Trailer: “Secrets of Playboy” to Reveal Dark Side of Hugh Hefner’s Empire

A&E's forthcoming documentary series is expected to shed light on the uglier parts of Hefner's legacy

layboy bunny Sheila Levell, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and Playboy bunny Holly Madison pose together
Holly Madison is one of the interview subjects spilling Playboy's secrets in the forthcoming series.
Robert Mora/Getty Images

Controversy has followed Playboy since 1953, when Hugh Hefner first published photos of a naked Marilyn Monroe in the magazine’s inaugural edition, effectively launching a brand, lifestyle and eventual media empire that would change the sexual landscape in America forever. In the decades since, Playboy supporters and critics have continuously debated the nature of the brand’s greater cultural impact, arguments that — while colored by the lens of any of the multiple waves of feminism Playboy’s lifetime has spanned — typically boil down to whether Playboy is “good” or “bad” for women. Sure, as supporters have long argued, Hugh Hefner and his nude mag were crucial forces in the sexual revolution, breaking down taboos surrounding female sexuality in particular. Then again, Hefner’s brand of sexual liberation involved objectifying women to the point of decorating them in bunny ears and cotton tails.

Meanwhile, rumors of Hefner’s sexual exploits with the women of Playboy — whether Playmates, bunnies or any of the myriad women who came in contact with the brand over the decades in the hope of landing a coveted pictorial — have also long been an integral part of the intrigue surrounding the Playboy brand. In recent years, however, following the dawn of the #MeToo movement and revelations from various women of Playboy (including Hef’s former girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Holly Madison), the salacious narrative that has always been a fixture of the Playboy brand and its late founder’s legacy has taken on a more sinister tone, painting Hefner’s presumed Playboy paradise as a toxic, exploitative environment.

Four years after Hefner’s death, the forthcoming A&E series Secrets of Playboy aims to shine a light on the “ugly” side of the Playboy founder’s seemingly “beautiful world,” as one interviewee puts it in the trailer for the 10-episode series, the side “nobody wants to talk about.”

According to A&E: “The series delves into the complex world Hugh Hefner created and examines its far-reaching consequences on our culture’s view of power and sexuality. Unravelling the glamourous mythology created by the brand over several decades, the series features archival footage and exclusive interviews with insiders from all facets of the Playboy world, many sharing their stories for the first time.”

The series will include interviews with Madison — whose 2015 memoir Down the Rabbit Hole was one of the first openly critical accounts of life at the Playboy Mansion from an insider — as well as fellow ex-girlfriend and Girls Next Door star Bridget Marquardt, “Bunny Mother” PJ Masten, ex-girlfriend Sondra Theodore and members of Hefner’s staff and inner circle, including his bodyguard, butler and personal valet.

Per A&E:

Across 10 hours, ‘Secrets of Playboy’ examines the Playboy empire that was both a beacon of progress and a gateway into a much darker world. With the creation of the brand, Hugh Hefner defined the sexual revolution through the male perspective. His progressive views advanced rights across a wide spectrum of social causes, allowing for the freedom of sexual expression. Yet intertwined with the glossy facade of a brand that seemingly celebrated women was a more sinister reality that for decades allowed nefarious conduct to flourish. The series explores how the Playboy machine was a powerful force that, at its worst, manipulated women in a toxic environment, silencing their voices, pitting them against one another, and opening the door to sexual predators.”

Secrets of Playboy is slated to premiere early next year.

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