank Sinatra School of Media Relations. But the guard actually encourages the visitor to wander.
`Sure,' he says. `Just don't go in the front door of the Main House over there, because Mr. Hefner and the family are relaxing. But you can check out the Game House over there. Or the Aviary over there. `
The Main House is styled after a 14th-century Gothic-Tudor castle. Its Great Hall is said to contain originals by Matisse and Dali.
I pass the house and head into a huge English garden with stone walkways and statues. In one corner, largely hidden by landscaping, three huge satellite uplinks stand ready to beam Playboy entertainment into the cosmos. In the distance, downtown Los Angeles twinkles through the misty night.
Over at the deserted Game House, 15 pinball and video games ring a pool table. A piano and scads of electronic toys beckon as well. Off the main room, in a small bedroom, is a circular bed. Unoccupied.
The Aviary is incredible, resembling a scaled-down version of the Cleveland Zoo's new RainForest exhibit. In addition to ferns, ferns, ferns, there are monkeys, exotic fish and huge, talking birds, including a macaw. Yes, I talked to them. Nobody else was around.
Hef's six-acre spread also contains a two-bedroom Guest House, a Grotto with a long and winding swimming pool, a more traditional outdoor pool and what Playboy contends is the largest grove of redwood trees in Southern California.
Built in 1927 by the founder of the Broadway Department Stores, the estate is, by almost any standard, an incredible playground.
Ever see the famous sidewalk stars on Hollywood Boulevard? What a letdown. Ever visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Major disappointment. Niagara Falls? Tacky. But the Playboy Mansion exceeds all expectations. It's even cooler than you can imagine.
Still, something is not quite right on this rainy Wednesday night in January.
With its silent game room, its almost-deserted exercise room and its animals-only aviary, the Playboy Mansion seems a little bit too much like a museum, like some aging monument to pleasures past.
At one point, feeling guilty about missing the formal presentation, I return to the tent. But the talking heads at the podium could just as easily be from ABC, CBS or CNN. Or, for that matter, from Procter & Gamble. They discuss marketing strategies, demographics, revenues vs. costs.
So I sneak out again. Soon I discover a large sauna with big wooden benches. Although I have never been inside it before, I recognize it from magazine pictures. Pictures with hot, steamy, glistening Playmates. But on this January evening, the heat is turned off. The sauna is vacant. The only thing inside is ... a little ... toy ... stroller.
Talk about a cold shower!
Man, is this the `90s or what?
In retrospect, maybe it was just an off day at the mansion. Maybe things pick up when the weather improves. Or the weekend rolls around.
Maybe we just need a little more research. Yeah, that's it. More research. Hey, Boss.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com