The Playboy Mansion: A Nerd in Hugh Hefner’s Court
by Brian Walton on January 24, 2013
Being a writer in the nerd sphere of things has its advantages. Last month, a group of my colleagues got to ride in a tank with Arnold Schwarzenegger as he promoted The Last Stand, I’ve seen The Wizarding World of Harry Potter cleared out for a giant party, and watched Warwick Davis conduct a choir of frogs. Most recently, though, I was invited to screen the revenge/heist film Parker at a very special location, The Playboy Mansion.
Getting to see the Playboy Mansion was never on my to do list. Thousands of men and women dream of one day setting foot in the Mansion’s hallowed halls. The most I’d ever really wanted to see of it was fulfilled in watching Miss March, The House Bunny, and a Weezer video. But, living in L.A., the idea of one day being invited to an event or party at the mansion is always in the back of your brain. What does go on there? Is there really a zoo? What pinball machines are in the game room? These questions needed answers. So, when an invite to see the new Jason Statham flick at the mansion came in, I knew I needed to do the responsible thing and go to the Playboy Mansion and ask the hard questions, like, “Where’s the bathroom?”
The mansion was built in 1927 by architect Arthur Letts Jr. for a department store magnate’s son. Purchased by Playboy in 1971, the home became famous once Hugh moved in and began throwing the same lavish yet elegant parties that made his Playboy Clubs successful. The home was purchased for $1.1 million and is currently valued at over $54 million, not counting the identical home next door and second home across the street that Hef keeps for playmates to stay in. Built in a “Gothic-Tudor” style, the house is imposing yet inviting to walk up to. I found myself getting those same contradictory feelings through most of my night at the mansion.
As I entered the home, the entry hall was decorated with winning entries from an art design contest for Parker called “The Art of the Heist“. The pieces from Mark Dean Vaca, Dabs Myla, and Six Point Harness stood out against the rich wooden walls filled with character. The luminaries and taste makers that had entered these halls for a night of decadence began running through my mind. Before I could get very far through names like Jack Nicholson, James Caan, and Warren Beatty I saw Parker trucker caps and remembered that Pauly Shore was a staple of the parties thrown here too.
The Mansion was pretty open to us. There were a few security guards making sure we didn’t make our way into the private area of the home. Making my way outside and looking east, I saw the infamous Grotto. Strutting around the cavernous pool’s synthetic grass (think Astroturf) lawns were two elegant birds (African Cranes to the best of my knowledge) that have clearly become comfortable with strangers. At the rear of the lawn is the mansion’s aviary and zoo, home to a wide array of parrots and the tiniest monkeys I’ve ever seen huddled under a heat lamp. Sadly there was no pig for the squirrel monkeys to ride, but they were still completely adorable.
Before heading in to the screening room some Playmates rejoined the party after giving a few of the writers tours of the grounds and game room. Nikki Leigh, Raquel Pomplun, and Alana Camposs kept the room’s attention as dozens of entertainment writers waited patiently for a photo and a chance to chat up the stunning ladies. I’m not immune, and couldn’t help but be a little proud of myself when Nikki complemented my choice of shoes with my suit. Thank you, David Tennant, for proving to the world that Chuck T’s are a perfectly acceptable shoe choice with a nice suit.
While my colleagues continued to mingle in the hall, I headed into the screening room for a look-see. Normally filled with comfortable couches for first run movie screenings on Sunday nights, this evening the room was set up with rows of chairs. Looking to the back of the room, I saw something that brought great joy to my heart. As a former 35mm projectionist and film enthusiast, I get really excited to see private projection booths. The Playboy Mansion did not disappoint. In the confines of the tiny space were two Simplex 35mm projectors from what looked like the early ’80s, maybe even late seventies. Film buffs, the Mansion is reel to reel. Most modern projection booths are on platter systems if they haven’t fully converted to digital. This is one of the leading causes of wear-and-tear on prints and the main reason movie prints look so bad when they reach the end of their theatrical runs and on second run screens. Having a reel-to-reel projection system also allows Hef to borrow rare film prints from archives and studios that normally wouldn’t see a public screening.
The house manager told me that we won’t be watching Parker on these beauties tonight. The booth is equipped with a digital projector as well as being linked to a media server that serves the entire house. According to staff, “Hef can access anything he wants anywhere in the house.” As for a private collection of film for that 35mm booth, several of Hugh’s famous friends have left him their private collections over the years. According to an employee, he has “less than a dozen” he keeps on the property; the rest has been donated to UCLA’s film archive. The sound system in the screening room is on par with most theatrical set-ups, with surround sound so good I actually thought background noise from the film was people talking in the theater.
Across the hall from the screening room is the dining room. Featuring a 6-foot-something tall bronze statue of Frankenstein’s monster and a Jackson Pollock, the dining room may have the best analogy for the Playboy brand as a whole. Where else could a creature feature character and a controversial painting be in the same room stylistically and work and it not be a museum? Speaking of museums, art enthusiasts can live with painting envy for Hugh Hefner, since 4 feet away from the Pollock is a painting by Salvador Dali, which is directly across the door frame from a simple and elegant Matisse. In the screening room hangs a Miro and a Picasso next to a beautiful chess set and baby grand piano.
At that point in the evening I just stopped and soaked in art from two of my favorite artists. I had never seen Hugh’s Dali, an intimate painting from the surrealist. Of course it’s titled “Young Virgin Sodomized By Her Own Chastity,” so there is some implied intimacy there. Just like many before me, I will say that pictures of Pollock’s work do not do the depth of the paintings any justice. Thanks to the Playboy Mansion, I got to experience that very closely. Like, super-closely. I’m surprised I wasn’t asked to give the painting some breathing room; I may have been emotionally smothering it.
Of course while I was reenacting the museum scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, party-goers and colleagues were calling it a night. A few of the guests took “open bar at the Playboy Mansion” further than necessary, but the staff laughed it off as one of the most tame events they’ve thrown. The staff filled me in that, generally, the inside of the mansion is a no-go zone and this is a rarity. As a member of the crew exited the restroom with dismay that the bathroom has been “destroyed”, I thought that it was time to head back to the real world with the thought, “50 people wrecked a bathroom 15 feet from a Matisse.” The Playboy Mansion, inviting yet imposing.
Parker is in theaters tomorrow.