- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
What is the legacy of Hugh Hefner? Infamous libertine and hedonist? Groundbreaking publisher and free-speech warrior? Culture changer, vampire, monster? All of the above?
Right off the bat in A&E's docuseries "Secrets of Playboy," one of Hefner's ex-girlfriends, Holly Madison, says the legacy dust isn't settled yet. He died in 2017 at age 91, escaping the #MeToo tornado of takedowns of other powerful Hollywood men.
Nevertheless, "Secrets of Playboy" comprises 12 hours of people talking about Hefner and the Playboy empire he created. And in none-too-flattering terms.
Scores of Hefner's girlfriends, friends, employees and colleagues explain how they chose to embrace the lifestyle he flaunted before America's many bluenoses, and how they eventually realized – too late – it was all a soul-destroying sham.
"What I want to say to Hefner is you destroyed a lot of lives," says PJ Masten, a former Playboy "bunny mother." "You were power-hungry. You didn't care about the lives of these women. It was all about what people perceived about you. And it was all a lie."
'Secrets of Playboy': Hugh Hefner's former girlfriends, Playmates and employees allege a culture of abuse
Some of Hefner's friends defend him in the series. "If you're not happy, pack up your stuff and go – you could have walked out the door anytime," says Hefner's photographer friend Alison Reynolds.
Hefner's son, Cooper, recently spoke out in support of his father on Twitter, saying that Hefner "cared deeply for people" and that the stories in the series are "salacious."
Playboy issued a statement noting that today's Playboy is not Hefner's Playboy.
“We trust and validate these women and their stories and we strongly support those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences," Playboy said in the statement. "It is critically important that we listen."
People magazine published an open letter signed by hundreds of former Playboy bunnies, Playmates, ex-girlfriends and employees denouncing "Secrets of Playboy" and the allegations it makes against Hefner.
"He was a person of upstanding character, exceptional kindness and dedication to free thought," the letter said. "Our time within Hugh Hefner's Playboy and the organization's subsidiaries remains a period all of us are fond of."
A&E issued a statement to USA TODAY in response to the letter, arguing that the personal experiences of Hefner's accusers 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."
A disclaimer after every episode notes that the "vast majority of allegations (against Hefner and associates) have not been subject to criminal investigations or charges, and they do not constitute guilt."
Here are some of the most stunning claims made in the 12 episodes:
'You're not getting away with this, whether you're dead or not,' Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend says
The final episode pushes back on criticism of the series. It features Sondra Theodore, one of Hefner's ex-girlfriends and leading accusers, and Susie Krabacher, a former Playmate who says Hefner drugged and raped her.
The filmmakers introduce another would-be Playboy model, Audrey Huskey, who says she was triggered by earlier episodes to call Theodore and tell her story that Hefner drugged and raped her, too.
Theodore thinks most of those criticizing the series believe what accusers have been saying. "They just think we deserved it," she says, under the assumption that " 'Playboy is not a convent. What did you expect?' "
She and Krabacher say other Playboy women are fully aware of what went on but refuse to publicly hold Hefner accountable. To Hefner, she says: "You’re not getting away with this, whether you’re dead or not."
"We're trying to prevent the next generation from falling for another predator," Theodore says.
Kristina and Karissa Shannon allege Hefner assaulted them as teens, refused to use condoms, got one of them pregnant
Two of Hefner's girlfriends on the Playboy reality show "Girls Next Door," identical twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon, now 32, say they were reluctant sex partners to Hefner.
They thought moving into the Playboy Mansion in 2008 would be like living in an adult Disneyland; instead, it was "gross" being intimate "with grandpa."
The twins were afraid Hefner would take away their Playboy covers and their TV gig if they resisted his sex expectations, but they were disgusted Hefner refused to use condoms. Eventually, Kristina ended up pregnant.
"I didn't think it was possible, he was 84," she says. She was horrified and afraid to tell Hefner, who she says would have forced her to continue the pregnancy. So she secretly arranged an abortion.
"I was a kid! I couldn’t even (legally) drink yet," she says, weeping.
"He was just a creepy old man – with power,” adds Karissa.
Claim: Hefner drugged and raped an unconscious Playmate
Krabacher, a May 1983 Playmate vying for Playmate of the Year, was staying at the Playboy Mansion when she says Hefner drugged and raped her while she was unconscious. She says she was devastated because she had been regularly sexually abused as a child by her grandfather and thought she had moved on.
"(Hefner) gave me a pill and a soda and I drank it – I didn't even ask," she says. "I woke up with him naked on top of me, my pajama bottoms off and I thought it was a nightmare. I thought I was reliving the last time my grandfather had done this to me."
Theodore says she once saw Hefner force himself on a sleeping girl. "Whether they consented or not, if he wanted something, he would take it," she says. "He'd say, 'Did they think they would stay in my house and not sleep with me?' "
Ex-Hefner valet Stefan Tetenbaum claims Hefner raped 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten in the grotto at the mansion ("You could hear her screaming") because he thought she was having sex with someone else.
"You meet Hef, have sex with him and then he passes you around to his friends – you don't violate the order of sexual activity and Dorothy broke the rules," Tetenbaum says.
Hefner was gay or bisexual, and in love with his male doctor, says the doctor's daughter
Hefner and his longtime live-in doctor, Mark Saginor, were lovers and spiritual "soulmates," according to the doctor's disgruntled daughter Jennifer Saginor.
"Their connection was much more than best friends, it's my personal belief that the love Hef's life was my father," Jennifer Saginor says. "He gave up his family life and practice just to be with him" and move into Hefner's house.
Because her father, 85, is still alive, the episode advises that the doctor denies some of the allegations raised against him: “Mark Saginor has stated that while he does not deny he was accused of the crimes mentioned in this episode, he categorically denies the other allegations made about him."
The episode includes a clip from a 1993 interview of Hefner by Bryant Gumbel, who asks him about homosexuality and is told by Hefner that he was never "serious" about it but that everyone experimented in the "orgy" atmosphere of the 1970s. A former butler for Hefner, Mitch Rosen, and Hefner's ex Theodore also say they believe the two were lovers.
Claim: Hefner's friends set up 'mini' Playboy Mansions where young women were drugged, raped and videotaped
The episode leaves the unsettling impression this not-shocking claim is being made to bolster the more serious allegation that Hefner and Dr. Saginor conspired to sexually and psychologically abuse flocks of young women (who had not made the cut as a Playmate) in an underground system of "shadow mansions" set up by Hefner's cronies.
Jennifer Saginor says girls were invited to live at her father's "mini" mansion and were available for sex with visiting men, after being told they could get a modeling contract. Instead, they were drugged, raped and videotaped, and then blackmailed into silence with the threat the tape would be released, according to Jennifer Saginor and Jackie Hatten, a former regular at the Playboy Mansion who says she saw what went on at the "mini-mansions."
"Men would be shoving drugs at you or glasses of champagne and you didn't know what was in it," Hatten says. "I always made sure to open the bottle myself to avoid being prey. That was the first red flag. The second red flag: Who is signing a modeling contract at night at a party? The grooming happening was pretty obviously not for modeling."
Jennifer Saginor, who grew up in the Playboy Mansion, published a memoir in 2005 about her experiences, "Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside the Playboy Mansion," which included being underage when she was introduced to sex, drugs and breast enhancement.
In 2004, Dr. Saginor was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home; criminal charges were dropped after he went to rehab, according to the episode. In 2005, he was suspended from practicing medicine after being declared “a danger to his patients” by the California state medical board, although he has since been reinstated.
Hefner initially distanced himself from Dr. Saginor for fear of negative media coverage of Playboy. Eventually, the two reconciled and Dr. Saginor was with Hefner when he died in 2017.
Now living in California, Dr. Saginor was contacted by "Inside Edition" after the series' debut and rejected accusations he was nicknamed "Dr. Feelgood" for allegedly prescribing prescription pills to people at Playboy.
A Playboy centerfold killed herself, leaving behind a mural that read 'Hugh Hefner is the devil'
Paige Young, an artist and 1968 Playboy centerfold, shot herself in her West Hollywood apartment in April 1974. She was found lying on a blood-soaked American flag beneath a mural that read "Hugh Hefner is the devil."
According to Melanie Myers, a celebrity astrologer who was her neighbor and found the body, Young felt she had been used and abused by Hefner and his famous friends at the Playboy Mansion, including Bill Cosby.
Myers says Young told her she was filmed having sex at the mansion and the experience sent Young off the deep end. Playboy's connection to the tragedy was hushed up, Myers says.
"She killed herself to leave a message behind for other women to be careful, that these men were damaging and predatory," Myers says. "But the message got squashed. … This film will be when Paige finally gets to speak for herself."
The episode revisits more of Cosby's alleged Playboy predations, including Masten's claim that Cosby raped her in Chicago in 1979. Weeping, she says she later tried to kill herself several times, once coming so close she ended up in a hospital for 17 days.
Masten also repeats a story about Cosby that could be used in court against him this year: Judy Huth is suing him for sexual battery, alleging Cosby drugged and molested her at the Playboy Mansion around 1974 when she was 15. The case, the last civil suit for sexual misconduct pending against Cosby, is set for trial in May. But Masten doesn't say whether she personally observed the alleged encounter or if her account is hearsay.
"I was there, I know what he did," Ellis says. "Everyone that worked at (the Playboy Mansion) knew he was basically a predator."
Cosby, 84, is one of the few accused in this series still alive to defend himself: "Bill Cosby has said none of the allegations against him in this series have been 'substantiated by any legal process' and they are 'unsupported by any factual basis,' ” a message reads at the end of the episode.
Ex-Playmates allege Hefner sold their 'girl next door' photos, videos to hard-core porn sites
In the 1970s, magazines such as Hustler and Penthouse exerted financial and design pressure on Playboy to publish more explicit pictures and move further away from the "girl next door" aesthetic.
Former Playmate Miki Garcia and other disgruntled ex-Playmates assert that Playboy responded with more full-frontal nudity including pubic hair. By the 1980s, Playmates were shooting soft-porn films and videos, for which they say they were coerced into signing releases and contracts they either didn't read or didn't understand.
Soon they were turning up on the Playboy TV channel, on the internet and on hard-core pornography websites, Garcia says.
"(Hefner) promised to keep within 'the girl next door' framework, but he had the right to use those photos and films in any media he saw fit," says Garcia.
"Playboy had an obligation to protect us girls, especially the photos and videos, and (instead) they they just opened the floodgates and let them go," says ex-Playmate Dona Speir. "It's all about the money."
Former Playmate Miki Garcia and the religious right tried to shut down Playboy and failed
Meanwhile, the religious right, led by Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, and conservative allies in President Ronald Reagan's administration were aiming to muzzle Hefner. In 1985, they called Garcia, by this time an angry ex-Playboy executive who was eager to help by testifying before a federal commission on pornography.
"I felt I had power, I had a voice," she says. But no other women at Playboy supported her publicly. "No one wanted the truth out, nobody," she says.
Garcia and her anti-porn allies had a temporary victory: In 1986, Playboy and other adult magazines were removed from 7-Eleven stores, a major economic blow. Hefner sued, citing the First Amendment, and won. The magazines were back on store shelves – with wrappers – by 2003.
Ex-Playmate Rebekka Armstrong: I was raped on a modeling job. Then I got AIDS.
Armstrong, then 22, was infected in 1989 and became the first Playmate to get AIDS. At one point, she was told by her doctor she had a year or two left to live.
"Hefner's reaction was amazing – he stepped up and said sex isn’t the enemy, AIDS is the enemy, and he gave me a platform to shoot videos about AIDS awareness, to educate people," she says. "It opened doors that would not have been opened had I not posed for Playboy."
She's not sure how she got AIDS, but says she was sent by Playboy on publicity modeling jobs to Texas and Alaska, and both gigs resulted in sexual assault.
"I try not to let anger I might have had in the past poison me anymore," she tells the filmmakers. "Do I think some parties that worked there (at Playboy) are scumbags? Yeah."
Former Playmate claims she refused to sleep with Hefner, lost out on Playmate of the Year
Garcia, one of the first Hispanic Playmates of the Month (Miss January 1973), who later became director of Playmate promotions, says she learned her first business lesson from Hefner when she was up for the lucrative Playmate of the Year title. She was asked to go to the mansion to meet Hefner – and she knew what that meant: She was expected to have sex with him. Garcia tried to avoid the meeting until she was told "no more excuses" by Hefner lieutenants.
"I knew if I did not go to bed with him, I would not get Playmate of the Year," she says. The title went to another Playmate.
She also says she was raped twice during her time at Playboy, including by a famous TV actor she does not name.
Playmates were prohibited from discussing Dorothy Stratten's shocking death, the series alleges
The death of Dorothy Stratten, the 1980 Playmate of the Year who was 20 when she was shot to death by her estranged husband, was the "final straw," Garcia says.
"My job was to stop any Playmate from talking about what happened to Dorothy Stratten," Garcia says. "I was starting to realize that Playboy was a business where it was easy for someone to get hurt and I was a part of it. I began hating myself. … It was a wake-up call to me. I was one of Hefner’s best ambassadors. I had to reevaluate everything."
So in October 1985, she appeared before a President Reagan-era federal commission on pornography to testify about what she called the "inside story" of Playboy, including allegations of rape, sexual abuse, violent crime, suicide and drug-peddling.
"Playboy was dangerous to women and I was going to stop it any way I could," she says.
Ex-girlfriend Sondra Theodore: I was manipulated into orgies, raped by Hefner's cronies
Theodore has a long list of allegations against Hefner, with whom she lived as his No. 1 girlfriend for five years from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Often weeping, she describes herself as a 19-year-old "sweet, angelic, naive" girl when she met Hefner (who was 50 at the time), fell "in love" with him and moved into the Playboy Mansion, only to discover later that she wasn't No. 1 and that she would be forced or manipulated into sexual acts.
"He broke me like you break a horse," she says. "He said I was the first girl he liked enough to consider to having a baby with – that was his way of being romantic. I was not worldly enough to see through it, (to see) that he had a wife and children and multiple girlfriends."
Theodore describes Hefner as a "monster" and a "vampire," alleging he dabbled in bestiality and liked watching "snuff" films.
She says Hefner would hire porn stars to come to his bedroom and have sex with women living at the mansion while he watched. He kept multiple sex toys in the headboard of the bed, according to his valet, Stefan Tetanbaum, who says the maids' job was to clean and sterilize them every morning, encase them in plastic and return them to the headboard.
But Theodore is most undone by Hefner's pestering her to "party," meaning organize and participate in orgies, which so upset her she consumed cocaine to block the emotional and physical pain. These group sex sessions in his bedroom, which his valet corroborates in the episode, could involve up to a dozen people, she says.
She says she felt she was being raped during these sessions. "I felt so violated having a man I did not want to be with force himself on me, and I felt sick inside that the man I felt was my boyfriend was OK with that."
Claim: Bobbie Arnstein killed herself because she didn't want to testify against Hefner
Bobbie Arnstein, Hefner's executive assistant, was found dead in a Chicago hotel room in January 1975 at age 34. Nearby was a suicide note defending Hefner as a "moral" man who had been "generous" during her "recent difficulties," according to the Chicago Reader.
Those difficulties included ensnarement in a drug trafficking investigation in which she was accused of being a drug mule for the Chicago Playboy Mansion under orders from Hefner. She was wiretapped, indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison. She overdosed a few months later.
At the time, Hefner angrily blamed her suicide on "harassment" by government prosecutors using her to get to him to shut down Playboy.
Theodore says in the series that drugs were all over Playboy, and Hefner was a regular user of cocaine, Quaaludes and other pills. She claims she was a drug mule for Hefner.
"If Sondra had come forward with this testimony at the time, it would have changed the investigation, and Bobbie Arnstein wouldn't have died because she didn’t want to testify against (Hefner)," says David Reuben, a former investigator for the Cook County state attorney's office who was involved in the trafficking case.
'Secrets of Playboy' raises the question: What's changed for women who pose nude?
Former girlfriend Holly Madison calls Playboy 'a cult,' says sex with Hefner was 'traumatic'
Madison, one of Hefner's live-in lovers seen on E!'s “The Girls Next Door,” a reality show about the Playboy Mansion, says she contemplated suicide because of her time with him. She says Playboy reminded her of a "cult" and describes her first experience of sex with Hefner as "traumatic." She says she thought she was in love with Hefner, but "it was very Stockholm syndrome."
The pressure on the interchangeable girlfriends to look the same was intense. When Madison cut her long blond hair in an effort to look different, Hefner screamed at her, she says.
Playboy allegedly covered up sex crimes committed against bunnies by VIPs
Masten says she repeatedly warned her bunny charges not to to go to after-parties or go home with VIPs. "Once they left the club, they were not protected," she says.
Former Playboy bunnies, Playmates and other employees say that they knew of women who lived at the Playboy Mansion or worked at Playboy clubs who were drugged and raped by guests and members of Hefner's entourage off the property and that those assaults were hushed up and never reported to police, often at the victims' request.
Jaki Nett, a former Playboy bunny and bunny trainer from 1969 to 1979, says she and another bunny went to a party at the home of a Playboy VIP member, where they were drugged and raped.
"I didn't want to go to the police," she says. "The only thing Playboy could do is take his membership away. Playboy did protect and support me; what women need is to be believed and that's what happened to me."
Claim: Bunnies were lured from Playboy's Great Gorge resort to appear in a 'movie,' then raped, videotaped
Another horrifying incident allegedly involves the now-closed Great Gorge Playboy Club in New Jersey during Playboy's 25th anniversary.
According to Suzanne Charneski, a Playboy bunny from 1979 to 1982, a group of men pretending to be Hollywood producers visited the resort in 1979 and invited a group of bunnies to a house in the mountains nearby to possibly be filmed for their "movie."
"They were drugged, raped and videotaped, they were kept there for a couple of days and then released and told if they told anyone the videos would be broadcast," Charneski says.
When word got out, "they were fired, told to get off they property and never come back – no therapy, no doctor." She says she was warned "you could get fired if you talk about this."
A bunny kept her alleged encounter with Bill Cosby to herself because he was 'one of Hefner's best friends'
Cosby is one of several celebrities accused of sexually assaulting women at the mansion, although he has never been charged with that.
Masten is one of about 60 women who accused Cosby of sexual assault. She says Cosby drugged and raped her in a Chicago hotel in 1979, when she was a Playboy bunny. She says she was told she'd better keep quiet because no one would believe her, because Cosby was one of Hefner's best friends. Cosby has denied her allegations.
"In the 10 years that I worked for Playboy, I would venture to say that there were probably 40 to 50 young women that were silenced by Playboy because of sexual abuse," she says. Hefner knew about these episodes, Masten says, because he read the daily security reports.
"The bunny costume made you feel powerful, but I realized you lost your power when you took off the costume – you didn’t have protection," she says.
Playboy's 'cleanup crews' claim they mopped up drugs, deaths and rapes
Masten and multiple former employees of the mansion claim Playboy had “cleanup crews” to make sure scandals such as overdoses, deaths and sexual assaults remained under wraps so they could not mar Playboy's image.
"If anything scandalous happened, we had to clean it up and make sure it wouldn’t get in the press or reported to police." Masten says. "We were not allowed to take women to the hospital; we had to call Playboy security."
Ellis also confirmed the existence of cleanup crews. "When I was first hired, (the head of security) sat me down and he says, 'If you ever talk to the media about anything that you see here, you're going to wish you hadn't,' " Ellis says.
Hidden cameras, microphones recorded sexual goings-on at the Playboy Mansion
Former employees and residents of the mansion claimed cameras and microphones were hidden everywhere to record people without their knowledge.
“Every room, even outside on the property, had cameras,” says Tetenbaum. In a video clip from decades ago, Hefner acknowledged he had cameras in the house.
Hefner had a cache of tapes and videos of orgies and drug consumption to use in case anyone threatened to squeal, according to Theodore and others.
“He lets the media into all these parties on purpose because usually they end up doing something they’ll regret,” Theodore says. “So down the road if anything is going to come out negative about him, he’d just say ‘I don’t think so – remember this?' ”
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org).
If you or someone you know may be struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Secrets of Playboy': Hugh Hefner docuseries' biggest allegations