For Christie Hefner, visiting the Playboy Mansion was a child’s dream.
Christie, 65, continues to have fond memories of her many visits to the original opulent adult playground in her father's native Chicago.
The domain for Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner and his bunnies was based in the Windy City from 1959 to 1974.
Hefner would move on west and the new Playboy Mansion was then based in Los Angeles. He sold that property in 2016 but was allowed to live there until his death in 2017 at age 91.
“What made it magical was that it had a trap door,” Christie told Fox News. “It had a secret panel. It had a game room where every game was available without ever having to put a quarter in it. It had a fireman’s pole. It was just a really cool place if you were a kid. It had a bowling alley, an underground pool — it was pretty fun.”
And while Hefner was busy leading a publishing empire, he also was willing to take part in pursuing his other passion — playing games.
“He loved playing games,” stressed Christie. “When I was younger, we used to play Monopoly with a group of friends. He got very into Backgammon. Very into pinball. He was definitely one of those people who wasn’t very into sports but was a constant game player, and I would add, a highly competitive game player.”
But life wasn’t always fun and games for Christie. People magazine noted she ran the family business alongside her father for 26 years until 2009. And in 1979, she established the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards, in conjuction with Playboy’s 25th anniversary.
The awards aim to honor those who have made significant contributions in protecting First Amendment right for all Americans.
This year’s ceremony, the first since Hefner’s passing, took place June 4 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The Lifetime Achievement Award was granted to Joan E. Bertin, longtime executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).
Christie said the awards continue to celebrate her father, a man who was determined to protect civil rights in his lifetime.
“I think one of the things that led Playboy to its success was that it was based on the philosophy of ideas around social justice and personal freedom,” she explained. “And the company’s activities over many years, whether it was syndicating TV shows with an integrated cast in spite that Southern stations wouldn’t accept the programming… to launching the careers of African-American artists. I think it’s fundamental to who he was and what Playboy is, a deep belief in social justice and personal freedom.”
The New York Times reported the Playboy Philosophy advocated freedom of speech in all its aspects. Hefner also supported progressive social causes and even lost some sponsors after he invited black guests to its televised parties at a time when much of the nation still had Jim Crow laws in place.
In a 2009 interview with Time magazine, he revealed, “I’m not an active feminist, I’m an active humanist. I separated ways from the American feminist movement when they became anti-sexual. I believe embracing sexuality is a part of what it means to be free.”
And Hefner wasn’t shy about embracing ideas that were taboo. In 1955, just two years after Playboy launched, Hefner published a short story titled “The Crooked Man,” which depicted a dystopian future where homosexuality ultimately becomes the norm. The science fiction piece immediately sparked backlash.
“Here is obviously a heterosexual men’s magazine,” explained Christie. “And it would have been so easy to completely ignore the issue or frankly, do what a lot of media did for many years, which is to approach the attitude of gay rights as something to sort of be made fun of or not to be respected.
"But early on, because of my father’s beliefs, Playboy took a completely different attitude… Playboy was a safe place, a place that took chances and it attracted the kind of people who were willing to put a stake in the ground in support of things that might have been ahead of the time.”
Christie admitted Hefner “was not an advice-giver.” Still, he shared one piece of advice from his experience in running Playboy that she still follows today.
“Don’t be afraid to be around smart people and ask questions,” she said. “He would say, ‘I don’t have an MBA, but I have an MBWA – Management By Walking Around.'”
Throughout his life, Hefner was frequently criticized for launching a brand that some believe sexually objectified women. Christie said the work of Playboy should speak for itself.
“I think the record is pretty clear of not just the work of the foundation in terms of providing grants for the Women’s Rights Project and the Gay Rights Project, but also walking the walk,” she said. “Men can both desire and admire women and it’s not about wanting to live on a planet where there’s no sexual attraction or no flirting or dating. It’s about wanting to live on a planet where there’s mutual respect and open communication.
“I’ll never forget very early on this Playboy Advisor question. This was so many years ago that I’m not even sure the phrase ‘date rape’ had entered the vernacular. And the Playboy Advisor writing back in effect… [said] women had the right to say no, even if her panties are off.
"The point of view of the magazine was always that women are to be respected. That doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful and they’re not to be admired. I think that’s the world both men and women want to live in.”
Despite the ongoing criticism Hefner endured throughout his lifetime for his bold outlook on American society and sexuality, he was not a person of regret.
“Later in life he was asked about that,” said Christie. “He said… ‘There were small decisions that if I had to do all over again, I might have done it over. Maybe business decisions, or other things, yes. But on the big decisions? Am I really happy and satisfied with my life and how it turned out? I couldn’t be happier.’
“He saw the bigger arc of his life. He was eternally boyish and delighted by all that had happened to him, all that he was able to make happen. He never became jaded or cynical in the way that sometimes people who have fame or financial success do. He never took it for granted. Never traded in his friends… His core circle of friends were people who like to watch classic movies and play Gin… I think he was grounded in a way that allowed him to feel very satisfied with his life.”