IT'S PERHAPS the best testament to the "Playboy" lifestyle that Hugh Hefner at 80 is not much different from Hugh Hefner at 40.
He still lives in the famed mansion he purchased four decades ago.
He still wears bathrobes.
He still throws parties where entertainers and athletes mix with beautiful women.
And he still has more hot girlfriends than any man a quarter of his age.
Now that they're both 80, who do you think has enjoyed the last eight decades more? Hef or Fidel Castro?
While the men's-magazine revolution that he launched 53 years ago has taken numerous turns toward the rude, lewd, violent and pornographic, Hefner's Playboy empire remains almost chaste by comparison - there are no skanks, MILFs or ho's on these pages, no sex, no S&M and no gynecological close-ups. Playboy pinups still tend to be mostly demurely posed, smiling, Miss America types with long hair, perfectly airbrushed skin and larger-than-normal breasts.
Miss September, Janine Habeck, for instance, is 23 years old, wants to be married in three or four years and have children. She likes chocolate, champagne, Coke, animals and people, and her turnoffs are "people who smoke in restaurants, people who do bad things to kids. "
What do you think, mom?
Even though it's been dumbed-down a bit over the years, Playboy can still be purchased for the articles, proven again this month with the interview of former FEMA chief Michael Brown.
Although the Internet's limitless crotch pictures of an endless supply of women have impacted sales, Playboy has always been more refined than a money shot and that consistency of vision seems to be paying off again.
Amazingly, in this, the start of the 81st year of his hedonist-meets-Puritan reign, Hugh Hefner is back on top — literally.
Las Vegas will soon see the 12,000-square-foot Hugh Hefner Sky Villa atop the Palms Hotel and Casino, and Hef has two best-selling DVDs: The first season of E!'s hit series, "The Girls Next Door" (3 discs, $29.98 - the second season airs Sundays at 9 p.m.) and the first volume of his long-awaited, landmark TV party, " Playboy After Dark " (3 discs, $29.98), featuring an eclectic assortment of guests such as Lenny Bruce, Ella Fitzgerald, Canned Heat, Vic Damone, Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny & Cher, and more.
Hefner spoke to the Daily News by phone from Los Angeles 10 days ago. Recent rumors about ill health aside, he was upbeat, introspective and grateful for his five decades as a pop-culture icon.
DN: So, how did " Playboy After Dark " come about?
Hef: In its first variation in 1959, we were just celebrating our fifth anniversary and the magazine had topped a million in circulation but was having advertising problems . . . I was looking for a way to gain greater advertising acceptance and I thought the idea of hosting a television show based on the concept of the magazine, the lifestyle, would help to make the publication mainstream.
In the fall of 1959 we did a nationally syndicated show called "Playboy's Penthouse. " The conceit of it was that it was a variety show and that it was a party in my apartment with a subjective camera that came up the elevator into my apartment so that the audience, through the camera, was a guest at my party. It made it much more personal than watching the acts on a stage.
That show ran for two seasons, was very successful and accomplished what it was intended to do. Then in 1968 we started spending more time in Los Angeles, we'd opened the Playboy Club out here, and I did a color variation of the show called " Playboy After Dark . " We did that in '68 and '69.
DN: How active a role did you have in the casting of guests?
Hef: A number of people who appeared on the show were friends. I was a night person. I spent a lot of time in the early days of the magazine in nightclubs and many of my friends were show-business friends. It was kind of a natural extension of my own life. Once we actually finished the show, we would go back to the Playboy Mansion and hold a real party.
In the very beginning the show was very much off-the-cuff. Much of it was ad-libbed and it had both the positive and the negative aspects of that. It was like hangin' out at my pad.
The show gained a tremendous amount of mystique in the intervening years and many, many people have asked us would it ever be available on video. So when we were able to solve the clearance problems . . .
It is in a very real way a time capsule. It's like stepping back into the 1960s and the 1960s was a rather fascinating decade - a time of real social and sexual change. You see a lot of that reflected in the show.
In the compilation we put together, the first two shows are "Playboy's Penthouse" and the last four episodes are from " Playboy After Dark . " The contrast is quite dramatic. One is all formal and quite reflective of the sensibilities of the 1950s. In " Playboy After Dark " you'll see tremendous changes in terms of pop culture.
DN: Did the acts really sing live?
Hef: Oh, yes, it was all live. In fact, in the first version done back in Chicago, we served real liquor. We would do the individual episodes of the show as the talent was available during the day and they were not always done chronologically. So there were some occasions where you would see people drinking throughout the evening and slowly sobering up.
The shows, for the 1960s at least, are very interracial and they also had an interesting assortment of guests - rock, jazz, political ...
It was certainly very unique then. I knew in the beginning that we would not get any syndication in the South with the first show because the civil-rights movement hadn't made any significant changes yet. Because it was seen as a party in my apartment, the mixing of the races was still a real taboo in the early '60s.
But I had strong feelings about that that were reflected in the magazine, reflected in my own life, reflected in the Playboy Club and reflected in the show. It's one of the things that I take pride in and the reality is that we played a major role in breaking the color line related to entertainment. The Playboy Clubs were a forerunner . . . Dick Gregory was the first black comic to ever appear in a nonblack night club.
DN: Are there plans to do more volumes?
Hef: It is already so successful that a second collection will be out in October. A hit from the outset.
DN: Who was your favorite guest on the show?
Hef: Probably Sammy Davis, just in terms of the performances that he did. But I must also say that through the two seasons of " Playboy After Dark ," Bill Cosby, who was a close friend, was there almost every time. On two or three shows he actually did a segment, but he was there lurking in the background on almost every show.
DN: Anything else, Hef?
Hef: Just that it's a wonderful time for me to be simultaneously releasing the first season of "The Girls Next Door" and this wonderful, nostalgic, retro show, " Playboy After Dark ," and both of them seem to be doing very well. To be in this particular place and look back on a life well-lived and still be doing something that's accepted by the public in such a nice way after more than half a century is wonderful.
DN: Do you think you're timeless?
Hef: Well, I'm having a very good time, dancing as fast as I can. *