Hugh Hefner’s Wife Crystal On The Playboy Empire Truth

Crystal kept her promise to say only good things about him...until now.
Crystal and Hugh Hefner

“Last night I dreamed about the mansion again. In the dream I am driving, racing to get back before curfew. The sun is already setting, the LA light turning golden in my rear-view mirror. I’m panicking because while I don’t know what will happen if I arrive past my curfew,

I know I can’t be late, and the terror claws at my throat. I press on the gas pedal, desperately trying to go faster, to make it back to that ivy-covered Gothic house before the clock strikes six. In my dream I know I’m not going to make it in time.

I wake up with old familiar feelings: sick, anxious, afraid. It’s been years since I lived in the mansion. I haven’t been back to the mansion since my husband died. He died, I left, and
I never went back. But I seem to go back there in my mind all the time.

In a lot of ways, I am still trying to get out of that mansion.

Playboy Mansion
The entrance of Playboy Enterprises CEO Hugh Hefner’s mansion is shown in Los Angeles, California in 2006.

I always had to be home by six o’clock. If I wasn’t, it was a problem. He would be upset. He would be yelling my name through the house. The pantry staff would start frantically calling my phone at exactly 6.01pm, even though I’d already be winding my way up the long, curving drive, around the tall stone fountain topped with a cherub watching me with his empty marble eyes. And then I would run in, pushing through the heavy wooden door, and go find Hef so I could kiss him on the cheek and show him: here I am, I’m home, I’ve followed the rules.

I’m a good girl.

For almost a decade, the Playboy Mansion was my home. But it never really felt like home.

There was only one place I ever managed to make my own: a tiny room we called the vanity, just a closet really, but with a handful of long, narrow windows. The vanity was right off the master bedroom. It had a flimsy door that slid shut but didn’t lock. There was just enough space for a small built-in desk and chair. It was my little sanctuary, a place to be alone and unobserved. In the mansion, there was always someone in every room – other girls, party guests, staff. There was a friend of Hef’s on the couch next to me, leaning uncomfortably close. There was a famous movie star in the hallway who wanted to run his hands over me. There were no doors I could lock because there were copies of every key. And Hef, of course, held the master key.

In the vanity, for a few minutes at least, I could lay my head down on my arms and stop the pretence. Stop worrying about what I looked like every second.

Whether I was smiling the right way. Whether I had arranged my body correctly. Whether I was dressed the way he liked. Whether my hair looked right. Whether my breasts were perfect enough. How I compared to the other women. There were always other women around. It was always, explicitly, a competition.

Crystal Hefner
Model, writer and TV personality Crystal Hefner.

The vanity’s second-storey window opened out onto the lawn, where peacocks strolled and staff crisscrossed carrying chairs and platters of food and cases of wine, getting ready for this party or that one. Ivy grew around that window, thick on the stone, like in a fairytale. Sometimes I imagined myself as Rapunzel, locked in her tower, waiting for someone to rescue her. But nobody ever did. And I had climbed into my tower voluntarily.

I didn’t know then that I could rescue myself. I didn’t always know I needed to be rescued, but I knew I was trapped.

I spent a decade of my life at the Playboy Mansion. First, I was just a guest – a dazzled, starry-eyed girl at a party. Then, I became a girlfriend. I became a member of arguably the most high-profile, visible modern harem in existence. I became a Playboy centrefold – that holy grail of success in the Playboy world – on newsstands across the country. I became the fiancée of one of the most powerful, controversial, mythical men in the public imagination. Eventually, I became his wife.

My last year at the mansion, Hef wanted me near him at all times. I had always had a curfew at the mansion, but now it was bumped earlier and earlier. When he didn’t know where I was, he whipped up the staff into a frenzy to find me. He was frail and tired, but he rarely talked about death. The only thing he wanted to make sure I knew was that he wanted to be buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park next to Marilyn Monroe.

Crystal Hefner
Playboy Playmates Jennifer Pershing and Crystal Harris visit The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

He had already bought the crypt for $75,000 back in the ’90s. [Marilyn] was the first woman to grace the cover of Playboy and to appear nude inside its pages. He put her in there without her permission, after buying the photos from a calendar company. She never got a dime. And she certainly didn’t have any say in whose bones would be lying on top of hers for all eternity.
I didn’t say a word. If that’s what he wanted, that’s what he would get. Hef always got what he wanted.

