Rape Culture, Hugh Hefner, Bob Zmuda and "The Playboy Mansion Story"

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In professional parasite and full-time creep Bob Zmuda’s repellent second book, The Truth, Finally (which should have been called More Bullshit, Inevitably) where he outs Andy Kaufman as bisexual (and himself, unsurprisingly, as a homophobe) and cynically pretends that Kaufman faked his own death and is still alive for the sake of publishing another fucking cash-in book exploiting his dead friend’s memory, Zmuda tells a story that has stuck with me, but not for the reasons Zmuda intended. 

The anecdote is the undeniable highlight of Zmuda’s awful book. It’s presented as a triumph of rascally underdog ingenuity over fat-cat gullibility, a prank worthy of Andy Kaufman himself but I couldn’t help but read it as a confession of a sex crime from a dude with a very shaky, very incomplete conception of what “consent” entails. 

The story takes place during the very intense period when Jim Carrey was preparing to play Andy Kaufman in The Man on the Moon the most masochistic way imaginable: by spending lots of time with Bob Zmuda, who has made a career out of exploiting his dead friend’s memory and his own relationship with him as his writer, best friend and creative soulmate. 

Carrey was just about the hottest thing going in entertainment at the time, and Hugh Hefner, being an inveterate star-fucker, desperately wanted Carrey at one of his soirees as part of his sad campaign to try to trick the public into thinking he was still a virile, important and culturally plugged-in mover and shaker, and not an exhausted old man trying to live up to a ridiculous cartoon persona when all he really wanted to do was nap, watch old movies and hang out with his best friend Bill Cosby. 

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So Zmuda and Carrey hatched a plan: they would tell Hefner that Carrey would attend his swanky party, but in character as Tony Clifton on account of being a crazy method genius and whatnot. But instead of Carrey wearing the Axe body spray, whiskey and human misery-scented Tony Clifton suit, it would be sleazy, desperate, unfuckable old Bob Zmuda playing Clifton. 

Hefner wouldn’t know this, however. He’d be leading “Clifton” around proudly, feeling like he was getting away with an outrageous prank when he was actually its target. The ruse would pay off when Hefner would be introducing his guests to what he thought was Jim Carrey in his Tony Clifton guise but who was actually Bob Zmuda playing Tony Clifton, a role he has played for decades, sometimes at Andy Kaufman’s behest and sometimes for his own amusement and enrichment, when the real Carrey would show up and Hefner would be exposed as a buffoon so obsessed with prestige and status that he allowed himself to be tricked by a pair of incorrigible private jokers. 

If the story had ended there, I would not have had a problem with it.But it doesn’t. No, Zmuda brags that he took advantage of a Playmate thinking he was Jim Carrey to have quick, disgusting, dirty sex while he was still in his Clifton guise. Zmuda’s rationale seems to be that if she wasn’t such a dirty whore eager to fuck a celebrity no matter what he wouldn’t have had his lewd way with her. 

It’s unabashed slut-shaming and victim-blaming at its most brazen but Zmuda is proud enough about having defiled a Playboy Playmate under such bizarre and fraudulent circumstances that he committed it to print and continues to repeat the anecdote, with pride, on podcasts and personal appearances. 

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Zmuda seems to think that he and Carrey emerge as the irreverent anti-heroes of the story and Hefner and the Playboy playmate as the righteously fooled marks but Zmuda is the one committing a sex crime in this story. He’s the one debasing and insulting a woman whose only mistake was having sex with him. 

I think about this story a lot. In its own smutty, deplorable way, it says an awful lot about male entitlement and narcissism and rape culture. I thought about it again after Hugh Hefner died. I do not think it’s at all coincidental that the Playboy mansion is where this story takes place. Between Hefner’s close friendship with people like Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski (who he supported personally as well as professionally), his casual dispensing of Qualuudes that he called “thigh openers” and the general atmosphere of sad debauchery, lust and desperation that defined the mansion through the decades, I think it’s safe to assume that a whole lot of sexual assaults happened at the Playboy mansion, and that the Qualuudes-dispensing man of the house did more to facilitate sexual assault than prevent it. That was part of the appeal of the mansion: the idea that powerful men could have sexual access to “Hef’s girls” no matter what that looks like, or what, if anything that offered women seen only as disposable sex objects, human party favors to be used, then discarded. 

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So while Hefner is being memorialized and eulogized and remembered as an icon of sexual liberation and important publisher, it’s essential that we remember this side of his legacy as well, sick, sad and gross as it might be. This was another type of Playboy story, and one I imagined happened with horrifying, predictable frequency. 

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