Facts About The Playboy Mansion The Public Doesn't Know

Once upon a time when misogyny was simply a difficult word to spell and a woman's worth was measured by the impression she made in a bikini, there was a wealthy man called Hugh Hefner who lived in a world-famous Los Angeles mansion. The 29-room sprawl was the beating and playful heart at the center of Hef's legendary empire. If stones could talk, the bricks and mortar of the Playboy mansion's 12 bedrooms and of course, legendary grotto (via the Los Angeles Times) would have more secrets than most. Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez described Hef's headquarters as symbolizing the "hedonistic dreams of my generation." Pamela Anderson went one step further and described it as, "My university. It was full of intellectuals, sex, rock 'n' roll, all the important stuff."

Like a curious hybrid of a James Bond villain, Liberace and the kindly and aging gentleman at your local grocer, Hefner was a unique, pajama-clad character whose subtle smirk and slight air of debauchery struck a strange chord with the American consciousness. Love him or loathe him, Hef lived and played on his terms and needed a dwelling to reflect his status. Since the Walt Disney of the adult entertainment world's death in 2017, aged 91, per The New York Times, the doors may be shut, the parties may have passed, and the swinging may have all been swung, but the secrets and stories about the Playboy mansion live on. Here's a handful of them, playmates!

The Playboy mansion before Hugh Hefner

The Playboy mansion didn't start life as a hedonistic, no-holds party palace for one man and his playmates. Before Hugh Hefner turned it into a playground for the rich and famous and it became home to the sort of frolics that would make Caligula blush, it had an altogether different history. According to Curbed, in 1919 the British-born Broadway store owner Arthur Letts purchased a plot of land and hoped to establish a "bit of England in America." He called the site Holmby Hills in honor of his native village of Holdenby. Letts' vision of a Jane Austen-style paradise never became a reality and after his death in 1923, his son, Arthur Letts Jr., who was mad about swinging (albeit with a golf club) inherited the prime piece of real estate.

Junior wasted no time in erecting the sort of 14th-century Gothic style of house that would have made pappa proud. Sitting pretty in the center of the picturesque development at 10236 Charing Cross Road, the mansion was designed by architect Arthur R. Kelly and came fully equipped with a Prohibition-era secret barroom. Junior died in the mansion in 1959 and madcap inventor and avid chess player Louis Statham moved in and rechristened it Statham House. Home to cocktail parties and balls, the mansion became a firm favorite of Los Angeles high society until 1971 — when an aging Statham solid it to a controversial Chicago character named Hugh Hefner.

The Playboy mansion was allegedly haunted

Things that go bump in the night and high-pitched screams were run-of-the-mill for the midnight hour at Hugh Hefner's party palace, but apparently, the Playboy Mansion with its brooding and guarded Gothic-Tudor exterior was also home to its fair share of paranormal activity. According to Nylon, former housemate Bridget Marquardt, who feels like she was "born spooky," explained, "Sometimes TV channels or the volume would randomly change." Marquardt, who also felt she was always being watched in the mansion, was so convinced Hef's house was haunted she took classes in paranormal investigation and later became a ghost-hunter. 

Additionally, Hef's former girlfriend, Holly Madison, also insisted that there was more to the domain of the bunny girls than meet the eye: She revealed that once in the basement gym, she saw an apparition wearing a hot pink sports bra disappear into a shallow closet. A shocked Madison exclaimed, "I never saw that woman again in my life." Madison also points disturbingly to the fact that "the toilet would flush by itself."

Scratch the surface of these spooky tales and you'll find a more sinister saga. According to Playboy mansion folklore, Bessie Letts, the wife of the original occupant, Arthur Letts Jr., met her end in the house by either her hand or that most foul when she was pushed or jumped from the balcony. It's said her sad and solitary specter haunts the mansion to this day, perhaps in search of a playmate?

There was a room named in Elvis Presley's honor

Looking for a brief respite from his tenure at the Heartbreak Hotel, everyone's favorite hound dog, Elvis Presley, once rested his head in a Playboy mansion boudoir and had a howling good time (via Realtor.com) — so good there was a room there named in his honor after he spent the night with not one, not two, but eight excitable bunnies. Any more and Presley would have presumably had to change his first name to Warren. 

