The Secrets of Playboy originally aired on A&E and is currently available to stream on the Peacock Network. The 12 episode documentary aims to offer viewers a look at a version of Playboy that is not as glossy; highlighting a situation too often glossed over. The image those interviewed provide is neither as pleasant nor picturesque as the portraits the publication is famous for presenting.
Playboy‘s introduction to America and eventually the world began when the magazine hit newsstands in 1953. Hugh Hefner was the managing editor at that time and would be associated with the company until his death in 2017.
A death that could allow certain material to take on a life all its own. Hefner’s burial unearthed the potential for this life after, something long feared by many past Playmates.
Over the course of the first 11 episodes, the accounts suggest what viewers never – or always – knew was going on at Playboy. From the statements of various individuals who were associated with Playboy, in some manner, through the decades, a new layout is revealed.
While this article details a portion of the problem at Playboy, The Secrets of Playboy confirms there was another as well. This information warrants a strong viewer warning. Various models and mansion attendees recount memories of moments during their time inside the mansion and the Playboy organization; moments that changed their life. Unfortunately, Hefner is beyond “our” legal system’s reach. Others have or may still have their day in court.
But is it naivety that would allow any of us to find any of the activities of not just Hefner, but those close to him, employees and “friends”, so unexpected or shocking. See, the details extend beyond allegations of actions by individuals, they also include Playboy as an organization – from the beginning to the end of a Playmate’s career; with some of those ends being untimely.
Which leads to the discussion about a portion of the 12th episode, titled Aftermath. This is one of two episodes in the series hosted by Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrera; Guerrera is also the lead reporter on the series. Along with former playmates, Sandra Theodore and Susie Krabacher, Guerrera – a former Playboy celebrity model – is joined by Dr. Kate Balestrieri.
While Krabacher discusses the “b-roll” – footage taken but not used during a photo session – there is a question if anyone knows that material’s present location.
It is then that Theodore makes a statement that shocks the other former models.
“Dirty Porn Sites”
For decades the mention of the name Playboy was as much a staple of America as apple pie. Which makes sense, since the best apple pies have a good combination of sugar and spice. Add in everything nice and you have exactly what the company marketed and distributed. A “tasteful” choice. It was Playboy, in association with E! Network, showcasing The Girls Next Door.
The fantasies as a child that I never lost – Hugh Hefner, The Secrets of Playboy Ep. 1
Miki Garcia knows about Playboy, Hefner, use and loss. Having been a Playmate before becoming Head of Promotions for Playboy (1973-1982), she is in a unique position among the other participants of the series. Even with her tumultuous history with the organization, Garcia initially admits Playboy was “set apart” from other adult magazines because it was considered “art” rather than ” hardcore”.
It was nothing like Penthouse, arriving in the United States from England in 1969, which offered full nudity. Playboy didn’t begin showing pubic hair until the 70s.
So what if that was also around the time when Larry Flynt and his Hustler hit shelves in 1974.
Hefner celebrated the female body – Miki Garcia, The Secrets of Playboy Ep. 7
However, with each new competitor to emerge, Playboy‘s pictorials began to adapt to match them. But wasn’t it the pictures that set this magazine apart from others; the magazine founder’s fantasies?
Playboy‘s rivalry with these companies created what was known during the 70s as the Pubic Wars. And as is often the case, this conflict began another for Playboy. The Porn Wars began during the Ronald Regan administration. This would also coincide with attacks on Playboy from individuals Hefner would refer to as “right-wing”- Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr. and the organization known as Moral Majority.
Then, in May of 1985, Regan would establish a commission led by then Attorney General Alan Sears. The findings, the Meese Report, were the culmination of hearings and discussions to determine whether pornography – including Playboy magazine – was a determient to society.
Despite the scientific nature of the studies and the societal impacts they suggested, Playboy – and the other adult magazines – would survive; though at some cost. The lasting implication would be the loss of once prominent newsstand status. The hope that gone would lead to forgotten. That individuals would not seek out what was not immediately available; what they couldn’t see, they could not get.
And unlike some other “porn” magazines, a key component of Playboy‘s success was accessibility. Lest we forget while listening to the ladies, Playboy was a periodical.
Joel Berliner, a friend of Hefner, states that Playboy was not only about “classy, intoxicating, nudity..” but also had “brilliant articles and incisive philosophy.”
In the interviews and reviews the ideal image of an individual in modern society is identified; successes are showcased. Playboy was “leading culture”. It made no difference if they were musicians or those in sports competitions; from moguls, the media and even politicians they each would show up to speak within the pages. And some of those would even appear on the cover – albeit somewhat sexually suggestive; suggesting something else, perhaps?
