Hefner’s Mansion Embodied Hedonistic Fun and Darker Impulses

She said she had managed to push away her assailant, who disappeared into the house. Within minutes, two guards approached her. “They said, ‘We’re sorry, but Mr. Hefner is asking you to leave the property,’” Ms. Magnuson recalled.

“Banned from the Playboy Mansion for refusing one of his gross friend’s sexual advances — total badge of honor,” Ms. Magnuson said. (She later added in a text message: “One of the reason ingénues accepted invitations to the mansion was to have a nice meal. Sad but true. I was the proverbial starving actress back then.”)

The debauchery at the Playboy Mansion continued for another two and a half decades. In 2005, Mr. Hefner’s reality show, “The Girls Next Door,” became a tawdry hit and introduced a new generation to the property.

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The Playboy Mansion’s glory days were far in the past by last year, when it was sold with the proviso that Hugh Hefner be allowed to live there until his death.

Credit
Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Like so many things in Hollywood, though, the reality had become quite different from the carefully crafted image. Rather than a rollicking pleasure palace, the mansion had become quite sad by 2009, when I spent time at the mansion for an article that would be headlined “The Loin in Winter.” Mr. Hefner’s struggling Playboy Enterprises was renting out the grounds nonstop for corporate events. He had lost most of his hearing but was still trying to pass off his silk-pajama shtick.

I remember being horrified by the aviary, which was stacked thick with white bird excrement. Daylight was not kind to the grotto; a wet, dirty pad resembling a small mattress appeared to be rotting in an alcove. The flamingos that once prowled the property were long gone (or hiding in shame) and the monkey cages, while clean, seemed to epitomize the place — an icky vestige of another era.

Two years later, the grotto pools would be linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

The stone house, built in 1927 for an heir to the Broadway and Bullock’s department store fortune, may well have another act. Located a few hundred feet off Sunset Boulevard and abutting the Los Angeles Country Club, the Playboy Mansion was purchased last year by J. Daren Metropoulos, a businessman and heir to a fortune built on Chef Boyardee meatballs, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Bumble Bee tuna. The sale had one condition: Mr. Hefner could live there until his death.

Mr. Metropoulos has fastidiously avoided the spotlight, refusing to answer questions about his plans. But as the Hefner era fades into history, it should be remembered that for all the hedonistic fun the mansion seemed to epitomize, it contained many dark corners.

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