Of course, Elvis wasn't the only celebrity to visit Hugh Hefner's hideaway; there's a long list of the rich and famous who liked to party like a playboy. According to news.com.au, A-list superstars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Eminem, Jack Nicholson, and Warren Beatty were all houseguests of Hef at one time or the other. The Washington Post reports that former U.S. President Donald Trump was also an honored guest. The former POTUS was even once tasked in 1993 with the photographing and interviewing of new playmates in a nationwide search. However, the highlight of Hefner and Trump's ongoing relationship was in 1990, when the man who would be president became one of the few men in history to adorn the cover of Playboy. Looking like a dime-store 007 and accompanied by fawning playmate Brandi Brandt, who was naked except for her sidekick's jacket, Trump looks every inch like the pussycat who didn't just get the cream but who purchased the entire dairy!

There were movie nights at the Playboy mansion

The life of an international playboy who owned the world's most recognizable soft adult empire wasn't all about wrestling tigers, flying jets, impressing other alpha males and subjugating women. No sir! It also had its more quiet, reflective, and tender moments. For example, Hugh Hefner liked to unwind and watch films in the company of playmates in the mansion's movie theatre. According to Roger Ebert.com, movie nights in the Playboy mansion were a big deal — so big they had three of them a week. Wednesday night was for casual filmgoers who liked popular fare such as the "Rambo" franchise. Friday nights were for the more disconcerting movie aficionado who liked nothing more than watching a classic such as "Gone With The Wind," and Sundays were for new releases.

According to the The Hollywood Reporter, Hef's close friend, Jeremy Arnold, vintage films consumed the Playboy man's life. "The nights were so important to Hef," he explained. "He spent hours each week honing meticulous introductions in longhand that he would read aloud before the Friday movies." As the years ticked by, Hefner also organized a "manly night" on a Monday, when the boys would sit around and shoot the breeze before voting on a film the collective force of testosterone could agree upon. Interestingly, Iron Mike Tyson wasn't manly enough to make the cut and was only invited once before being kicked out forever. The pugilist's crime? He fell asleep whilst watching "Capote."

Life was a zoo at the Playboy mansion

Hugh Hefner was a playboy with a big heart and a love for all creatures great and small. He was a king of the jungle who loved the wild beasts of the earth so much that he built a zoo on his property and put them all behind steel bars for the entertainment of his guests, according to Page Six. Thanks to Hefner's passion for the beasts and birds of land and air, the Playboy mansion was one of the few private residences in America with its own private zoo license — now that's something to shake your mane and roar about! According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Holmby Hills zoo was home to a diverse abundance of species including peacocks, parrots, pelicans, monkeys, and you guessed it, bunnies. The Playboy mansion's caged area was in close proximity to the legendary pool and grotto, and in Hef's words was, "filled with many cute and fun animals."

Hef's former wife, Crystal Hefner, once gushed, "Hef had always been a big animal lover. The first thing he did when he bought the property was to add the animals and the zoo. It's like an oasis here. We live in paradise." Life was indeed wild at the Playboy mansion, but as Hef was keen to point out, "One of the great ironies in our society is that we celebrate freedom and then limit the parts of life where we should be most free" (via Kiro7.com).

Things could get dirty fast at the Playboy mansion

The Playboy mansion was often synonymous with x-rated shenanigans and filthy fun. However, if you want the real dirt on how bad things got at Hugh Hefner's pad, look no further than the notorious hot tub party of 2011 when more than 100 people fell ill at a hot and steamy fundraiser. And what was the culprit that put the grotesque into the Grotto with a capital "G?" According to the The Guardian, it was legionella bacterium. In the wake of 69 people falling ill on the day of the party, health officials contacted 439 people who were also present and discovered a total of 123 were suffering from everything from headaches and fever to aches and shortness of breath. It appeared they were paying the price for Hef's reputation for never keeping it clean.

Indeed, samples from the hot tub confirmed that legionella bacteria was alive and kicking in the Playboy pool. ABC News reports that guest David Castello had a particularly savage reaction to a germ that hospitalizes between 8,000 and 18,000 Americans each year. Castello, who was laid low with a 102-degree fever and uncontrollable shaking explained, "I went from zero to not a good place in 15 to 20 minutes. It was like someone flipped a switch." Dr. Mary Nettleman took a philosophical stance and added, "Legionella is a bacteria that lives in water and loves warm, wet environments. Unfortunately, people also love, warm, wet environments."

Life as a playmate was reportedly not as glamorous as it seemed

Being a rich man's "bunny" was reportedly not all it was cracked up to be. According to the Daily Mail, some of Hugh Hefner's old flames have compared the mansion to more of a squalid prison than a glamorous palace. Former playmate Izabella St. James paints a rather unflattering portrait of her time in the mansion in her autobiography "Bunny Tales." She writes, "Each bedroom had mismatched, random pieces of furniture. The mattresses on our beds were disgusting — old, worn, and stained." St James also stressed how dirty carpets were the norm at the Playboy mansion and revealed that when Holly Madison moved into Hef's personal bedroom as Girlfriend No. 1, bringing her two dogs with her, things went from bad to worse. "They weren't house-trained," she wrote. "In Hef's bedroom we'd always end up standing in dog's mess."

Many former playmates admitted they were happy to put up with the squalid conditions, the twice-weekly sex parties, and Hef's tyrannical ways for a shot at being a Playboy centerfold or for the cosmetic surgery he was prone to treating them to on their birthdays. Still, perhaps the most damning indictment that life in the mansion was a charade came from St. James. Recalling intimate encounter with Hef, she explained, "I wanted to see if this experienced King of Sexdom knew anything the rest of us did not. But he just lay there like a dead fish."

Rob Lowe described the Playboy Mansion as a 'thing to behold'

Despite former playmate Holly Madison writing in her book, "Down The Rabbit Hole," that "Everyone thinks that the infamous metal gate was meant to keep people out. But I grew to feel it was meant to lock me in," not everyone has bad memories of their time in the Playboy mansion. As a young and upcoming actor in Hollywood, Rob Lowe recalls vividly his visit to Hugh Hefner's place, and in 2017 spilled the beans and gave the low down to Esquire. Citing the Playboy mansion as "one of the great bastions of the sexual revolution," the thespian recalls his first visit as an impressionable 19 year old before "internet porn killed the business model and reality TV killed the bunnies."

Lowe had just finished filming "The Outsiders" when he was selected for a golden ticket: an invite to a party at the Playboy mansion. Ordered to come alone, Lowe admits his pals were green with envy. No sooner was he in the mansion and knocking back his Corona when Hef, clad in his trademark silk pajamas, put his hand on Lowe's shoulder and purred, "Glad you could make it. Make yourself at home. Have a good time." Lowe wasted no time in going on the prowl and soon stumbled upon a small dollhouse-like cottage housing six centerfolds in skimpy outfits. "Stay with us! We're so bored," one of them cried." It was an offer Lowe couldn't refuse.

Larry Flynt wanted to kick Hugh Hefner out and turn the Playboy mansion into the Hustler Mansion

Hugh Hefner's arch-rival and fellow purveyor of pornography, Larry Flynt, once expressed an interest to purchase the Playboy mansion and turn it into, you guessed it: the Hustler Mansion. According to Curbed, when Hef's place came up for sale in 2016 for $200 million, Hustler's head honcho was eager to kick his fellow adult entertainment monarch to the curb. Yet according to TMZ, Flynt was only willing to pay $80 million and insisted on a demeaning caveat: He wanted Hef to pen a column for Hustler and help source models for the magazine.

