With his passing, Hugh Hefner’s achievements are being chronicled, along with his stumbles.
Among the latter might be the failure to launch a Playboy Club in Philadelphia, but that was probably more Harry Jay Katz’s dream than Hef’s.
Katz’s visit to the Playboy Mansion in Chicago in the ’60s helped change his life — but my visit to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in the ’80s did nothing to change mine.
Katz got himself invited to the Chicago mansion because he could. He had inherited money and knew how to use it, along with the gift of shmooze. At the mansion, he liked what he saw.
I became a friend of Katz’s after the epic fail of Philly’s Playboy Club. I never asked him about his relationship with Hefner, and because he never mentioned Hef, I believe none existed. I did know about his odd stable of celebrity friends, ranging from Topol to Geena Davis to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Grace Jones to Sylvester Stallone.
By the late ’60s, there were 20 Playboy Clubs — including outposts in lesser burgs such as Baltimore, Detroit, and Phoenix — but none in Philly, Katz’s beloved adopted hometown. (He was born in New York, where he spent his early years.)
Katz was great on Big Ideas, and he was driven to bring a Playboy Club to Philly.
He got a lease for a building across Broad Street from the Bellevue Stratford hotel and immediately drew opposition.
Mayor James H.J. Tate, a solid Irish Catholic, was not a fan, but furious resistance came from Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, who seemed to think the Playboy Clubs were nothing more than high-class brothels. Although he was only the police commissioner, Rizzo had very heavy clout — and succeeded Tate as mayor.
Katz reportedly spent two years and maybe $200,000 in the failed pursuit.
That collapse fed into Philly’s reputation as a staid town that definitely was not hip and happening.
As to my visit to Hef’s West Coast mansion, that was in 1982, when the Master of Hares was launching the Playboy cable channel. I was a TV critic at a semiannual gathering in L.A. with about 100 other journalists.
The invitation was for a Saturday, as I recall, and at the appointed hour, a score of black limos pulled up in the curved driveway of the Century Plaza Hotel. Ready to open the doors of each car was a Playboy Bunny — each with bunny ears, bunny tail, spike heels, and cleavage.
Once loaded, the black cars left the hotel, looking like a funeral motorcade, except for the laughing passengers.
We were dropped off in front of the 29-room Gothic Tudor home and escorted inside to wait for Hefner’s entrance, which came a few minutes after our arrival.
He descended the grand staircase from the living quarters — where we were not invited — in his trademark pajamas.
After giving us the 411 on the new channel — it was of little interest to me because Philly was not yet wired — we were turned loose to explore the five-acre property, which seemed larger.
Peacocks wandered the grounds freely. I walked by Hef’s private zoo and eventually wound up at the pool and the grotto.
Curious, I crawled inside the grotto. It needed Lysol.
Senses satisfied, I returned to the mansion to find my limo.
No Bunnies made the return trip.