Dear Hugh Hefner, I’m Sorry I Snuck Into Your House
It was the spring of 2002 and I was entertaining visitors from Canada who were guests in my home in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. While coming back from a late lunch, our mutual attention was grabbed by a new Bentley Arnage outfitted with “Gumball 3000” decals and emblazoned with sponsors, followed closely by a likewise-liveried Ferrari, then another exotic and another followed until this less-than-subtle convoy passed by completely. My guests had no idea what was going on as I whipped my supercharged Mercedes W202 around right there in the middle of Hollywood Blvd., and gave chase. We didn't travel far, stopping at a hotel near the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall at that same storied intersection. We parked and approached a large group of douchily-dressed Eurotrash and new-monied young Americans, who began surrounding a table helmed by a serious-looking woman with a clipboard. Clipboards are never good people.
One of my friends snagged a pamphlet from the table and we soon realized we were at the very last stop of that year’s Gumball 3000 cross-country rally, this one from NYC to LA, and here we observed preparations for the teams to receive their invites to the closing event to be held at the Playboy Mansion. The pamphlet turned out to be the official route book, issued to every team, and each contained a page for every stop along the way where the route book would receive an official stamp indicating the successful completion of that stage. Without ALL of these stamps, there was no entry to the party.
At the time, I was working with a Director friend on various types of documentaries, ranging from band expose´s to following around crime scene cleanup crews, so the concept of making our way past those infamous Playboy Mansion gates to record the debauchery within, even in a less-than-authorized manner, was an overwhelming urge. I called my Director buddy, (I’ll use initials only for the sake of their privacy) “V”, and another friend, “R”, who I knew as a McGuyver-like entity from my younger days who could sham, scam, or scheme his way into anywhere. While V worked to assemble the necessary camera and sound equipment, R arrived at the hotel and we begun to plot out entry into this party.
In short order, we had a plan. I walked up to the table lady and asked for my credentials, with R standing just behind her and peeking over her shoulder. As she searched the list for my name, he scanned the pages for a name he could make out and remember. After a few minutes she apologized but dismissed me as unwelcome without being on the sacred list. I sulked but walked away, knowing we already had a path forward. I reconvened with R on the sidelines and he gave me the name of some reporter he noticed on the “Press” list, which was perfect since we would be carrying around cameras and a boom mic. One major problem still stood in our way, we didn't have the stamps. R said, “I’ve got this” and disappeared for about an hour while I waited for V to arrive with our equipment.
Our Canadian guests were taken back to my place where they would be less bored, and more importantly, where they could act as our “get out of jail” card should things go totally sideways. Would the Hollywood police station even accept Monopoly money?
By this time, shuttle buses were arriving to take guests the 20-minute drive to the far end of Beverly Hills where the Mansion sits, bordering Bel Air, and just as we began to wonder if this was going to even work at all, R showed up with a smile as big as the Hollywood Hills themselves. He proudly opened the route book to show that it was now completely stamped from beginning to end. I asked how the Hell did he manage this trick and he producer a large art eraser that he had meticulously carved into the shape of the official seal, broke open several various colored ink pens, and then used their contents to stamp each page with the correct color. Damn, was he ever the man for this job!
This time V approached and used the booklet to obtain passes for us, acting as the camera and sound guys, and even managed to grab a coveted third invite for our “field producer.”
We boarded the shuttle van without incident, and thankfully the rally participants were already too far down the path of intoxication to note our presence, busy boasting, catcalling other attendees, and generally speaking far louder than they realized as rich, drunk assholes are wont to do.
As we passed through the heavily secured gates of the Playboy Mansion the air of infamy set upon us as the main house came into view, elegantly lighted on a warm spring evening. We disembarked up front where a semi-circle of exotics bordered a massive fountain, and walked through a patio area towards the famous Grotto where the sound of music and cast of multi-colored lights lured us. On the way, Steve-O, still riding high at the time as a star of MTV’s Jackass show, saw our cameras and couldn’t resist talking to us. R, V, and I all looked at one-another and we powered up our equipment and started to film. “This is it, we’re doing this” I thought to myself. Steve-O was pretty trashed already and proceeded to explain to us that “the only thing better then being invited to the Playboy Mansion was getting kicked out of the Playboy Mansion.” I don’t know how all that worked out for him.
We moved ahead, spotting big stars and unknowns alike who perfectly captured the popular cultural tone of the era (Matthew McConaughey, Rachael Hunter, Donna Karen who made the cross-continental trek in a specially prepped Checker Cab in full NYC livery), while large-tittied women bounced around as participating men covered their awkward boners. Clothing was piled up outside the hidden Grotto pool area, who’s main access door was now shut so that the den of decadence was only accessible by swimming under a concrete span. We opted against this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a fear of getting stranger’s semen in our equipment and faces.
As V filmed and I ran sound, R wandered the property. We would bump into each other throughout the evening and R explained how he happened across the private zoo that Hef maintained and we wandered around as much as we could get away with, just making it into the house to ummm, look for the bathroom, before being politely ushered back out with a stern but helpful, “the party is this way sir.”
We ate some food, filmed some fools, and surprisingly started to become rather bored. The Playboy Mansion, from what we encountered, was much like Hugh Hefner himself; old, tired, outdated, with only just enough maintenance to keep it from ceasing to exist altogether. We were fairly unimpressed and decided we had the footage and experience we had hoped for and so grabbed the next shuttle ride back to the hotel.
The footage? Well we never really got enough to do anything with it, let alone the fact that we didn't have releases signed by the attendees, so it made it’s way to V’s Director’s Reel and that’s about it. The story has lived on however, famously so among my friends and acquaintances, and the one you’re reading now was inspired by one of those visiting Canadians at that time, who texted me the day after Hef died and said, “sorry about your good friend Mr. Hefner.”
So, if you’re seeing this Hef, I am sorry for sneaking into your home, but I feel like you would have appreciated the effort it took to do so.