HUGH HEFNER CALLS OFF WEDDING TO 25-YEAR-OLD PLAYMATE!...screamed the headlines 2 months ago. Hefner at 85 and his bride-to-be, Crystal Harris (see photo) were due to tie the knot in front of 300 guests at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. It would have been is third marriage. "The wedding is off...Crystal has had a change of heart," he wrote on Twitter.
Sex forges unlikely alliances and good ole Hugh, who has been the world's most prominent personification of the unchained heterosexual male libido since his 1953 launch of Playboy magazine, forges unlikelier alliances than most. For more than half a century, Hefner has succeeded in uniting social conservatives of the political right and feminists of the left in opposition to his vision of sexual liberation as empowering women to throw off their domestic chains....and their clothes.
Even his admirers, of which I admit I am one (after meeting him at the New York Playboy Club in 1962), find something undignified in his refusal to throw in the bunny-emblazoned towel and behave age-appropriately. "Old Mr. Sticky Fingers" was how one British journalist described Hefner at the June re-opening of the London Playboy Club.
At 85, Hefner doesn't picture himself as in retirement, but still considers himself both playboy and player. London marked the second club opening in the revived chain after Las Vegas; others are planned in Cancun, Macau and Miami. With NBC's forthcoming drama series The Playboy Club, set in the 1960's, coming to a TV station near you, it's likely to sprinkle a handful of cool on the invigorated brand. For a better insight into the man, I recommend seeing the DVD Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel by Oscar-winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman that was released last year and makes bold claims for its subject's legacy as a civil libertarian and philanthropist.
So why the pity and scorn directed at this amiable senior in his dressing gown? He thinks it's because he's refusing to submit to cultural expectations of the old. "To begin with, I fought racism, then sexism. Now I'm fighting ageism," says Hefner. "One defines oneself in one's own terms. If you let society and your peers define who you are, you're the less for it." He critcizes the women's movement for failing to participate in "the sexual revolution that Playboy played such a part in. The notion that it should turn on itself and attack women who celebrated their sexuality is very puritan, very repressive and very counter-revolutionary." He's unable or unwilling to accept that Playboy, far from enabling the female of the species to explore her own sexuality, skillfully co-opted her into male fantasies.
The Way I See It....Hefner's views on sexual politics, though long held, can hardly be described as old-fashioned. In this postfeminist era, feminists must struggle to convince the world that their arguments are still relevant; Hefner, by contrast, sits firmly in the cultural mainstream. And no matter how often he finds himself in the stocks of public opinion, he'll keep on playing the playboy until he can play no more. I wonder at his ability to retain an appetite for a mind-numbingly narrow range of sybaritic pleasures over so many years. However, a few weeks ago he announced he will not be the marrying-kind anymore and enjoy the bachelor life. His never ending source of female pulchritude should help him forget Crystal fairly soon.