To be clear I did not have to babysit Mr. Hefner.
For my first job, right out of college, I was Hugh Hefner’s nanny. I cared for his two younger boys on the weekends. At the time, Marston and Cooper were 9 & 8 respectively. The older siblings were in their forties. YOU do the math. I still remember signing the privacy document with my name on the bottom…sandwiched between “Hugh Marston Hefner” and “Kimberley Conrad Hefner” and thinking to myself…”Well, I’m never gonna see that in my lifetime again.” I left that job title and reference on every resume I submitted afterward…I could’ve been looking for a job as a garbage collector. Didn’t matter, somehow employers always wanted to talk to me…and the conversation ALWAYS steered right to the front door of the Playboy Mansion. “Is he nice?” “What were the parties like?” “Did you have to dress like a prostitute?” “How DID you get that job?”
How Did I Get the Job? LYING.
I’m not here to propagate dishonesty, I’m just telling you that’s how I got the job. I had just moved to LA a month earlier, right after I’d graduated college. I was standing on my friend’s balcony, in a state of panic, at six in the morning. I had a cigarette dangling off of my left hand, chapped lips and a frenzy of illicit drugs running through my system. All I could think about was how in the holy grossness was I going to get to sleep. A security guard came strolling up underneath the balcony and asked me what I was doing up so early. I don’t know where it came from, but I strung my deteriorating language together in a solid sentence and proudly announced, “I’m a nanny. I’m going to take care of children.” (??WHAT??) All the while swinging the half-dead cigarette in the air. You could not have paid me to guess what his response would be. “Well, I work at the Playboy Mansion and I know they’re looking for a new weekend nanny…you interested?” I thought to myself…man…these LA dudes have a whole other realm of bullshit to pull from with their pickup lines. I did not believe he was serious at all. So after five more minutes of conversation, we exchanged numbers and he assured me he would set up an interview for the next day.
I did not show up.
I thought for sure HE was the liar, I was not going to pull my little ’94 black Acura Integra up to the gates of the Playboy Mansion, buzz the intercom, and announce I had arrived…with no record I had any right to be there.
About four hours later I received a phone call. It was the security guard. “Where were you?! I’d put my name on the line for you! I’m going to make one more appointment for tomorrow and you’d better show up or it’s going to make me look really bad!” Perhaps my little black car would be going where no Asian nanny had gone before…(I can’t confirm I was the only Asian nanny, but as we all know, the guy had a preference for blondes. I’m assuming things here.) And fast forward to interview number two (the one I decided to show up for), I was signing those privacy papers and agreeing to wear very conservative clothing while the boys were in my care.
A True Icon
In the wake of Hef’s passing, I will answer with all honesty, the question I always get…”Was he a nice guy?” I can say without hesitation, he was one of the kindest most genuinely wonderful people I’ve ever come into contact with. He gave his heart and soul into everything he did. Despite how you feel about what he sold, he fought hard for equal rights during an era when it wasn’t the fashionable thing to do. I can’t believe he made it to 91, the guy was a constant workaholic. I didn’t even meet him until a month after I was hired, and he was all I hoped he would be. I don’t remember the color of the silk pajamas and robe he was wearing, but he definitely donned them with a suave sophistication NO ONE else can or will ever be able to pull off. The man simultaneously lived up to his iconic status while making me feel like he was just a father meeting the new nanny for the first time. He shook my hand, wished me well and made it clear if I ever needed anything for myself or the boys I could pick up any phone in either of the mansions, (at the time Kimberley and Hef were separated, with adjoining “homes” next door to each other. She truly was the original “Girl Next Door”), and request ANY food item or necessity. There was someone available 24/7 to make that happen. I felt at home when he was around, and I could tell the boys craved his attention more than anything else in the world.
