LOS ANGELES – From the perfectly manicured garden beds and large satellite dishes to the steam wafting from the grotto, the exotic animals in their cages and the occasional busty blonde strolling across the lawn, the Playboy Mansion looks just as it did in the hedonistic 1970s.
Only it’s 2014 now, and there’s a sense of calm at the 60-year-old men’s magazine as it ushers in a fresh phase at the helm. At just 22, Hugh Hefner’s youngest son Cooper has moved into top spot, traveling the world for business meetings and forging branding relationships as the growing public face of Playboy.
On Thursday, he even stood in for his 88-year-old dad, hosting the annual Playmate of the Year cocktail luncheon on the Mansion grounds in Los Angeles. We’re told Hef woke with a bad back and watched the presentation with his 28-year-old wife, Crystal, from just a few feet away via monitor.
“What would have my dad said in his mid-20s if someone had told him that a single magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover [would become a] company [that] would have so much success that it would be labeled one of the most iconic brands in the world?” asked Cooper, who wore a dapper suit with his hair slicked back, reminiscent of his dad.
“I realized I was asking this because I had so much respect and pride being the son of such an incredible person. Today is a celebration of the last 60 years of Playboy and a celebration of the next 60 years. And so much of that success comes down to picking the right girl to represent the brand.”
That right girl is 27-year-old Kennedy Summers, and the large semi-naked photos of her on display at the Mansion proved she has the beauty. But the forces behind Playboy were just as eager to promote Summers’ brains, too.
The Berlin-born, Virginia-raised international model holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology; a master’s degree in health administration; and she is working on her M.D. with plans to become a plastic surgeon. Summers speaks French and German, her father served in Special Forces for the U.S. Army and her mother was a Russian linguist and cryptologist.
Her date to the luncheon? Summers brought her brother Griffin, who just completed his service in the Navy.
“I’ve always secretly suspected I look better naked than I did with clothing on. I feel that’s validated now,” the statuesque blonde told us with a laugh. “If you told me three years ago when I started medical school that I would be sitting up here with Playboy, I would have probably asked you a lot of follow-up questions …
“When I started this whole journey, I thought it would be to end my modeling career. I had no idea [when] I started that once a playmate always a playmate.”
In celebration of Summers’ Playmate of the Year honor – the magazine’s 55th – a limited-edition t-shirt collection featuring images and outtakes from her pictorial are being sold on the online Playboy store, with a portion of the sales benefiting Wounded Wear. Summers said the charity, which provides free clothing to wounded warriors and raises national awareness of their sacrifice, is near and dear to her heart.
Summers says she is determined to ensure that both her sexiness and smarts are put to good use in building the Playboy brand back up to its heyday.
Wearing a floor-length white royalty lace spring gown by Zhang JingJing Couture with a Pascal Mouawad diamond-encrusted Bunny necklace, she said:
“As 2014’s Playmate of the Year, my mission is to help Playboy thrive, as it always has, to break boundaries and carry us into the future.
“Doesn’t Dr. Playmate sound awesome?”
Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay