Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Hugh Hefner and a Playboy bunny in HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST AND REBEL, a film by Brigitte Berman. Picture courtesy Playboy Archives. All rights reserved.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (2009/2010)

Also Known As: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel

Opened: 07/30/2010 Limited (14 Theaters)

Limited (14 Th...07/30/2010
Angelika/NYC07/30/2010 - 08/05/20107 days
The Nuart07/30/2010 - 08/05/20107 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Genre: Documentary

Rated: R for graphic nudity and sexual content.

Short Synopsis

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel takes an intimate look at the outspoken, flamboyant founder of the Playboy empire.

When Hefner launched Playboy magazine in 1953, he became a champion of the sexual revolution and, immediately, the forces of Church and State initiated a war against him that raged over the decades. Hefner is revealed both as a hedonistic playboy, but, more importantly, as the man who's been a groundbreaking advocate and catalyst for civil rights, the First Amendment, and human rights.

With humour and insight, the film captures Hefner's fierce battles with the government, the religious right, and militant feminists. Compelling interviews with a remarkable Who's Who of the decades, and rare footage, present a brilliant and entertaining snapshot of the life of an extraordinary man and the controversies that surrounded him.

Long Synopsis

"There are probably a lot of people today enjoying freedoms who have no idea that Hugh Hefner was the pioneer who got all the arrows... He fought for it on every level, for everybody, and if you think it's just about sex, then you're looking through the keyhole, and you're not really seeing the whole picture."

-- Bill Maher, Comedian/Talk Show Host

"Anybody who tries to understand American history knows that Hugh Hefner was damned important, in helping make history. For good, or ill."

-- Mike Wallace, Journalist

Hugh Hefner, one of the most influential media figures of the twentieth century, inspires a litany of reactions that are mainly connected to nudity and sex. But there's a whole other side to this man who has been an American icon since the early 1950s. To some he's considered extremely dangerous and responsible for causing major damage to the moral fabric of America, and to others, he is an activist, a renegade that fought for and was influential in preserving First Amendment rights and achieving social and racial justice.

HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST AND REBEL, directed by Oscar-winning producer/director Brigitte Berman ("Artie Shaw: Time is all you've got"), reveals for the first time, not only the flamboyant, outspoken founder of the Playboy empire, but also his many fierce battles with nearly all levels of the U.S. government, the religious right, and militant feminists. Hefner granted Berman unprecedented access to his vast, personal archives and agreed that she would maintain creative and editorial freedom -- something he'd never done before. The film features interviews with a veritable "Who's Who" of the decades, highlighting the controversies surrounding Hefner, including George Lucas, Gene Simmons, Dick Gregory, Joan Baez, Jim Brown, Tony Bennett, James Caan, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Pete Seeger, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, and many more.

Berman explores the dimensions of the man - on the one hand, the hedonistic Playboy, pursuing his sexual odyssey and living a highly controversial lifestyle, and on the other hand, the humanitarian who has been a catalyst for progressive change on a whole array of social and political issues: racial equality, First Amendment rights, abortion rights, sexual freedom, censorship and social justice.

Berman first became friends with Hefner after she sent him a copy of her award-winning feature documentary BIX: "ain't none of them play like him yet", about the life of jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, one of Hef's favorite musicians. Hefner later released BIX on his Jazz Video label.

In April 2006, after Berman attended Hefner's momentous 80th birthday party at the Playboy Mansion, she decided that she wanted to make a feature documentary that would reveal the other side of Hugh Hefner that had not yet been portrayed in any of the prior documentaries made about him. "I knew he was a more complex and socially concerned person," Berman notes. "At this party he was celebrated as a playboy but I felt that the celebration of his other side wasn't there. This film reveals that other side."

"What fascinates me about Hef is that while many know him only as a hedonistic, sensual Playboy, a legendary lover of countless beautiful women -- there is a whole other and far more interesting, far sexier side to him as well - a driven, talented publisher of a groundbreaking magazine, who is also a social activist at the forefront of countless progressive causes - a man who took great risks in breaking the color line in his Playboy clubs and TV shows, who defied the blacklist in the McCarthy Fifties decade, fought antiquated and absurd sex laws that regulated private conduct in the nation's bedrooms, provided legal teams to fight anti-abortion laws that eventually led to Roe vs Wade, and campaigned against censorship and for the individual's right to freedom of expression on all fronts," says Berman.

Hefner was never influenced by the pervasive color divide that existed in America. He was color-blind. His activism extends way beyond the areas of censorship and outdated sex laws. In the early 1960s, when Playboy clubs in Miami and New Orleans would not allow black patrons into the clubs, Hefner used his own money to buy back the franchises from the owners, at a loss, ensuring that institutions bearing the Playboy name would be racially integrated. In fact, comedian/activist Dick Gregory got his start in the Chicago Playboy club. Hefner hired Dick Gregory as the first African-American standup comedian to perform in his club in front of a white audience. This opened the door for a long line of great black standup comedians including Flip Wilson, Slappy White, Richard Pryor and many more.