Hugh Hefner Could Have Me Killed
The most unforgettable experience at the mansion took place in the game room. Every man-boy’s dream complete with pool table, arcade video games, foosball, bar…and two hidden rooms in the back, on the right and left side of the main room. My memory’s a little rough, this was 15 years and many poor choices ago, but I believe one was called the Blue Room and one the Red Room. The Blue room had a floor that felt like you were bouncing on the Moon. It had pillows, blue low-lights, full-length mirrors on the ceiling and walls, and a VCR (yes, that’s how long ago this was) to watch whatever movie such an environment would put you in the mood for. My guess is you were veering more towards Sasha Grey than Sophie’s Choice. To be honest, I never went in the Red Room, I had heard the orgy rumors, figured they were true and kept my butt on the couch where the arcade games were. Unfortunately, the boys did not have the same idea.
They had been running in circles around the entirety of the game room like I’d given them a bag of pixie sticks to snort. They wouldn’t stop, it was like trying to halt two miniature freight trains full of cocaine. Eventually, I heard the door to the Red Room SLAM and the sound of shattered glass from an entire side of a wall falling to pieces on the floor. It was loud. VERY LOUD. So loud, my heart shit itself a little. My first thought was “Oh my god, are the boys ok?!?”. Then they sauntered, unharmed, from around the corner of the orgy, er, Red Room. My second thought quickly turned to “Oh my God. Hugh Hefner is going to kill me and my family.” I was PETRIFIED. But I put my big girl pants on and marched those little devils straight to Hef where they had to explain what they did. I wasn’t going to do it. Have you ever heard a child under nine try to tell a story? One in which they were undoubtedly the party at fault? “But I…and then…no Dad LISTEN…and we, then I…LISTEN DAD…I tried to but…and he…well maybe…but I sniff, uh sniff, bleh sniff….and He! HE! HE!…DAD!!! WAIT! DADD!! I stood behind them praying he wasn’t going to ask me why I didn’t stop them. Both in the game room AND from trying to explain this story, God this was painful. He instantly forgave them and lots of hugs were dispensed. Kimberly made them write “I’m Sorry” notes to their father. Which made me realize I needed another job. My idea of discipline was and is a little different.
The End of Bubble World
I will always remember wandering around the backyard zoo, where Cooper loved saying “hello” to Terry the monkey and we tried not to interrupt the path of exotic birds and wildlife roaming the estate. (The birds terrified me.) One of the boys took me on a tour of the wall of celebrity photos, where the eight-year-old told me “That was taken before Eddie Murphy was caught with the transvestite hooker and that was taken before Pamela Lee made her sex tape…” I was mentally begging him to talk about how much he loved hamsters, that math was hard and girls were stupid. I was way out of my league here and needed to get out.
I managed to squeeze in a few parties, which were unlike anything I’d ever seen. You could walk up to the bar and order anything. I stress ANYTHING. The grotto was a sex cave with broken glass at the bottom of the pool and I’m pretty sure I got drunk and sexually harassed Scott Baio. It’s okay, Karma made sure Andy Dick got me back. (If you’ve ever lived in Hollywood, you have an Andy Dick story…that’s a fact.) I think Johnathan Silverman, out of the grace of his good heart, took me home that night.
The most impressionable moment was a night I stayed over at Kimberley’s mansion. The second story bedroom I was in over-looked what would be Hef’s colossal backyard, if it weren’t for the humongous trees blocking my view. He was hosting a benefit and an orchestra was invited to play. I was standing in the window, the entirety of Kimberly’s house had gone to bed. It was dark and all I could hear was the hypnotic notes and soft chatter of 100 people milling about next door. I thought to myself, someday I won’t just be standing in the window imagining what is happening, I’ll be a creator of what is happening. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’re standing above some of the most influential people in the world…this was not a “Hollywood Style” party. The energy emanated far and above to my little hiding spot upstairs…and 15 years later I haven’t forgotten how that felt, how galvanized I was. I carry that feeling with me.
Kimberley was kind enough to send me on my way with BAGS of clothing and accessories I could never have afforded myself. Then she hooked me up with a job at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in the infamous Polo Lounge. Which started an entirely different kind of LA story. Stay tuned…it only gets better…or worse. Depending on how you look at it.