It was the latest in a long line of insults that Flynt had thrown in Hef's direction. Speaking to CNN in 2015, Flynt accused Hefner of losing his mind after Playboy decided to stop featuring naked ladies. And when a Playboy representative announced (via the Daily Mail), "A condition of any potential sale is that Mr. Hefner has the right to continue living at the Playboy mansion." Hustler added more salt to an already raging wound by stating that Flynt would prefer to avoid co-habitating with Hefner or sharing his sticky sheets (per the New York Daily News). Thankfully, the thought of these two porn industry silverbacks rattling around the same house, arguing about whose turn it was to do the dishes was too much for the sacred laws of the universe to bear. The deal never went down. Amen.

It was rumored that celebrities could access the Playboy mansion via secret tunnels

For years folklore shrouded the Playboy mansion that certain celebrities could access the palace of delights via an underground network of secret tunnels. According to Playboy, in 2015 one of the editors was searching the archive for photos when he found mages revealing a huge excavation project at the mansion from 1977. The curious editor showed them to an older member of staff who casually explained, "That's probably when they built the tunnels in the 1970s." The blueprints confirmed the long-held rumors about big-name stars visiting Hugh Hefner's place under cover of the concrete, and detailed underground passages to the homes of Hollywood luminaries such as Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, James Caan, and Jack Nicholson.

The story of a subterranean labyrinth which the rich and famous used to wander in the midnight hour to satisfy their nocturnal cravings was both titillating and tantalizing. Did they wear occult-like robes, carry flaming torches, and chant obscure and cryptic mantras during their moonlight wanderings? Were the tunnels still operational? And if so, and were they carpeted? The plot thickened like treacle when all of the key players refused to comment. Yet, sadly the story was too juicy to be true; it was later revealed to be nothing more than an elaborate April Fool's prank (via Entertainment Tonight Canada). The Hef who laughs last is the Hef who laughs longest.

Hugh Hefner sold the home which defined him before he died

Having Hugh Hefner without a Playboy mansion is a bit like having a "Doctor Who" without a Tardis or Jedi Knight without a lightsaber. It's probably why, although Hef sold the Playboy mansion in 2016 for $100 million (per Fortune), it was with the stipulation he live there for the rest of his life — which, unfortunately, transpired to not be that long. Fortune reports that when Hef died he wasn't as rich as people might have thought. Estimated to be worth $45 million at the time of his death, the 91-year-old Hefner's financial statements revealed a different story. Although far from destitute, the mansion was considered his biggest asset. But here's the rub: Hef didn't even technically own it.

According to Business Insider, Playboy Enterprises purchased the mansion for $1 million back in 1971. Hef allegedly just paid the token rent of $100 a year to live there. With no real estate or substantial assets to his name, Hef awarded himself a $1 million salary each year, but when the mansion was finally sold it's doubtful he received a penny. Thankfully, Playboy Enterprises was still willing to pay the new landlord $1 million a year in rent for their boss to carry on being the lord of the manor, the king of the hill, and the prime player in another fella's mansion — that is,until the grim reaper came calling and all partying finally came to an end.

Who owns the Playboy mansion now that Hugh Heffner has gone to the big house in the sky?

Hugh Hefner left some pretty big shoes, or in his case, silk slippers to fill, but billionaire Daren Metropoulos has pretty big feet, metaphorically speaking. People reported that Hefner's near neighbor bought the Playboy mansion because he believes, "It is one of the most iconic properties in the world." Sadly, when Hefner died in 2017, Metropoulos was in no rush to move in and the world-famous dwelling was rumored to have fallen into a state of slow decay. The Sun reported that with the pool drained, the ground left to rot, and the building propped up with scaffolding, it was a mere shadow of its former self.

Yet Metropoulos, who had originally intended to connect his estate with the Playboy mansion and create a 7.3-acre compound, was simply in the process of beginning extensive renovation work (via the Daily Mail). According to Fortune, Metropoulos has secured a deal with Los Angeles officials to ensure the mansion is never torn down. However, as it's not listed as one of the city's historical-cultural landmarks, he is free to put his own stamp on the building. The free-range bunny girls shepherded by the pajama-clad Hef may no longer stalk the world-famous grotto, the private zoo, or the notoriously '80s-themed interior of the Playboy mansion, but the house that gave birth to this strange chapter in American history lives on. Play on players!