States Berman, "His 1959 Playboy's Penthouse television shows aired at a time when nobody dared to feature black and white people together, either as performers or as audience participants in a party setting. Hefner didn't think twice about it. Those were his friends, and that's the way he was. Southern states wouldn't buy the shows, but he didn't care. He's a man of strong principles."

Berman continues, "When screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, Hefner asked Trumbo to write an article for Playboy magazine. Dalton Trumbo assumed it would be under his pseudonym, but Hef said, 'No, we're publishing it under your real name.' That's what Hef did. He believed then, and still does, in fighting for all human rights."

"Hefner fought against injustice, and fought to change, and to bring about a truth in this country," states Jim Brown, social activist/retired NFL player. "He maximized his influence to make this a better country, and that's all he was trying to do, to make it an honest country."

Brown continues, "Anytime you're free like Hef was in America, you're dangerous...A CIA agent once told me, 'if you're doin' all the great work in the world, and you're influencing people, but you're not controlled by the government, they don't like it.' So, Hef had too much influence and nobody could control him...There are only a few warriors left, from the 60s, and Hef is definitely one of them."

Reverend Jesse Jackson adds, "Hef used the platform of his popularity to decry the injustices, the Vietnam War, and lack of civil rights, the lack of freedom and police violence against the people."

When Hefner launched Playboy in December 1953, the magazine achieved instant notoriety and astounding success. Its magnet was a nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe. The subscriber base grew and by 1959, over a million copies were being sold every month. Hefner started Playboy magazine during a time when America was still highly puritanical, and nudity and sex were spoken about in hushed tones. Hefner became an outspoken champion of the sexual revolution, and immediately, the outraged forces of Church and State, initiated a war against Hefner and Playboy that raged over the decades.

"Playboy magazine and that whole mind set, that whole philosophy, that whole attitude of no restraint whatsoever, moral, spiritually, any other way, has contributed, more than any other single ingredient, to the breaking of the moral compass," notes Christian activist/singer Pat Boone and adds, "Hugh Hefer is a pornographer."

"If Hef's a pornographer, then I'm a porno star," says Jenny McCarthy, 1994 Playmate of the Year, and well-known Author/Activist. "Playboy really changed my life because not only did it help me get famous, but more importantly, it made me feel proud to be a woman."

Berman also interviewed passionate feminists, including Susan Brownmiller who still considers Hefner to be the devil. Berman states, "I believe everybody has a right to their opinion and the reason I made this film was to reveal a very important side of Hefner that many people don't know."

Hefner has often stated that he is extremely proud of his enemies - and they certainly have been formidable. For years he was on the enemies' lists of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, as well as the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover.

His enemies on the religious right have included American televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell, Don Wildmon with the American Family Association, and Charles Keating, founder of Citizens for Decent Literature, all of whom have exerted tremendous influence in Washington.

Outspoken feminist opponent Gloria Steinem turned down three requests to be interviewed for the documentary.

The film highlights how in fighting his battles, Hefner has been arrested for obscenity, branded a pornographer by Reagan's Meese Commission, endured a boycott of his magazine, was under FBI surveillance and was set up on a fabricated drug charge. He has won every legal battle he has ever fought. And of course, his legendary lifestyle has continued unabated throughout.

While making the film, Berman had access to Hefner's more than 2,000 scrapbooks and she went through virtually all of them. To this day, Hefner continues to work on his scrapbooks. "In one of his scrapbooks, I found an unusual story about The Big Bunny -- the big black private plane Hef once owned, with the white bunny logo on the plane's tail," Berman recalls, "During the Vietnam War, Yul Brynner asked Hefner if they could use The Big Bunny to bring Vietnamese war orphans to their various destinations across America. Hef arranged it, and there are very moving photographs of these orphans being tended by the Bunny Mothers and Bunnies as they travel across the country."

"Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel", is a documentary produced by Metaphor Films and its award-winning producers are Victor Solnicki and Brigitte Berman.

The film is distributed in the United States by Phase 4 Films, and in Canada by Kinosmith, and is being theatrically released in both countries.

It is produced in association with Telefilm Canada and The Rogers Group of Funds through the Theatrical Documentary Program; produced in association with The Movie Network (executive in charge of production Michelle Marion) and produced in association with Movie Central (executive in charge of production Erica Benson); produced with the participation of the Ontario Media Development Corporation and with the assistance of the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credits, produced with the participation of The Canadian Television Fund, produced in association with Rogers Broadcasting Limited, and developed with the assistance of Super Channel.