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Movie Night at Hef’s

Los Angeles- OCTOGENARIAN playboy Hugh Hefner emerges from the inner sanctum of his mansion wearing – what else? – black silk pajamas and a cloud of men’s cologne.

Flanked by his trio of blond and buxom lady friends, he settles into a plush leather sofa. The lights go down. Someone at the back of the room flicks on the movie projector.

Forget about porno. This night, they’re watching the 1933 comedy “Dinner at Eight,” one of Hefner’s early favorites. This is, after all, a man who carries with him vivid memories of his youth.

“I grew up in a very traditional, Methodist home,” says Hefner. “I escaped very early into dreams and fantasies that were fueled by the movies, and this is a way of reconnecting with that for me personally and for my friends.”

Every Friday night at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, a couple of dozen of Hefner’s friends – many of them longtime loyalists – stop by for a buffet dinner. (Of course, there are young women, a few of them dressed in bunny outfits.) His three girlfriends, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson, the stars of the E! reality series “The Girls Next Door,” stay close by.

Then, promptly at 7 p.m. in a large wood-paneled room off the home’s entryway, a cinema-sized screen comes down and a movie flickers on. This impromptu theater reflects a certain tattered elegance, like the classic movies Hefner shows there. There’s a faux Picasso above a cluttered table, fat leather couches pushed together in rows and several lines of brown folding chairs – enough to seat 50 comfortably. (The Playmates recently put up a fake Christmas tree and placed a red, green and white stuffed snowman on the intricately carved giant mantel.)

The space mixes old money and 1920s decadence with the ambience of, well, a frat house. Centerfold photos of naked women – set in brass frames – adorn the dark-stained wainscoting. State-of-the art movie projectors are propped up on sturdy metal bookcases. A couple of large speakers teeter on stands. Several of the home’s old dogs wander into the room, finding places to rest on the vast red paisley carpet.

A large pipe organ, installed by one of the early owners of the 1927 Gothic-Tudor mansion, is hidden behind wood paneling on one wall. Vintage movie equipment is stashed in an old projector room that dates to the ’30s.

Hefner is so passionate about classic movies that he recently gave $1 million to the UCLA Film & Television Archive. His private foundation has also funded the restoration of a number of films, including “The Big Sleep” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.”

On his birthday weekends, Hefner shows “Casablanca,” his favorite.

“Everyone in the audience knows the words,” Hefner says. “It’s like a wonderful piece of music.”

He says his motivation for preserving old movies is simple: “I’m trying in some small way to give the next generation and the generation after that some understanding of the significance and impact of early films.”

But that’s not all he shows. To some of the Playmates’ delight, Sunday nights are set aside for first-run movies. (Tonight, Hefner and guests will watch “Stranger Than Fiction.”)

“I really feel in a fundamental way that American films, especially from the first half of the 20th century, are the best exponent of what we refer to as the American Dream,” he says.


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