At a moment when the entertainment industry is coming under heavy fire for violent images in films, television and video games, the Playboy founder is in the midst of what he has dubbed a "tremendous renaissance."
The anti-porn (okay, Hugh, that's erotica - as he delineates, "Erotica is the celebration of sex that I like; porn is what you like.") crusade of the religious right and feminist left has taken a backseat to the recent anti-violence initiative and Hef is reaping the benefits. Viewed largely as benign and harmless fun, the adult entertainment industry has been successfully recast as a first amendment cause, thanks in part to the "People vs. Larry Flynt" effect. Sex is thriving on the internet, one of few truly lucrative industries online.
Life is good - "it's even better than it looks," declares Hefner - and the boss has come to Cannes to celebrate.
"It's the Year of the Rabbit," Hefner announced to a packed press conference Friday inside Cannes' American Pavilion. For the 73-year-old Hefner, the Cannes Film Festival is like the biggest of all movie nights at the Holmby Hills mansion - his long-running ritual of screening films on weekend nights for a crowd of regulars followed by cocktails in the grotto. This time, the drinks were poured on a yacht docked in the harbor just behind the Grand Palais building.
Sharply clad in black-tie tux (what did you expect, the bathrobe?), Hefner held court. His "make love, not war" message still resonates, especially against the backdrop of war only a few hundred miles to the east and the forementioned domestic debate over violence in the culture.
"Something that has always disturbed me is the notion that obscenity is somehow related to sex because the real obscene things on this planet have very little to do with sex," Hefner said. "They have to do with bigotry and war and killing."
"Yeah," echoed his chorus of beauties, applauding.
Hugh Hefner was sounding a note of harmony, saying he liked Cannes because "it is such an international event. I favor anything that brings the world and the countries together because we have so much in common and, if one thinks about it, there's so little that really separates us. I think we need to emphasize what we do have in common and much of that is reflected in the art of filmmaking."
Incidentally, this was not Hefner's first trip to the festival. In 1959, Playboy had just broken the one-million mark in subscription and its proud papa came to the Riviera toast the milestone and look for Bardot. Forty years later, the practice hasn't changed much - he's here to promote his product. The only difference is that his escorts hadn't yet been born. Heck, their mothers hadn't even been born.
Flanked by a quintet of blondes he called "some very dear friends," Hefner first introduced newly crowned Playmate of the Year Heather Kozar. The platinum rest, whom he alluded to as his "girlfriends," included identical twins Sandy and Mandy, soundalike Brandy and someone named Jessica.
"Three of them are in college and one is an actress," Hef added, deadpan.
While his entertainment empire continues to thrive, it might be said that Hefner is enjoying his own personal renaissance, newly single after a split from wife of ten years Kimberly Conrad (though it is rumored that she lives next door to the mansion with the children).
And, oh, the medical breakthroughs. If Bob Dole has any second thoughts, Hef would gladly assume the role of poster boy for Pfizer's wonder drug.
"Viagra wouldn't be in business without me," he said. "It's a sensational recreational drug, and it's legal."
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