The combination of being able to present an evolving tapestry of desirability while suggesting this life was available to the reader created an illusion not entirely unrealistic but lacking some aspects of reality. A marriage for Hefner and new potential Playmates, some from conservative upbringings and others who would go on to attract Hollywood’s attention, would allow Playboy and its founder to remain a media mainstay. Offering additional content from former models, Playboy moved from its famous Playboy Channel, launched in 1984, to direct buy videos to streaming in 1990.
Then in 2011, Playboy was sold to MindGEEK. Headquartered in Luxembourg, MindGEEK is listed as an industry leading information technology firm. Playboy, an unusual acquisition it would seem. Unless there was some information which Playboy had that MindGEEK knew how to use – technologically.
Now, if at times Playboy was willing to become like a “dirty porn magazine or site” – adjusting it’s layouts or offering wholesale extra footage – until it eventually ended up belonging to a company who would use that footage as pornography, wouldn’t it need to already share some similaritites with them?
Some will argue they know pornography when they see it. Yet they say art is in the eye of the beholder. So where do we place Playboy on this spectrum of adult literature now; is it different from when it was created? Should it ever have been?
Had anyone truly listened on October 17, 1985 maybe everyone would know the real power Playboy, and by extension Hugh Hefner, had over the models of the magazine; those that aspired to be and those actually published. It was during the height of the Meese hearings that Miki Garcia testified against Playboy and Hefner. During her testimony, Garcia would bravely speak about how shoots were conducted.
In reality Meese was fighting a battle while Miki was about to begin a war; one which this series proves is still ongoing. While focused on the enemy that was porn, the commission overlooked Miki’s statements on unfair contracts, additional and possibly unknown footage; of fear and blackmail. Is porn – which defies definition – the enemy or is the enemy the exploitative behavior and treatment it facilitates?
Always a Playmate
While speaking during ep. 12, Dr. Balestrieri mentions how easily people on the outside, and perhaps even the Playmates, could judge themselves for their actions; judgement that is both unfair and unjustified. It is easy to forget during the painful recollections from these women the reasons Playboy appealed to them initially. All the opportunties which appeared to open for others over the years, only a submission away. The most famous faces – from Marilyn to Anna – were all once just “girls next door”.
And upon signing the contract the models, their likenss and even potential livelihood were at the mercy of Playboy and Hefner. The more graphic and less aestically appealing footage would ultimately become the media used to lure custsomers to “porn” sites. Once signed away, each models image could forever be used as Playboy saw fit; the Hefner Cut.
It seems though that Playboy, and Hefner, assumed these “girls” only played with Barbie and not Legal Carl dolls. Several models speak during the series about the sneaky strategies during shoots. The most harmless being those models who signed at 17, with parental consent. At least these women had someone who could have known more and should have been invested in their well-being. The same can’t be said for those models who were, as Theodore put it midly, “jammed up like they were in jail” while shooting their screentests. With contracts forced in their faces by Playboy executives its seem they faced a sign or say sayonara scenario
During ep. 7, The Big Playboy Lie, former Playmates speak on what the opportunity really offered as well as the expectations. Models speak of a payout structure set up to take almost 2 years to receive their full payment for appearing. All while unable to make money off their own image due to their agreement with Playboy. Many would go on to experience difficulty making money after Playboy as well. To hear Miki speak about her difficulty securing models work outside of Playboy makes any Meese victory seem moot. Odd how someone capable of selling up to 7 million issues could be viewed as tarnished; or that the profiteer would be the cause of the stigma.
(To) Not use your body for opportunities – Rachel Myers, The Secrets of Playboy Ep. 9
Would this be different if it were 7 million seats? Or 7 million singles? Not at all and totally, completely. Whatever their reasons for entering the doorway, most models interviewed mentioned how initially it felt Playboy offered possibilities. One could imagine their ambitions and expectations would have been no different than an athlete, musician or other entertainer.
However, adult magazine models are creating art which was extremely intimate; exposing themselves in a very personal manner; often blurring already judgmental eyes. But, whatever initial hesitations a model may have felt about disrobing were removed due to Playboy – and therefore Hefner’s – image. One some, including myself, helped to establish and sustain.
Sex – and the appeal – sells. People will believe (and buy) anything you put in print. You can buy happiness. That is just how business is done.
But to get nothing for something, or possibly your everything, that seems Faustian.
Hefner and Playboy (and plenty of others) operate by creating a situation where a model/talent provide for and promote the company and yet still remain obligated or indebted. Playboy leverged a model’s past popularity while preventing future earnings.
Maybe the real secret of Playboy is what someone can do with that much power?
What Garcia, Theodore and others are interested in securing, what was signed over to Playboy, was their “rights”. Similar to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of NCAA athletes, Playboy models are interested in their NIL (name, image and likeness). To control what images are used, where they are used for and that cutting room floor footage goes into the trash, not the recycle bin.
