Hugh Hefner has played Pygmalion to a pantheon of Playmates over the years, picking the comeliest from the pages of his magazine then transforming them from mere pinups into living symbols of his Playboy
philosophy. Showering them with money and furs, posing them before the finest photographers, offering them up for the attentive appraisal of Hollywood agents and producers, Hefner has shown his women how to turn T&A into taxable assets, so that when their tenure as First Bunny ends, they do not leave empty-handed. In return, the young women have but to share his bed and hang around quietly.
Each in her time, Barbie Benton, Sondra Theodore, Shannon Tweed and a handful of others have left Hef's embrace to find fame and fortune elsewhere. But amiable acquiescence may have gone out of fashion. Carrie Leigh, 25, the most recent of Hefner's anointed, has risen from the swaddling bandages of plastic surgery to turn against her mentor.
"He promised to marry me, he promised to have a child with me, promised to support me," claims Leigh, Playboy
's cover girl of 1983, who held a press conference with her lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, to announce that she was suing Hefner for more than $5 million in palimony. Leigh then added to the buzz by hinting that Jessica Hahn was "instrumental" in her breakup with Hefner.
Hefner, 61, denies it all. "I'm the silliest possible target for a palimony suit," he scoffs, "because I'm the most confirmed bachelor of the 20th century." To hear Hef tell it, he has been generous almost to a fault with Leigh, who succeeded Shannon Tweed as official concubine in the spring of 1983. She was 19 and looking to get out of her native Toronto. Hefner says he moved Leigh into the Playboy
mansion in Holmby Hills, Calif., and gave her an allowance of $5,000 a month (later reduced to $3,500) as well as the use of a Mercedes limousine and driver and a personal trainer. He also bought Leigh sables, lynx and diamonds, he says, and arranged photo shoots with leading fashion photographers such as Helmut Newton. "He was so affectionate toward her," says Michael Roche, 25, owner of the glamour boutique Addictions and a former confidante of Leigh's. "It used to bother me, because I knew in the back of my mind what she was going to do to him."
Roche says that Leigh had been plotting the palimony suit for some time and was only using Hefner to satisfy her lust for fame. (Mitchelson acknowledges that he and Leigh have been meeting "periodically over the past four or five months.") According to Roche, Leigh—who claims that Hefner would not allow her to work—preferred partying to pursuing professional contacts. "Part of modeling is getting out of bed at 6 in the morning and hoofing the streets," he says, "not sleeping until 3 in the afternoon and getting your nails done." Leigh is also reported to have been intensely jealous of Jessica Hahn, who moved into the Playboy mansion last October after gaining national notoriety in the Jim Bakker sex scandal. "[Leigh] said to me and to Jessica, 'I wish I had the same [publicity] happen to me,' " recalls Roche. "She's a real sick pup."
In retrospect, Hefner expresses little surprise at the collapse of his affair with Leigh. "The miracle is that this relationship has lasted as long as it has," he says, "because her attention span is rather short." Sounding more like the father of a rebellious adolescent than an apostle of hedonism, Hefner says Leigh "had problems of an emotional nature. There were sexual improprieties and alcohol." (Says Mitchelson, laughing: Leigh "would say that's like the pot calling the kettle black.")
In her suit, Leigh alleges Hefner told her he wanted to have children with her, then impregnated her and pressured her to have an abortion. Hefner says he did not urge the abortion on her. He also says that, given his own precautions, he was surprised by the pregnancy. "I'm a responsible and careful guy," he says. "It's one of the reasons why I've never had any paternity suits." When Leigh refused to use birth control, he says, he posted an "exact chart" of her menstrual cycle next to his bed to prevent accidents. He was especially careful, he maintains, after his daughter, Christie, warned him that Leigh might try to get pregnant as leverage against him. Roche claims Leigh told him she'd discussed that tactic with Mitchelson, who allegedly told her it wouldn't be necessary if she could just stay with Hefner a few more years.
In 1987, says Hefner, Leigh stole a videotape of a sexual frolic involving himself and some friends made at the mansion in the '70s, thinking she could use it against him. When she tried to enlist Hahn in her schemes by giving her a copy of the tape, Hefner says, Hahn promptly returned it to him. "That's what caused the big conflict between Carrie and Jessica," he says. On Jan. 9 Leigh lit out for New York with a girlfriend. According to Roche, she called Mitchelson to say, "Marvin, I can't wait any longer." The next month she filed suit. Mitchelson denies that Leigh intended to use any tapes against Hefner.
Hefner professes to be appalled. "This is not a palimony suit, it's a publicity stunt," he insists. Despite Leigh's frequent efforts to engage him in conversation about houses, children and marriage over the last year, he says, "there was no indication in her behavior that she was looking for stability. Quite the contrary." Still, he adds, "it was a long and important relationship, so I feel sadness."
Ironically, the man who turned the fantasy of a different woman every month into a personal fortune now seems to be craving commitment. "I'm at the point in my life where I've sown my wild oats and I'm looking for a stable relationship," says Hefner. And he's lost no time in pressing his search. Two weeks after Leigh's departure, Hefner moved Kimberley Conrad, 24, a leggy blond who appeared in Playboy
's January issue, into his bedroom. "She's just what I need right now—open, honest and straight," he says. "Is it serious? Yes, it is."
- Jack Kelley.