Saturday, March 30, 2013

Manly Night at the Playboy Mansion

At Esquire, "Gentlemen, Gentlemen, Be of Good Cheer, for They Are Out There, and We Are in Here: The Perfect Life of Hugh Hefner":
For as long as anyone can remember, Monday night has been Manly Night at the Playboy Mansion. A little after five o'clock, nine or ten of Hugh Hefner's best friends — invited guests, holders of inner-circle memberships that will be good until death — start pulling up outside the front gate. They talk into what looks like a big round rock, and a disembodied voice questions and admits them, sometimes sounding surprised about it—"Oh, hey, you can come up" — and the gate swings open, revealing a hedge-lined driveway and two yellow warning signs: BRAKE FOR ANIMALS and PLAYMATES AT PLAY. The Mansion soon looms at the top of a rise, a Gothic pile with leaded glass windows that overlook immaculate grounds tended by men in green work shirts, each with the familiar white rabbit stitched on the chest. The guests ease up next to a marble fountain topped by a cherub molesting a dolphin, and then they head through the Mansion's thick wood front door and into the appropriately named Great Hall, where there are several large portraits of their host watched over by a full-sized statue of Frankenstein.

Ray Anthony, the ninety-one-year-old trumpeter and bandleader, is usually the first of the men to show up, with either a hat or a toupee on his head. Fred Dryer, the former football player and actor, also arrives, still looking capable of feats of strength, his hands the size of dinner plates. Johnny Crawford, the former child star (The Rifleman) and teen idol ("Cindy's Birthday"), wanders in, as does eighty-four-year-old Keith Hefner, the younger brother and only sibling of the more famous of the Hefner boys. More ordinary men join the gathering as well — a retired kindergarten teacher named Mark Cantor, a movie-memorabilia expert named Ron Borst, a producer named Kevin Burns. The youngest and newest member, Jeremy Arnold, is a film historian and writer. He's been admitted to Manly Night for only a year or so, after spending ten years in the less-exclusive Movie Nights' farm club — Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays — and he still walks around with a bemused smile, as though he's not quite sure how he ended up here or doesn't believe he has. All these men somehow drifted into Hefner's orbit, and for whatever reason he decided to snare them, the way a planet collects satellites. Now they will never escape his gravity. They will never try.

The center of this particular universe is, for the moment, invisible to the naked eye. He's probably upstairs in his bedroom, where the chances are very high that he's eating a bowl of Lipton chicken-noodle soup, which he eats nearly every day. He rarely eats with the other members of the group, who move to the dining room — a large wood table, a dozen ornate blue chairs, a life-sized cardboard cutout of a smiling Hefner in black silk pajamas, a permanent stand-in — and take their regular seats. There are menus at each place — Hosted byHugh M. Hefner — but the Mansion is a bit like a cruise ship: The industrial kitchen and its venerable staff (William the executive chef, Brenda the pastry chef, Alan the butler, and maybe six or eight invisible others) will prepare just about any American meal a man could want. Plates of fried chicken soon come out of the shining kitchen, big salads, slabs of rib eye. Cocktails are poured and the men knock on one another and catch up on the week's events and raise a toast they say together: "Gentlemen, gentlemen, be of good cheer, for they are out there, and we are in here."
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