Hugh Hefner’s personal assistant works with him, loves him, and dies in order to protect him from the government as he builds the Playboy empire. Biographical. [Dir: Peter Werner (III)/ Randall Batinkoff, Natasha Wagner, Becky Herbst/ 90min/ Drama, Biography/ Creator as Hero, Freedom of Speech, Sexual Liberty]
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This film is told from the perspective of Bobbie Arnstein, Hugh Hefner’s one-time personal assistant and close friend. It’s not just a third person perspective, but that of a spirit, as Arnstein commits suicide in the opening scene and the rest of her biographical narrative about Hefner is mostly a flashback from there.
It begins with a brief description of Hefner’s early years: his puritanical youth, his grade-school entrepreneurial activities, his remaking of himself in college as the cool “Hef,” and finally his adoption of the straight and narrow life—wife, kids, steady job, etc. While in his steady (boring) job, he got the idea of creating a magazine that would be, as he called it, “a celebration of the good life.”
He envisioned a fun, classy publication that would treat sex as a legitimate pleasure instead of a regrettable sin. The concept was a hit right from the start. The first issue garnered a remarkable seventy thousand preorders from distributors. And under Hefner’s workaholic leadership, it kept growing from there.
Hefner began to use the publication as a voice for his often libertarian political views, including calls to end the (then ongoing) Vietnam War, legalize pot, and get the government out of people’s bedrooms. Hefner’s uncompromising public defense of Playboy, and of personal freedom generally, roused the ire of prominent moralists. In turn, the government began to watch and investigate Hefner. It first tried to shut him up by arresting him for “distributing an obscene publication.” He beat that rap.
A second attempt was made to get him, via the “War on Drugs,” when Bobbie Arnstein, his assistant and the narrator here, was convicted for possession of cocaine. Agents tried to force Arnstein to accuse Hefner of drug use, hoping to destroy him. But Arnstein committed suicide rather than hurt Hefner, and left a note explaining he was entirely innocent.
Hefner’s story of struggle and survival—as a successful entrepreneur, a revolutionary for social liberties and a generally independent character–should be of strong interest to libertarians. Despite this film’s sometimes flippant quality, its telling of his tale is generally entertaining and is even a little inspiring. The broadcast version of this film is suitable for a general audience; a slightly more explicit (R-rated) version is also available.