Nearly 30 years ago, my friend Bob Rosen was Director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. He’d spent the previous 15 years of his life expanding the Archive from a small study-based collection to the world’s largest university based holding of original film and television material.
One day he received a phone call from Hugh Hefner – could the Playboy mansion access the UCLA collection for Hefner’s “film nights”? Bob explained the Archive was a repository, not a lending library. Undeterred, Hefner began talking of donating a huge sum of money to the Archive. In addition, Bob and a guest of his choosing could attend the screenings and the accompanying dinners to oversee Hefner’s use of the prints.
Bob’s vast array of friends and colleagues then had the opportunity to go with him to these events. I was a Visiting Scholar at the UCLA film school in 1989 and trotted along with Bob to a couple of the film nights. Dinner was served for several dozen guests and Hefner’s new wife Kimberley had her own table with several women, who all looked just like Kimberley.
After dinner, we adjourned to Hef’s private cinema, pretty much the equivalent of today’s Gold Class at Event Cinemas. Hefner would then stand and using copious sheaths of notes, give a lecture about the film we were about to view. The lecture could last 30 minutes. Film Noir was current syllabus of the “film nights” and Hefner’s lecture certainly covered all the right material. His oratory style left a lot to be desired, however – he was certainly no David Stratton. I’d try to imagine the Playboy King at his desk surrounded by noir texts, beavering away at the lecture, but was never completely convinced the words had come from his own hand.
|Johnny Crawford, Rifleman|
But I did get to meet Johnny Crawford. A childhood hero of mine from his days in Rifleman, Crawford had been friends with Hefner since 1973 when he appeared in Hefner’s production of The Naked Ape. He talked about reinventing himself with a vintage dance band playing material from the 1920s and 1930s. For the past 20 years he has conducted the Johnny Crawford Orchestra at celebrity functions.
I did make one faux pas. As we left one evening, Bob couldn’t stop giggling. “You do realize the person you thanked just then wasn’t Kimberley, but one of her girlfriends?”