Hef’s 91st birthday, in April of 2017, was his last. The theme, as always, was Casablanca. We screened it on his birthday every year, in the movie room, with all the party guests in costume: the men in white tuxedos, the women in slinky 1930s dresses. The dining room was tricked out like Rick’s Cafe, with posters on the walls and decorations that hinted at a dusty Moroccan expat bar. At the end of the movie, when Rick and Ilsa parted ways, he cried. Something about the doomed romance really got to him. By now I knew that he could be very sentimental.

He could also be very cruel.

After the movie, everyone streamed into the dining room. I held Hef’s arm, and he leaned on me – hard. It was difficult for him to walk, but I didn’t want anybody to see that. He still had to be Hugh Hefner for all these people. He couldn’t be an old man. I stood holding his arm, letting him lean on me without letting on.

When they brought the cake out, it was perfectly airbrushed, the same as always: his face and mine screened onto the icing. Hef as Bogart, me his blonde Bergman. Before me, it had been Holly’s face on the cake; before that, Tina, Brande, Kimberly … a parade of blondes, each one of us replacing the next.

LAS VEGAS – APRIL 04: Kendra Wilkinson, Bridget Marquardt, Hugh Hefner, Holly Madison and Crystal Harris attends Hugh Hefner’s 83rd birthday pool party at Palms Place Hotle and Resort on April 4, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)

In the photos from that night, I am laughing. My makeup is flawless and my dress sparkles. My golden blonde hair has been done in big sexy waves, classic Playboy style. What the cameras don’t capture is everything I’m hiding: that he’s dying, that I’m also sick. That I can feel in my body that something is very wrong. I’m exhausted.

My brain is foggy; I can barely think. It feels like my bones are burning. I’ve been to see doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what’s wrong; I’ve been on an intensive course of antibiotics; I’ve had surgery to remove the breast implants I had put in over a decade ago. I still feel horrible. Shaky. Weak. I don’t know what’s wrong, but something is telling me: this mansion is killing me. At the end of the night, Hef ’s two burly ex-military nurses carried him up the stairs. I helped him change out of the black silk pyjamas and into the flannel ones he now preferred to sleep in. I helped him into the bed.

“I want you to be on the board of my foundation,” he was saying as I slipped his slippers off and lifted his pale, almost translucent, legs under the silk sheets. “I want you to continue my legacy going forward.”

And then he paused and looked at me. “And I want to remind you,” he said, his eyes locked on mine, “to only say good things about me.”

I hesitated, but barely. “Of course,” I said. “Promise me,” he replied. I looked at him, so frail and weak and small in this big bed, and I swallowed down every part of me that wanted to say so much more. “I will only say good things, I promise.”

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and model Crystal Harris attend the Hugh Hefner Autographs Limited Edition Six-Volume Anthology Party by Taschen on December 10, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Bezjian/WireImage)

Six months later, he came down with a minor infection. At first, it seemed treatable –but it was an E.coli infection – an aggressive one. When the doctors started suggesting he wasn’t going to make it, I was confused and frantic. I’d desperately wanted out of the mansion, the marriage, but not like this.

After he died, the media hounded me for a statement. My phone buzzed and buzzed with requests from every news outlet imaginable. At the gates of the mansion, a pile of bouquets grew higher and higher.

I didn’t leave at all in those first few weeks. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. Even more deeply, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or even who I was outside of those gates.

But I was going to have to figure it out – and fast.

LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 18: Crystal Harris attends at Wet Republic on what would have been her wedding day on June 18, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)

The mansion had already been sold, more than a year prior, to a billionaire who wanted to own a piece of Playboy. The agreement with the new owner was that he would allow Hef to continue living in the mansion, undisturbed, for the rest of his life. Now he was gone, and the mansion didn’t belong to any of us anymore. We had to get out.

Finally, I sat down, wrote a statement, and sent it to the publicist at Playboy. She made edits and then we sent it out to the world.

I only said good things. I’d promised. For a long time, I kept that promise. But that promise was killing me.”

This is an edited extract from Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself, by Crystal Hefner (Penguin Random House, $36.99).

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