Playboy was once synonymous—however controversially—with sexual liberation, but a new documentary has unravelled what we thought we knew about the magazine, mansion, and man behind it all. Secrets Of Playboy has unearthed deep, dark and disturbing truths about life in the mansion, especially for the women who made it what it was. Behind the glitz and glamour was a seedy underbelly of drugs, abuse and deception — and the house of cards is finally read to topple.
For many women, their time spent in the infamous mansion would go on to define the rest of their careers, and no matter how hard they’ve fought to escape it, their memories have stuck with them. Holly Madison, one of Hugh Hefner’s most well-known, long-term girlfriends has been among the most outspoken of the group in an attempt to reclaim her own narrative. This latest documentary has been instrumental in giving these women their voices back, and changing the public perception of the Playboy name. The project’s filmmaker, Alexandra Dean (who also made the Paris Hilton documentary, This Is Paris), interviewed more than 100 people who had been connected to Playboy over the past 60 years. In doing so, she uncovered the sad truth about the brand who claimed to champion women’s rights instead, allegedly created a culture of abuse, violence, and cover-up.
“It was a beautiful world to him: beautiful girls, beautiful people, beautiful food, everything,” Sondra Theodore, a former Playmate and girlfriend of Hugh Heffner, said in the first episode. “It looked that way, but it was ugly. It was really ugly.”
Many of the women who appear throughout the 10-part series are only doing so in the wake of Hefner’s death. After his passing in 2017, everyone from former bunnies to mansion visitors finally felt safe enough to reveal the truth behind the facade, with Hefner’s grip on them finally loosened.
Below, the most shocking revelations and allegations from the Secrets Of Playboy documentary.
Accusations of rape and physical abuse
Several women have claimed to be victims of sexual and physical assault from Hefner and his associates. These instances are said to have occurred not only in the mansion, but at Playboy parties, corporate offices in clubs and during promotional events.
In one particularly shocking claim, one woman accused Hefner and his friends of drugging actress Linda Lovelace and forcing her to perform beastiality with a dog. Other people in the documentary alleged that Hefner had intercourse with his own dog.
VIP members of the Playboy nightclubs were said to have free rein, which allowed them to do whatever they pleased. At one point in the docuseries, former Playboy “bunny mother” P.J. Masten alleged that Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius kidnapped and sexually assaulted two bunnies.
“It was probably the most horrific story I’ve ever heard at Playboy,” Masten recalled of the incident. “This story is the story of a massive cleanup that never hit the press. These two young girls got in his Rolls-Royce, went up to his house and we didn’t hear from them for three days. We couldn’t figure out where they were.”
After receiving a call from one of the women, they were picked up by Playboy’s head of security, Joe Piastro, who found them “bloodied, battered [and] drugged,” according to Masten. “They were tied up and bound. There were wooden objects that they were sodomized with and [one sister] could hear [the] other sister being brutalized. It was horrible, horrible.”
Masten admits that she carries a lot of guilt for not coming forward, but claims that the matter was handled internally, with Playboy’s security team convincing the women not to speak publicly about it. “I blame myself a lot, I have such guilt about not coming forward, but I knew that the establishment wouldn’t allow me to come forward. And who’s going to believe me? Nobody’s going to believe me,” she said.
Don Cornelius (who passed away in 2012) is unable to defend himself, but his son Tony has vehemently denied the claims to People, calling it an “unbelievable story without real proof”.
Drugs ran rampant and were often forced
During their time at the mansion, multiple women have claimed to have been drugged without their consent. Hefner was said to have a drawer of quaaludes in his bedroom drawer, which he offered Holly Madison upon meeting her for the first time. He told her that he called the drugs ‘thigh openers,’ but she declined to take any.
Later, Lisa Loving Barrett, Hefner’s executive assistant during the late 1970s and 80s, would confirm his use of quaaludes, which were described as ‘necessary evil’, because they made women do virtually anything once the effects had kicked in.
According to one of Hefner’s ex-girlfriends, Sondra Theodore, Hefner was a prolific drug user who ordered her to go out and buy cocaine numerous times. She also claimed that the drug was so widely available, that Hefner’s own dog became addicted to the substance after licking it off the floor.
Hefner had an insatiable sexual appetite
Later in the series, Sondra Theodore alleged that the magazine mogul demanded group sex five nights a week. “You couldn’t satisfy him. He wanted more and more and more,” she explained. She described how his sexual demands became increasingly more concerning, and the inability to refuse him was terrifying.
“The group sex was at least five nights a week. They had a protocol. He liked to direct and you didn’t segue away from it because you could tell it irritated him,” she explained, before adding that the sex broke her “like you’d break a horse.”