This is made diifficult due to the fact that despite everything else he may have been, Hefner was a business man. And Playboy was run like a business. Those who agreed to be interviewed for the documentary held positions in various divisions and areas of Playboy over the years. Two departments without represenatives, however, are Legal and Accounting; yet their presence impacts the situation significantly.
These two departments coexist and create very different scenarios. The Secrets of Playboy documents how it relates to models. There is another scenario for Playboy, Hefner, etc. Even one for the general public.
Because of Legal, Playboy can claim ownership of the “b-roll” material – denying models any additional compensation. Contracts once signed become quite binding. By their own admission the models who spoke admit they did sign – despite the means Playboy used. Those who signed at age 17 possibly, though parental consent might impact any claim of wrongdoing by Playboy. For Playboy, the Accounting mentioned refers to the division counting the dollars that keep the company solvent. As long as legal does it’s thing, accounting can keep doing just that.
For the public, it doesn’t matter if your interaction and support for the company was direct; perhaps by purchasing a magazine from the newstand or by subscription. Or some indirect manner like having an item, a purse or lighter with the Playboy logo. And yes this does include continuing to watch a show, go to a movie or support a network or institution that associated or does or did business with the Playboy. As a college econ professor once said “you vote with your dollar.” So why is it America, maybe even the world, would judge Playboy, the company, one way and Playboy, the models, totally different? That does not seem fair.
Is this the true Secret of Playboy. The ability to make something seem desirable one moment only to be discarded or met with disdain soon thereafter. Or even to make some”one” into some”thing”; an item, or collectible. Reinforcing their replaceability.
While the models may have few options legally available to acquire and remove this additional footage, short of loopholes or allies with access, they do have a role to play in accounting.
The first, most difficult, may be with themselves. Ladies, you appeared in what is now, and possibly was always – A Dirty Porn Magazine. Though it was masquerading behind the mansion make no mistake. By their own statements some models insinuiated that Hefner’s fantasies and activities were quite pornographic. The fantasies that he claimed were conceptualized in print in the pages of Playboy.
Once this is completed you must hold the rest of us accountable.
They can hold every future Hefner and their company accountable by watching for those similar explotative tendencies. They may not all walk in wearing silk pajamas and smoking a pipe. But be aware of who is being bent over backwards during bargaining.
Next, thank any of those businesses that in MIki’s mind might have “shunned” you, yet still associated with Playboy, for being the template for what websites would eventually do with your images.
Remind them that in a way you were also, to quote Sondra, carnival barkers for them. Explain how if you knew they would close their doors to you after your appearance(s) in Playboy, you would have never entered into Hefner’s home; how soon would their doors have closed?
Since a good rule of business is to keep your friends close – remind your fellow “celebrities” they are in there somewhere too. Appearing on red carpet’s next to the Playboy logo never seemed to hurt their image did it?
To the public, our accountability benefits from your accounts. For the current and future entertainers, professional and amateur, understand and know your and their rights – before you sign them away. If any artist enters into an agreement which allows an entrepreneur(s) to exploit them, you are responsible for whatever tyranny you endure.
Ask the consumers to tie up the toll free lines or twitter. By now they should be upset with these companies as well – you both served similar purposes. One way or another you sold Playboy to the public. However, you models are the only ones truly permanently inked with the bunny logo.
For any still reading this and not yet feeling as if you are facing celestial inquisition then the words freelancer, contract employee, franchise and even affiliate must not be in your day to day vocabulary. Terms used to divest and divert dividends from those that are actually due them. Additionally, this gives a way to truly “silence” the majority – you were doing an “honest” days work. Your employer(s), quite the opposite.
Already belonging to the consumer groups above, I suppose I should accept my place in the final one as well. As a heterosexual male,in the southern portion of the United States, growing up in the 80s-90s, I grew up during Playboy‘s peak. Capitalizing on my many “interests” to make me a club member. She’s the “9th Wonder of the World”. All I heard was “hurry, hurry, step right up, you’ve won yourself a prize.”
Hopefully, by now it is clear that Hefner, and Playboy, subtly created a world and we each assumed a role based upon how we felt about what appeared on the pages. But should’t that fantasy end once the last page is turned; are you still trapped in Wonderland as well? Coincidentally, despite having their contracts held til the ink soaks the holders hand, these models seem done here. Follow them, if their present life allows you to in some way, Alice. Just respect the intended integrity of the phrase “once a bunny, always a bunny.
Don’t fawn or fish – that means cat or even floundering; and absolutely no ferreting or falconing.
Because after all the statements, and sadly some tears, it becomes evident that these former models still feel they are still inside the mansion walls. Making Theodore’s statment at the opening of the series something of an enigma. Is she asking for herself and fellow models, or is this question meant for a much larger audience.
Who would throw themselves under the bus for 15 minutes of fame? – Sondra Theodore, The Secrets of Playboy Ep. 1
Perhaps that shows the real Secret of Playboy was that it should have been called Life.
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