500 Former Playboy Employees Defend Hugh Hefner Amid Misconduct Allegations

After the premiere of A&E's Secrets of Playboy, which paints a less-than-flattering portrait of founder Hugh Hefner, hundreds of ex-Playboy employees and five of his exes came to his defense.

By Corinne Heller Feb 02, 2022 11:50 PMTags

About 500 people from the world of Playboy have publicly expressed support for the late Hugh Hefner amid accusations of misconduct.

The A&E docuseries Secrets of Playboy, which debuted last month, takes a behind the-scenes look at the magazine empire and "its far-reaching consequences on our culture's view of power and sexuality"—according to the show's official synopsis. The show features interviews with former associates and exes of the businessman—whose controversial magazine, brand and clubs were divisive during the sexual revolution and second wave of feminism, and who was known for having several live-in girlfriends and hosting wild parties at his Playboy Mansion.

"We sign our names to support Hugh M. Hefner," read an open letter dated Feb. 1 and signed by about 500 people formerly associated with the magnate and his brand. The list included his ex-wife Kimberly Hefner, along with his ex-girlfriends Brande RoderickSandy Kauffman Bentley, Trisha Frick and Renee "Sloan" Baio.

Secrets of Playboy Bombshells

"From all we know of Hef, he was a person of upstanding character, exceptional kindness, and dedication to free thought," the letter states. "He demonstrated a commitment to living an honest life beyond everything else. Our time within Hugh Hefner's Playboy and the organizations subsidiaries remains a period all of us are fond of. I proudly sign this letter in recognition of Hugh Hefner's character amid unfounded allegations in the A&E show."

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The letter is also signed by about 80 former Playboy Playmates—or models featured in the magazine's centerfolds, more than 270 former Playboy Bunnies—who worked as waitresses and hostesses at Playboy Clubs operating between 1960 and 1988, plus many former Playboy Enterprises employees and former staff of the Playboy Mansion, which was sold for $100 million to a private equity executive in 2016, a year before Hefner's death at age 91.

Kimberly, Hefner's second ex-wife, said in a personal statement, "All people should be encouraged to share their individual experience in this world, but no one should be emboldened to re-write the truth at the expense of another person's character. What the allegers who speak out now seem to ignore is that there were many of us throughout the years who were there with them as well. I'm saddened mostly that these accounts take light away from true victims of sexual abuse, and hope that in time those selling lies to defame Hef find peace within their own lives."

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

In response to the letter, A&E said in a statement to E! News, "The stories shared in Secrets of Playboy are the personal experiences of the documentary's participants and deserve to be told despite how difficult they may be for some to hear. Signatures on a letter, or a different experience with Mr. Hefner or the Playboy culture, do not negate the experiences of those who have come forward to share their truth on the series and we look forward to continuing to bring these stories to light."

Almost 90 percent of the signees are women. In addition, more than half of the people who signed the letter worked for Playboy in the '70s and '80s. Only about 10 percent of the signees were affiliated with Hefner in the '00s, when the company, whose flagship magazine was marketed to men, drew more female fans thanks to the success of The Girls Next Door.

One of the reality show's stars, Hefner's former lead girlfriend Holly Madison, is featured in Secrets of Playboy and talks about how unhappy she felt during their relationship. She said she suffered "Stockholm Syndrome" when she was with him and called his Playboy Mansion "cultlike." Another ex, Sondra Theodore, who dated Hefner in the late '70s and early '80s, said on the A&E docuseries that the mogul "groomed us all" and that she remains traumatized by the things she witnessed in his presence.

"Really, he was a monster," Theodore recalled. "The things he got turned on by."

Episode three of the series, which aired on Jan. 31, focuses on the Playboy Bunnies. Former security guard Jim Ellis and bunny mother PJ Maste claim the Bunnies were often drugged and assaulted by male customers, with the latter saying she was a member of the "cleanup crew" that made sure such incidents didn't hit the press.

A day before the docuseries premiered, Hefner and Kimberly's son Cooper Hefner, 30, tweeted, "Some may not approve of the life my Dad chose, but my father was not a liar. However unconventional, he was sincere in his approach and lived honestly. He was generous in nature and cared deeply for people. These salacious stories are a case study of regret becoming revenge.

Laurence Cottrell/FilmMagic

Playboy also responded to the allegations of misconduct days before the docuseries premiered. "As you know, the Hefner family is no longer associated with Playboy, and today's Playboy is not Hugh Hefner's Playboy," the company said in a statement. "Today, our organization is run by a workforce that is more than 80% female, and together we are building upon the aspects of our legacy that have made a positive impact, including serving as a platform for free expression and a convener of safe conversations on sex, inclusion and freedom."

The company also said, "We trust and validate women and their stories, and we strongly support the individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable."

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