And, despite his increasing sexual demands, Holly Madison claimed that Hefner refused to use any form of protection during their sexual encounters. “It was all very mechanical and robotic and you’d follow the other women’s lead. It was really gross to me how Hef didn’t want to use protection,” she said.
The Playboy founder is also said to have hosted weekly ‘Pig Nights,’ where he would order in groups of ‘ugly’ prostitutes to have sex with him and his friends. Stefan Tetenbaum, Hefner’s valet between 1978 and 1981, said the event occurred every Thursday, with Hefner instructing two pimps to bring in half a dozen sex workers from Sunset Strip. They would undergo a medical examination from an onsite doctor before engaging in sex with the guests.
Plastic surgery was encouraged
The Playboy mansion had an onsite doctor named Mark Saginor who was referred to as ‘Dr FeelGood’ internally. He was said to have handed out prescription and non-prescription drugs freely, and was even rumoured to be Hefner’s secret lover of 40 years. Mark’s daughter, Jennifer Saginor, lived in the mansion for several years, and said she was encouraged to get plastic surgery at just 15-years old.
Mark apparently encouraged women to undergo breast augmentations and allegedly told one woman that cocaine would cure her asthma. Hefner’s obsession with plastic surgery was said to be his way of maintaining control over the women, by ensuring they all looked the same and didn’t have any unique features or characteristics. It was Hefner’s world, and these women were merely living in it.
“The plastic surgery amongst the girlfriends in the mansion was compulsive, everybody was doing it with very few exceptions,” Holly Madison said, when asked about it. She then recalled an instance where she cut her hair short in an attempt to reclaim a sense of individuality, but the decision was not taken well by Hefner.
“My hair was really long naturally. And I was just like, ‘I’m gonna go chop my hair off so I can at least look a little different’. I came back with short hair. And he flipped out on me. And he was screaming at me and said it made me look old, hard, and cheap,” she recalled.
The mansion was bugged and revenge porn was hidden
PJ Masten, Sondra Theodore and Holly Madison have all claimed that revenge porn was hidden and stashed within the mansion to use as ‘collateral.’ Hefner apparently demanded that all sex be filmed, whether he participated in it or not. His butler claimed the tapes were kept in a library in his office, which was off-limits to everyone except Hefner and his longtime executive secretary Mary O’Connor. If you were caught going near it, your employment would be terminated immediately.
“When you would go out with Hef, he’s taking all kinds of naked pictures of these women when we’re wasted out of our minds. And he would print out like eight copies for him and all the women. You pass them around. It was just gross,” Holly Madison explained, when asked about the tapes. She revealed their existence was part of what stopped her from leaving for so long. She was afraid of what Hefner might do if she ‘betrayed’ him by leaving the mansion.
According to Stefen Tetenbaum, Hefner had hidden cameras in every room, along with hidden microphones in the garden. Sondra Theodore claimed that Hefner would invite high-profile journalists to the mansion ‘on purpose’, so that he could record them doing something incriminating and use it as blackmail. This way, he could always control the public narrative by ensuring that nobody could say a bad word against him.
The creation of ‘shadow mansions’
Jennifer Saginor has also spoken about the creation of ‘mini mansions’ for playmates castoffs. According to claims, if these women agreed to move in and pose nude for the men, they would be promised modelling careers in exchange. The mansions were said to have been created after Hefner married Kimberley Conrad in 1989 and hosted fewer orgy parties, forcing men to seek entertainment elsewhere.
“My father and the inner circle from Playboy created clones of the Playboy Mansion on a smaller scale to sort of lure these young girls in,” Saginor said in the latest episode. “It was very predatory. These young girls have no idea what’s gonna hit them next.”
Saginor went on to claim that the ‘nines and tens’ would be invited to live in the real mansion, while the ‘sevens and eights’ would be invited to the spinoffs. There, girls would allegedly be drugged or forcibly intoxicated, and asked to pose for photoshoots without clothing, some of which were said to have been videotaped for blackmail purposes.
In the wake of the Secrets Of Playboy documentary, the brand (which still exists today) has issued a public statement, distancing themselves from the empire’s founder. “We trust and validate women and their stories, and we strongly support the individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security and accountability are paramount, and anything less is inexcusable. We will continue to confront any parts of our legacy that do not reflect our values today, and to build upon the progress we have made as we evolve as a company so we can drive positive change for you and our communities,” the statement read.
In the wake of these claims, several former-bunnies have bonded over their shared trauma after reconnecting years later. Playmate Miki Garcia and Sondra Theodore became friends after finding one another in 2011, while many others have connected through the Women of Playboy Facebook group. These reunions and bonds are especially powerful, given Hefner’s obsession with causing a divide between the women and pitting them off against each other, as Holly Madison claimed he so often did. Playboy has a long way to go, but this could well be beginning of a new, and hopefully much better chapter.