Swiping Playboy magazines from the corner grocery store granted instant access to the mysteries of adulthood for an inquisitive teenager in the ’70s. The Playboy Mansion loomed in my adolescent imagination like a gothic romper room, teeming with tri-fold beauties whose Scotch-taped centerfolds were frequently ripped from my bedroom walls by my horrified mother. When asked recently to cover a motorcycle launch at the infamous estate, I accepted without hesitation. "It starts at 10 a.m.," my editor advised. "They’ll send a car at eight."Does the Playboy Mansion even have a 10 a.m.? In my fantasy, I’d be leaving the Mansion at 10 a.m.; reality is a Town Car in your driveway at 7:45.
Across town, I’m transferred to the rolling cocaine flashback that is the Playboy limo, already packed with groggy colleagues. Fiber-optic bunny logos and leopard print trim establish the retro-Caligulan theme. Tasteless jokes involving Luminol consume the en route conversation. (Click image to enlarge)
After a delay at the front gate (the famous talking rock had evidently overslept), a pair of fresh-faced Bunnies greets us at the familiar stone edifice. In the lovely and capable hands of Miss May, my group of haggard moto-scribes is whisked off for a tour of the grounds, beginning with the epicenter of the Mansion’s infamy, the grotto.I’m not exactly sure what I expected; murky scenes of degenerate hedonism, perhaps. Even a semi-conscious Bill Maher would have been nice. The grotto, to my dismay, is scrubbed spotless and arrayed with scented candles and potted plants. This is not the lurid, steamy grotto of my childhood imagination. This is the orthopedic Jacuzzi of my mother’s retirement community spa.As we move along through the topiary, workmen in green overalls bag trash and fire up leaf-blowers. Visiting the Playboy Mansion in the a.m. is like hitting Bourbon Street on Ash Wednesday. You get the distinct impression that you’re about 12 hours too late. It’s all maintenance and disinfectant.The Mansion’s zoo requires no map to locate. Primeval shrieks gnaw at your ears while a blend of exotic fecal odors snakes its way up your nostrils. We arrive at a large cage filled with agitated, leaping spider monkeys. Miss 5/98 opens the door and cordially invites us inside to hand-feed grapes to the bug-eyed, chattering abnormalities. It is amazing what a gorgeous woman in fuzzy pink aerials and a cottontail can persuade reasonably intelligent men to do.One by one we file into the cage as the increasingly hysterical swarm descends to pluck grapes from our hands and retreat to higher ground. The hazards of being gravitationally disadvantaged by grape-addled spider monkeys with epileptic sphincters swiftly become apparent. I am the first one out of the cage.Walking back across the expansive lawn, we pass an enormous red trampoline. The only thing jumping off it at this hour is the nearly perpendicular sunlight. Miss May continues dispensing Mansion trivia with a charming enthusiasm. As a classically trained pianist she notes with pride that there is "an ancient organ hidden in the Mansion.""And will Mr. Hefner be joining us for lunch?" I resist blurting out.After lunch, we head outside to an array of bright yellow BMW Boxers—the motorcycles, not the undergarments. Our winsome guides patiently pose for photos with the assembled journalists, tickling the enduring teenage mystique.Finally, the High-Noon Playboys saddle up and race down the driveway with a thunderous roar. I’m pretty sure I catch a glimpse of Hef through the leaded glass of an upstairs window, packing his pipe with a look in his eye that says, "Now we can get the party started."