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Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion by Izabella St James

from – If you have ever wondered (and I can understand if you haven’t) what it’s like to sleep with a fading septuagenarian playboy, then Izabella St James’s blow-by-blow account of her two-year stint as one of Hugh Hefner’s seven “Girlfriends” is a riveting read.

Now 33 and a jobbing actress/model, the Polish-born St James (not, of course, her real name) cuts crisply through the bunny fluff to deliver, with Slavic bluntness, a deliciously bitchy memoir of her time behind closed doors at the Playboy mansion.

Arriving in California from Canada to study law (“a straight-A student…a good Catholic girl” — albeit with Pamela Anderson hair and an eye-watering rack), St James quickly bonds with a fellow student, Vivian, over not the finer points of tort but “our blondeness, our boobs”. As it turns out, Vivian knows just the chap who’d like this sort of conversation: Hugh Hefner. An ­invitation to the mansion, a manicured mock-Tudor bunny hutch in the LA Hills, follows, and after a bit of soul-searching (by “a bit” I mean none), St James is seduced into abandoning her degree and ­becoming one of his Girlfriends.

Not to be confused with Playboy Playmates (the magazine’s centrefolds), the posse of Barbie blondes that Hef cruises around with are largely a shrewd publicity stunt he started in 1998 after he divorced his second wife. Like the Bunny Girls before them, the Girlfriends are now an institution; today, the three remaining ones have their own reality show, The Girls Next Door. Back in 2002, however, there were seven of them, all living, dorm-like, in Hefner’s crumbling mansion. In return for board, lodging, $1,000 a week pocket money and a hugely raised profile, the girls were simply required to look good and party.

And, occasionally, “put out”. “The walls were greased with sex,” writes St James. Wednesdays and Fridays were “sex nights”: dinner and drinks on the town would conclude with Hef slipping his first Viagra, then they’d all belt back to the mansion as fast as possible so that he had time to perform in an “orgy” (a supremely clinical and courtly charade). ­Generally, but I’m not sure I believe this, St James says she would try to keep her “panties” on (the signal, FYI, that you are not up for it), and instead watch the porn playing on big screens, or (Hef’s favourite) the other girls making out. He would have sex with up to four of them in a row, she reveals, then there’d be a short pause, a wipe-down, more Viagra, and then…well, let’s just say the quote of the book has to be “God damn it… WOW.”

Hefner himself comes across as a befuddled old perv stuck in a bizarre approximation of the 1970s. He’s half-deaf and spits when he talks; in one scene she describes him shuffling around, Ozzy Osbourne-like, picking up dog excrement. He just about keeps the Girlfriends in line with handouts; they, conversely, spend most of their time attempting to tryst with celebrities and the staff. The set-up is so disingenuous that one of the Girlfriends turns out to be married with an 11-year-old. But St James admires Hefner’s legacy and his business acumen and, in a vague attempt to explain why she had sex with him, without mentioning the word “dollar”, she confesses, “there were many times when I had real feelings towards him”.

There is, oddly, more to this book than sex. The author’s princessy tone and odious high opinion of herself make for some unwittingly brilliant scenes. She is at pains to cast herself as the group’s “intellectual” — with hilarious consequences, for example, when she describes the Girlfriends’ deal with Hefner in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Still, she’s not dumb.

Her writing is perfectly decent and her thinly veiled disdain for some of the Girlfriends is the purest poison-drenched candy: “‘We are family,’ Hef used to say. I would mutter under my breath, ‘I have no trailer trash in my family.’” She describes the spiky infighting with fabulous hauteur. “I once asked her who did her veneers,” she says of a fellow Bunny, “and she screamed that her teeth were perfect and real. When later one of her veneers cracked, I thought she was going to die of embarrassment. She seemed to me to be a helpless girl, with no skills other than modelling — [she] wanted Hef to buy her a computer, but didn’t know how to turn one on.”

Although she is happy to describe at length the others’ physical shortcomings and thirst for money, her own base motivations are, in true Hollywood style, glossed over. Perhaps it is damage limitation: she leaves the mansion under a cloud, seen off by another Girlfriend. Her reputation in tatters, and having survived a bout of skin cancer from the Playboy sunbed, she wants to tell her side of the story. She puts her case expertly and, I’m sure, better than the others could. Mean Girls, eat your heart out.


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