Martin Amis comically describes the weirdly eventless world of Hugh Hefner in the Observer Magazine of 22 September 1985 (‘Mr Hefner and the desperate pursuit of happiness’). ’For a man who never goes out, who rises at mid-afternoon,’ Amis marvels, ‘who wanders his draped mansion in slippers and robe… Hef looks good - surprisingly, even scandalously so.’
Is Amis describing something else beneath the surface of Hefner’s tropical fishpond? ‘Scatter a handful of the smelly pellets, and the fish - gorgeously shell-coloured - will rush to the bank, scores of them, mouths open, like benign but very greedy piranha… They look netted, beached, like a fisherman’s haul.’
Before he interviews Hefner, Amis was getting nowhere with a ‘representative Playmate’, Penny Baker. ‘Within a minute, I had run out of questions,’ he admits. But then he lands a scoop: ‘A quite extraordinary thing had happened: Ner [another Hefner nickname] had gone out!’ Just to the doctor’s, but nonetheless out.
‘As I walked to the window two limousines pulled up self-importantly in the forecourt. Slamming doors, busy car-boys, watchfully craning bodyguards. Having gone out,’ mocks Amis, ‘Ner had now come back.’
After then getting nowhere with Hefner, too, Amis skewers the whole rotten business in one paragraph: ’Three points need to be made about Hefner’s oft-repeated contention that Playboy is like a family. First, it is a family in which Pappa Bear gets to go to bed with his daughters. Secondly, it is a family in which the turnover in daughters is high. Thirdly, it is a family in which no tensions, resentments or power-struggles are admitted to or tolerated: at Playboy, everyone is happy all the time. Of every conceivable human institution, a family is what Playboy least resembles.’