The recent passing of Hugh Hefner was certainly the close of an era, no matter what opinion people may hold about Hefner, his magazine or his lifestyle. As a gay man I can truthfully say that my few encounters with reading Playboy were only for the stories and some esteemed writers did write some very compelling pieces for the magazine throughout its history.
I did, however, see a different side of Mr. Hefner purely by chance and those encounters always colored my opinion in a slightly favorable way whenever I would read something about him in the press. Surprisingly it was Doris Day who played a part in altering my perceptions.
In late 1973 I was flying home from a California visit with Doris when I found myself upgraded into First Class. I was seated on the aisle next to a stunningly attired young woman who had the window seat for the flight.
It was no uncommon in “those days” to strike up a conversation with the person you were seated next to and we began to chat as the jet made its way eastward through the dark December sky. Her name was Christine.
We talked about our careers and she mentioned in a very matter of fact way that she had recently been the Centerfold for an issue of Playboy. I congratulated her which I assumed was the proper response and then told her about my new position with the NH Motor Vehicle Department and the purpose of my trip to Los Angeles.
Christine responded that she loved Doris Day and that “Mr. Hefner should put her in his magazine because she’s a perfect combination of wholesome and sexy….”
We both laughed at that notion although Doris had stunningly shown, earlier that year in an episode of her CBS television series, that at 51 she could wear a bikini with the same impact as a woman half her age.
I noticed that Christine always, while talking, referred to Hugh Hefner as “Mr. Hefner” and was even more surprised when she shared that Mr. Hefner was a fan of the late Jeanette MacDonald.
“He has some of her records and a lot of her films which he screens, especially the earlier sophisticated pictures.”
When we arrived in the east, Christine gave me a hug and said I’d been a “refreshing and adorable traveling companion” and I had made some adjustments in my opinion of “Mr. Hefner”.
It was almost two years later that I finally met Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion.
On September 13, 1975, Actors and Others for Animals held a benefit at Hefner’s home entitled “Wine Country Safari”. I had spent three days in the car driving the nearly 3,000 miles from my home in Concord, New Hampshire, to attend the event.
Actors and Others remains to this day an incredible important organization that does tremendous work on behalf of animals. Prior to forming her own Animal Foundation in the late 70’s, Doris Day was one of the founders of Actors and Others and was an active participant in all of their efforts. She had invited me to attend this fundraising event.
Hugh Hefner graciously donated his beautiful estate for this event and I was surprised to find out what an animal lover Hefner was.
We were given carte blanche to wander throughout the grounds and to visit the first floor of the mansion. I knew a lot of friends who’d have given anything to be visiting the Playboy Mansion.
Doris Day arrived and we had a wonderful reunion and she introduced me to Earl Holliman and several other friends telling them, “Paul drove all the way from New Hampshire to be here because it means so much to him……”
I was not prepared for how charming and genuine Hugh Hefner was when we shook hands and Doris told him how far I’d journeyed. We chatted about the trip and why’d I felt it necessary to come that distance, for at least 5 minutes. He seemed genuinely interested as well as hearing why Actors and Others for Animals was worth supporting.
Hugh Hefner, 49 at the time, turned into a little boy as he shook hands with Doris Day. He was genuinely “star struck”. At one point I snapped a picture of Hugh, an exotic bird perched on his shoulder, watching Doris as she radiated the good cheer and positive energy she continues to convey, effortlessly, today at 95. There was nothing lascivious in his look or manner, just genuine admiration with a touch of awe.
He circulated among all those in attendance, thanking them for attending the event and graciously appreciating their belief in the value of Actors and Others.
In the 40 plus years since that memorable event, whenever I’d see Hefner on television or read something about him, I’d recall the day he fell under Doris Day’s spell. It says more about who he really was than just about anything else.