“Self-serving semi-fiction!” Hugh Hefner tells me.
He’s talking about a former girlfriend’s tawdry memoir of life in the Playboy Mansion, splashed this past weekend in London’s Daily Mail just as Hef, 84, was happily announcing plans to marry his current flame, a nubile 24-year-old named Crystal Harris.
Izabella St. James’ Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion portrays the founder of Playboy, the once-dominant men’s magazine in which naked ladies were strange bedfellows with serious journalism, as a jealous cheapskate who kept his blond harem on a tight leash even as he permitted his dogs to soil the carpets and drapes; who wolfed down Viagra and waited impatiently for the pills to take effect even as he plied his multiple sex slaves with Dom Perignon and Quaaludes, only to “lay there like a dead fish” when the party started; who refused to wear a condom or have himself and his partners tested for sexually transmitted diseases; and who paid his house guests every Friday in crisp hundred-dollar bills—in sum, a sad portrait of a dirty old man.
“It sounds horrible,” Hef says on the phone from the Mansion in Los Angeles, punctuating his sarcasm with a snicker. “I think the first thing that needs to be said about it is I’m not quite sure—maybe you know—what prompted a story about this book surfacing right at this time. The book was written almost a decade ago.”
Actually Bunny Tales was published in 2006, five years after the author left the mansion, and the Daily Mail’s story was apparently inspired by the news of Hef’s nuptials.
“Quite simply, Izabella—and her name is not St. James; her name is Polish, it’s Kasprzyk—was one of a number of girls that I dated and lived at the house in the early part of 2001,” Hef tells me. “She came in about the same time as Holly [Madison, one of the stars the E! reality series about Hef’s interesting domestic life, The Girls Next Door.] Despite what she writes, she didn’t leave of her own volition. She left because she was asked to leave because she didn’t get along with some of the other girls. She was in conflict with some of the nicer girls like Holly and Bridget [Marquardt, along with Kendra Wilkinson, another E! Channel fave], and I kind of cleaned house.”
“If she was taking Quaaludes, she was taking them on her own. I wasn’t supplying drugs to the girls,” Hefner says.
Hef explains that after his divorce from his second wife, Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad, “I was kind of beat up emotionally and bruised, and the marriage ended in 1998. And I started dating an actress named Brande Roderick, and almost at the same time met a pair of twins named Sandy and Mandy Bentley. For the next two years, my live-in girlfriends were Brande, Mandy, and Sandy—which reads like bad fiction, but was true. When the relationship with Brande broke up, I added more girls. At one point it was up to seven. Izabella was one of those seven.” After Izabella was banished, Hef says, “she wrote the book for clear and obvious purposes—and she has been trying to come back ever since.”
Hef’s responses to St. James/Kasprzyk’s claims are variously dismissive and indifferent:
* On the charge that he paid each his girlfriends, out of safe in his bedroom, $1,000 a week in cash: “That part is true. If you write it and make it sound sleazy, that’s easy to do. But the girls got a clothing allowance.”
*On the claim that he imposed a strict 9 p.m. curfew, by which time all his girlfriends had to be at home or else: “That was also true—and widely publicized. It wasn’t a big secret.” Why the curfew? Hef laughs: “So they wouldn’t be running around on me!”
*On St. James/Kasprzyk’s allegation that he handed out Quaaludes as aphrodisiacs: “If she was taking Quaaludes, she was taking them on her own. I wasn’t supplying drugs to the girls.”
*On her account of Hef’s downing Viagra at a nightclub and then consulting his watch so he’d be ready with the girls when it finally kicked in: “The description of the Viagra thing is a fantasy that reflects an ignorance in terms of the use of Viagra. Once you take Viagra, you don’t have to be looking at a watch. Viagra takes about an hour to kick in, but lasts for about half a day… It simply permits normal sexual activity.”
*On the charge that nobody was medically tested for safe sex: “Nobody in the group had sexually transmitted diseases. I was very careful and very concerned about taking care of everybody in terms of sexually transmitted disease. Absolutely there was testing. One of the things that can be pointed out is that over all the years of extensive sexual activity, nobody ever got pregnant, and nobody was having any serious problems with diseases. The only time anybody ever got pregnant in a relationship with me was the two times I was married.”
*On the claim that he refused to wear a condom: “I think one of the ways that you resolve that problem is to have sex with people who don’t have sexually transmitted diseases.” That claim, in other words, appears to be true.
According to Hef, “her self-serving, clearly fabricated stories in the book give the impression that they are somehow reflective of former girlfriends. The reality is the opposite of that. My former girlfriends, as I’m sure you know, speak highly about the relationship with me, they speak with great love. One of the things that sets my relationships apart from many others is the fact that I have managed to remain close to many of my former girlfriends, including my former wives, because I’m a decent human being. And I treat women very well. I take pride in that.”
Hef argues that the book’s description of life at the mansion is wildly at odds with generally accepted reality. “The point is we’re not talking about some place in Transylvania—some place that nobody has visited,” Hef says.
As for being a jealous lover, “Kendra’s wedding was held here,” Hef says. ”She and Hank, her husband, are very close friends. As a matter of, I got a very sweet Twitter, or tweet, from Kendra a week ago congratulating me on the marriage.”
Hef, who has been tweeting nonstop about his engagement to Crystal since he popped the question last week, tells me he presented his bride to be with a 3 1/2 carat round-cut diamond ring on Christmas Eve, while she gave her future husband a painting of them and their dog.
He insists he’s more than happy to embrace monogamy on this, the third time around, even though “obviously, I could have a richer variety of sex if I wasn’t going to get married. The strange reality is that I’m more of a target today than probably at any other time in my life in terms of attention from young women."
And why would that be?
“It’s a good question. I think it has to with the curious nature of iconic celebrity.”
Still, he's sticking with Crystal.
“The truth of the matter is we’re soulmates,” he says. “We get on very well. The age disparity really does not make a great deal of difference. If you are healthy, age is by and large a number. You don’t know when you’re going to die. The first girl I had a crush on in high school, who is still a close friend, Betty Conklin, married the fellow she loved and within the next handful of years he was killed in a car accident. You don’t really know—and how many marriages last more than a few years? It reminds me a little bit of Bogart and Bacall—another May-December relationship. This one probably will be setting some kind of record. It’s more January-December. But Bogart was reluctant about getting married and Peter Lorre said, ‘What are you going to do with these last years? Are you going to spend it alone or with the girl you love?’”
Hef adds with a laugh: “Marriage certainly wasn’t a part of my plan. I think it was Woody Allen who said that marriage is the death of hope. And my own experience of marriage led to believe that it didn’t fuel romance. And romantic love is what it’s really all about for me.”
Fairly gushing, he goes on: “I found myself in a relationship in which Crystal and I have been together for two years, and it just kept getting better and better. There wasn’t any real pressure. It was clear to me that she was committed to staying with me for the rest of my life, whether we got married or not, and I wanted to secure it.”
He says they plan to tie the knot this summer, in a ceremony at the Mansion, with about 100 witnesses, including his two grown sons from his marriage to Kimberly Conrad.
He’ll be 85 in April, so why not just do it now—in Las Vegas?
“Does that sound romantic to you?” Hef chides.
I ask him: You know you won’t live forever, right?
“I’m doing the best I can.”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.