Given Hefner's sybaritic life-style, one might think he gets that sort of call all the time. Not so, says Hefner. "Never in my entire life had I been approached by a stranger claiming to be my child." When the secretary told the 57-year-old publisher the name of Mark's mother, a "shocked and surprised" Hefner realized the claim might be true. "I remembered her well and in loving terms," he says. A few days later, when he received a letter and a picture of the young man from Mark's mother, Hefner said he knew the story was true. He phoned Wilson, an aspiring actor and video technician who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., and invited him to the Playboy mansion in Holmby Hills. "I'll never forget the first time I saw Mark," says Hefner, a huge smile crossing his face. "I walked into the room, Mark extended his hand, I put my arms around him, and we both started to cry. Then," he jokes, "the background music started to swell."
In large part, says Mark, it was uncertainty over Hefner's reaction that had kept him from approaching his father. A shy man who wants to protect the privacy of his mother, stepfather and two half-brothers, Wilson says he first began to learn the truth at 15, when his mother told him that the man he called Dad was his adoptive father, whom she had married within a year after Mark was born. When Mark was 18, she revealed to him that his father was Hefner, with whom she'd had an affair in the late 1950s. Hefner, then 30, was newly separated from his first wife and just hatching the Playboy empire. He says he never knew of the child. "I'm sure it seems curious that I wasn't told," he says. "His mother and I dated on and off for about a year. She felt what happened was her fault and didn't want to be a burden to me. You just have to remember what life was like in the '50s."
For years, Mark says, he "never pressed my mother for more information. I knew it was painful for her." He went to Valencia College in Florida, dropped out just short of a degree in technical theater arts and, after working as a lighting designer on the East Coast, moved to L.A. "That was a year ago," says Hefner. "Subconsciously, I think Mark's decision to move here had something to do with me."
Increasingly, Wilson's concern with Hefner became conscious. "I was driving around with a friend and he pointed out the Playboy mansion," says Mark. "I thought, 'My dad lives there.' I didn't feel I could tell him he was my father. But how else would he ever know?"
Eventually, Mark made his phone call, and the rest is paternity. As to the future, both of them say they haven't had time to plan that yet—they're too busy delighting in the present. When the two are together, they constantly laugh, touch and pat each other on the back in a sort of ongoing reality check. "I think Mark's wonderful," says Hefner. "And I think he and his mother are very classy. They showed an uncommon level of sensitivity, though it's very obvious to me that had they known my reaction, contact would have been made earlier."
Mark has had a get-acquainted lunch with Hefner's daughter, Christie, 30 and president of Playboy Inc., and he plans to meet his half-brother, David, 28, a student. Mark says that his "other" family is "ecstatic" about the meeting with Hefner. Still living in a small apartment and busy making industrial films for a hospital, Wilson says he just wants to get to know his father. Hefner, asked if he'd changed his will, replied, "I'm accepting Mark as my son." Mark adds, "I've been told I'm talented, and I've worked hard to make something of myself. I've never envied the life my father leads. The primary thing is getting to know him—experiencing the women, glamour and glitz is secondary."
As Mark Wilson tells it, events began to speed toward their climax when he phoned Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner's secretary in late October. "I'd like to meet Mr. Hefner," said Wilson, 26. "Mr. Hefner is a very busy man," said the secretary. "I'm sort of a relative of his," said Wilson. "What sort of relative?" asked the secretary. "Mr. Hefner," said Wilson, "is my father."