Philipp Schulze, editor-in-chief of Germany’s big film magazine Cinema, talks about his passion for film, memorable encounters, analysing James Bond and getting goosebumps.
If you want to get to Hugh Hefner, there’s one big obstacle in your path. No, that’s not quite right. It’s actually a huge boulder that seems to have dropped from the sky and landed right next to the gate to the Playboy villa. Smack bang in classy Holmby Hills, one of the finest addresses in Los Angeles. In fact, the boulder conceals an intercom. And if you have an appointment with its celebrity owner, the cast-iron gate will open as if by magic, inviting you up the curving driveway. Our car rolls slowly past free-roaming flamingos and signs instructing us not to feed the bunnies. A few more metres and we get our first glimpse of Hef’s villa, famously known as the “Playboy Mansion”, and the heart of the park-like complex.
Acquired by Hugh Hefner for one million dollars in 1971 and his home ever since, the building changed hands in summer 2016 for a whopping 100 million dollars. It was bought by a Greek billionaire investor, who conveniently lives right next door. However, the new owner had to agree that Hefner, now 90 years of age, could remain in the property for the rest of his life.
We enter the hall of this urban palace built in the neo-Gothic Tudor style. Trained staff lead us past a chic staircase to Hugh Hefner’s private quarters. Outsiders are banned from going upstairs. Hef himself is still nowhere to be seen. Leaving the lobby, we pass through the adjacent living room – a sort of private cinema packed with giant leather sofas – and come to the library, with a bay window and dark-wood walls adorned with books and pictures. Hefner’s charming personal assistant asks us to take a seat in one of the heavy armchairs while she goes to tell the master that his guests have arrived. And a few minutes later, there he is, strolling over in silent shoes and a ruby-red silk dressing gown. He is smaller and more delicate than expected.
I first met Hefner on 1 February 2011, when my colleague Philip Wolff and I arranged to interview the legendary playboy to mark his upcoming 85th birthday. We made our way from Munich to L.A. for an exclusive chat lasting a whole 30 minutes. At least that was the plan. Perhaps Hef enjoyed our company and probing questions so much that the scheduled 30 minutes became more than an hour. Or perhaps he was just too polite to turf us out so quickly when we’d come so far. After all, we did present him with Bavarian lederhosen made from the finest deerskin. Seeing our gift, Hef let out a long, loud, thundering laugh.
We both took a seat in the group surrounding our interviewee, and Hef motioned for me to come closer. Closer. My lips were practically touching his ear. By this time, Hefner was severely hard of hearing. But to our surprise, the 85-year-old answered all our questions with an ease and ready wit seemingly at odds with his physical fragility. Hefner clearly enjoyed the interview, providing incisive, witty and quotable replies. He also proved to be extremely interested and curious, asking detailed questions about the developments and challenges of the magazine’s German edition.
After an extensive tour of the complex – including the legendary grotto (“What happens in the Grotto, stays in the Grotto!”), the Playmates’ lodgings, the zoo, tennis courts and “game house” – we took our leave. It would be several minutes before we spoke. We both knew we would never forget this moment as long as we lived. Then we quickly checked that our recorder really had captured every word uttered by the Playboy founder – and that we hadn’t forgotten to press record in the heat of the moment. We played the tape back and were relieved to hear Hef speaking, loud and clear. We felt a burden the size of that boulder lift off our shoulders.
And so I made my way to my next appointment, lunch with Nastassja Kinski in the restaurant of the Beverly Hills Hotel. But that’s another story…