Director Alexandra Dean combines the voices of multiple veterans from the Playboy Empire and Hefner’s personal circle, such as Sondra Theodore, Hefner’s girlfriend in the late 1970s .
“I saw clearly that we were nothing to him,” Theodore said. “He’s like a vampire. He’s sucked the lives of all these young girls for decades.”
Because Playboy has so many channels including clubs, publishing and other media like E! The quality of the series “The Girl Next Door” is a bit awkward, as it bounces back and forth chronologically with the narratives of people who work for the company in one way or another.
Recurring themes are what former executive Miki Garcia and “Girls” alum Holly Madison each describe as a “cult-like” aura surrounding Hefner, and the hiring of “cleaners” as well as celebrities and VIPs dedicated to upholding his image. As former “Mother Rabbit” PJ Masten recalled, the big names could “do whatever they wanted,” immersing themselves in the safety of knowing what happened at the Playboy Mansion was still there.
Playboy Secrets lists some of the most egregious acts associated with the carte blanche, including allegations of sexual misconduct and rampant drug use.
The series also details several tragic events during Playboy’s high-flying years, including the 1973 overdose death of Adrienne Pollack; the suicide of Hefner’s assistant Bobby Arnstein in 1975 In 1980, playmate Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband, Paul Snyder.
The project felt more shaky in its assertions that Hefner used his extensive surveillance capabilities and video footage to ensure loyalty, suggesting that there wasn’t much hard evidence offered that people were essentially being blackmailed into following the company’s lines.
Ultimately, however, the video recording makes a convincing case that the media dutifully embraced Hefner’s glamorous picture of what he called an “adult Disneyland,” free from Puritan constraints.
While Hefner floated the idea of Playboy empowering women, stories about misconduct being ignored, and being regularly weighed and reprimanded even after gaining a few pounds, didn’t fit that part of the narrative. The same goes for the huge power gap between the young women working for Playboy and Hefner and his celebrity friends.
Perhaps Hefner’s most powerful skills were centered on the image and liberal ideals he promoted, which Theodore and others argued obscured the abuse and manipulation of women who saw Playboy as a path to fame and success.
Despite these obvious benefits, “Playboy Secrets” makes clear that, for many, their cost is sobering.
“Playboy Secrets” premieres on A&E on January 24 at 9 p.m. ET.
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