He was THE playboy, obviously. He was someone who opened doors for women being able to express their sexuality. He was someone tons of women looked up to (and tons of men) and he was a legend.
But, who was he behind closed doors?
Hugh Hefner wasn't always someone surrounded by an assortment of blonde women. His first marriage was to Mildred. Before they got married, however, she confessed that she had cheated on him while he was in the army, and it devastated him. They went through with the marriage anyway despite the resentment and feelings of betrayal, and went on to have 10 years and 2 kids together, and she let him sleep with various women throughout their 10 year marriage out of guilt, and the hopes that it would be the glue that held it together. They divorced, finally, in 1959.
I feel like the devastation he felt from her having had cheated on him was something that he always held against her, even if he never said it out loud, and it changed the way that he respected women and acted towards women. Sure, professionally and publicly, there was respect. He was a businessman and he took what he did seriously, but behind closed doors, he was different.
Reading Holly Madison's book, ("Down The Rabbit Hole" is a very interesting read, definitely recommend) you get a lot of information about what he's like behind closed doors. About how strange it is, as well as emotionally and mentally damaging it is to live not only with him, but in the mansion in general.
"As Madison learned her first night out with Hefner and the girlfriends, sex was a requirement of living there. Wednesdays and Fridays were "Club Nights," and Hefner and his ladies would go out in Hollywood, getting VIP treatment at various clubs. (Hefner's fame as a septuagenarian sexpot novelty was then at its peak.) Hefner offered Madison a Quaalude, telling her, she writes in Down the Rabbit Hole, that "in the '70s they used to call these pills 'thigh openers.'" She turned him down, but did get drunk, and by the time they all went back to the mansion, she was told that it was time to go to Hefner's bedroom.Sex was a twice a week ritual for him and the women he had around (a rotating cast of girlfriends) and it was all kind of ridiculous.
Tina Jordan, at the time his No. 1 girlfriend — a spot Madison herself would later occupy — brought her into the room, which was, she writes, "like an episode of Hoarders." With hardcore porn playing on two TV screens, Hefner masturbated as the women play-acted lesbian scenes. No one was into it. A girlfriend whose name Madison changed to Vicky in the book pushed her toward Hefner while urging him to "be with the new girl." Madison writes, "It was so brief that I can't even recall what it felt like beyond having a heavy body on top of mine.""
"They knew it was kind of a quote-unquote requirement for living there, and expected," Madison said. "And it had kind of a chore vibe, I felt. The girls would stand there and they'd kind of like put on a show to create a silhouette that something was going on. Hef couldn't hear very well out of one ear, and I could hear them all talking and making fun of what was going on and gossiping."The clubs, the parties, even the sex was ritualized. It was like just another scheduled appointment.
He, at least with Holly, made his girlfriends feel bad about themselves so he could manipulate them and control them. He liked to be in control, maybe to kind of feel like he could prevent anyone else he was with from doing to him what Mildred did: betraying him.
He wanted them to believe that he was it for them, so they better act how he wants, dress how he wants, and do what he wants, or they'd be screwed. He treated Holly like she was stupid, wouldn't let her wear red lipstick and even told her that a short haircut she had once made her look cheap and old.
He liked to keep his women behind his mansion gates, so he could know where they were and what they were doing. Even if they did go out, they had a 9 o'clock curfew like 16 year olds. Holly worked at a Hooters, and she liked it. It wasn't the best thing in the world, but it kept her from being stuck inside all day and it gave her a social life and an income, and eventually Hugh forced her to quit that job.
She became trapped. She fell into a terrible depression and had, a few times, considered suicide as being the only way out.
In the public eye, he was this great, respectful guy (a legend) that women loved (and would have loved to be with) but behind closed doors he was bitter and insecure. He manipulated his girlfriends and made them feel insecure so he could have control over them. He liked to have drama around so that when the girls fought, he could feel like they were fighting over him. He liked to feel important.
He threw tantrums when things didn't go his way, or got all pissy when his girls didn't act how he wanted.
Eventually, Holly had enough and when Kendra and Bridgett left, and she was about to be alone with Hef, she decided maybe it was time for her to start moving on also.
"During the end, I definitely recognized that he was verbally abusive, and that was what made me snap," Madison said. "There were so many things in the relationship I wasn't fully comfortable with, but I was able to justify them in my mind because there were other advantages to being there. And when Bridget and Kendra were getting ready to leave, and it seemed like I was finally going to be the only one, he went off on me three times in one weekend — two of those anecdotes I detail in the book. I was like, holy crap, I just can't be here anymore if this dude's just going to be a jerk."When Holly did leave, he pretty much held a grudge against her for it and turned his back on her.
He was a popular guy and he had many friends and a great life, but again, he was an insecure person who had been hurt and he let that pain redefine relationships for him and he became a damaging individual towards the women of his life when the cameras were off and nobody was looking.
"Hef loves to surround himself with 'yes' people. And he does have a lot of friends that he's good to. There's such a culture up there of everybody always talking about him being the nicest guy. You know, that was the veneer and the personality that I fell for for so long. So you are kind of afraid to speak out in a way because you're made to feel like you're crazy."He was someone who had a great public reputation and friends who believed he wouldn't hurt a fly, but behind closed doors he would lash out and throw tantrums and stomp his feet and scream and yell and cry and put people down until his face was red and his fists were clenched, but because of that public reputation... who'd believe you if you were to come out about it?
Plain and simple: he was abusive. He was an asshole.
His relationships weren't healthy and I would actually be super interested to hear about his relationships from the perspective of other women he was with outside of Holly, but as far as Holly is concerned, I feel that her book is really telling and eye-opening, and though nobody but Holly can really know how much of that might be true (I, personally, believe it's all true, TBH), you can't just sit there and dismiss it like it's all fictional bullshit; that's what Hugh would have WANTED you to do. That's what any abusive individual would want you to do.
Hugh Hefner passed away, and though his career and life in Playboy might have been "a legend" that changed tons of lives, he as an individual might not really have been that great a guy.
I know, I know, respect for the dead and whatnot, but his death doesn't erase what he's done and who he was as a person, and respect is EARNED, not given, especially not just because someone died.