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Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself by Crystal Hefner


I knew what to expect from Crystal Hefner’s Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself. The gasp TRUTH. A scandalous tell-all. A “raw and honest memoir in which the author is finally ready to expose it all”.

To be fair, I think a lot of it has already been said (or at least insinuated) by other ex-playmates and ex-girlfriends, but here we have Hefner’s widow, ready to lay bare the “shocking reality” of life in the Playboy Mansion.

Ms Hefner moved into the mansion after attending a Halloween party there in 2008 and catching Hugh Hefner’s eye. (“You. Come here,” was his pick-up line. What a man.) What follows is a sad and vaguely grubby exposé set in a tired old house headed by a tired old man with a God complex.

Daily Viagra. Nightly orgies. Baby oil. Toxic breast implants. Being ordered to “only say good things” about “Hef” and the mansion and Playboy. Ms Hefner strings vignettes together with a narrative that relies heavily on breathless one-sentence paragraphs. And it doesn’t take long until the mansion, at first a shimmering mirage of opportunity, becomes a prison for a young woman rapidly losing any sense of self or autonomy.

I don’t blame Ms Hefner for finally defying the order captured in the book’s title. Perhaps this memoir was another step towards establishing her own identity and reclaiming power. And no, I don’t subscribe to the “she was simply a gold digger who was out for all she could get, and she brought it on herself” narrative. It’s overly simplistic, ignoring all nuance and refusing to see women as complex human beings with complicated feelings and motivations. How much simpler it is to reduce them to stereotypes: angel or devil. Virgin or whore. Yawn.

I commend Ms Hefner for articulating the ambivalence and complexities in her feelings towards her husband/captor, and her lavish lifestyle in the mansion. In fact, her honesty in places is endearing. It’s the kind of honesty that enables her to own the part she unwittingly played in her imprisonment.

Hugh Hefner died due to complications from a UTI at the age of 91. The mansion was sold. The empire folded. And his widow was forced to build a life for herself from scratch. What freedom. What fear.

I sincerely hope Ms Hefner has moved on to doing what her publisher says is now her passion: “sharing what she has learned about body image, objectification and beauty standards in the hopes of reaching other young women.” Whether she can ever shake the legacy of the mansion and being Hugh Hefner’s wife (read: object/pet) is questionable. How could any woman who lived in that microcosm of misogyny not be permanently damaged?

Playboy wasn’t revolutionary. Hugh Hefner wasn’t a pioneer or an activist. He was a “misogynist who built an empire on sexualising women and mainstreaming stereotypes that caused irreparable damage to women’s rights and our entire culture.” From what I read, I suspect he died lonely, and perhaps slightly puzzled over why Playboy and his riches and success (if you can call it that) hadn’t brought him ultimate happiness. Or perhaps, right to end, he was determined to believe the fantasy.

“The man thought to be the greatest lover in the world never knew how to love at all,” writes Ms Hefner near the end of the book. “In the end, it’s just sad.”



Reviewer: Patricia Bell

Penguin Random House


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