In her Gold Coast apartment, tucked away in a file, Christie Ann Hefner keeps a picture of herself, age 1, sitting on her father's lap as he pores over layouts for his new magazine. "An early indication of a great collaboration," she calls it proudly.
Sitting now on her office couch, she is a picture of Victorian wholesomeness in high-necked mauve silk, with little make-up and only a gold ring for jewelry. At 31, she is one year older than Playboy, the magazine that is the centerpiece of the company she now runs. It is the magazine that made "skin" in and gave birth to a generation of even more explicit literature. And it is a magazine that, on its 30th birthday, has been forced to re-examine its raison d'etre because of a dramatic drop in circulation, advertising difficulties and what its editors call the "changing male" in a post-feminist era.
It is a magazine that evokes images of bare-breasted women and spicy cartoons. And of Christie Ann Hefner's father, an aging playboy himself, dancing under neon by night in his barely buttoned shirts or lounging by day on a rotating satin-covered bed in his silk pajamas.
Christie Hefner's images are different. There she is, being courted for her personal endorsement by presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Alan Cranston, raising money for women's groups, wearing pristine clothing and sweeping her soft brown hair off her face with little barrettes. She is Playboy Enterprises' purest face, and she has proved to be a resounding success despite the doubts that surrounded her arrival at the company with little to qualify her besides her parentage.
"I think what people did was take a very superficial look at me, which may have been predicated on very low expectations," she says, "and therefore it was not difficult for me to surpass those low expectations."
"I think she has done a great deal for the image," says her father. "There is something fascinating and quite wonderful about the heir to Playboy being a woman, not a man. If it had at all been calculated, it couldn't have been better. I said to her once, if she hadn't been born into this, the promotions department would have invented her."
In what was viewed widely as a brilliant public relations move, Hugh Hefner asked his daughter to join the corporation eight years ago--a time of controversy, financial strain and redefinition. She had been out of college a year, living in Boston and writing for The Phoenix, an English literature major with no management or business experience. Hugh Hefner was based in Los Angeles, and morale around the Playboy organization--especially its Chicago home office--was unraveling like an old sweater.
She says her father "felt that having me in Chicago at a time that the company was going through a major restructuring and reorganization with a lot of new executives being brought in--to have someone here through that period--would be helpful to him." In 1975 she joined up as assistant to the chairman and became president seven years later.
She may be his daughter and his representative, but Christie Hefner is also Hugh Hefner's opposite number. He is something of a recluse; she is very social. She says she is the marrying kind; he is not. She maintains a private personal life and a public professional life; he lives a life that in all aspects has been glorious food for the tabloids. Members of the Brandeis class of 1974 are still reeling over the Hugh Hefner show on his daughter's graduation day, which virtually upstaged commencement speaker Saul Bellow. Hefner wore all white and had Playmate Barbi Benton on his arm. Still cameras clicked, moving cameras trailed him all over campus.
"It was unbelievable," recalls one classmate.
Yet both Hefners believe they are of the same mind. "We think in a remarkably similiar fashion, which is particularly interesting considering we lived in different houses," says Hugh Hefner. "Our attitudes, values and instincts are remarkably similiar . . . Growing up in the last 30 years, she might very well have developed a different set of attitudes toward me. Thank God she didn't."
Christie Hefner has the kind of personal security and confidence not expected from children of two broken homes, and a type of "street smarts" not often seen in children of wealth and suburban breeding.
Her friends and colleagues describe her as being as cool as Lake Michigan and as controlled as a Swiss mechanism, rarely getting flustered or shedding tears.
"Controlled, organized and methodical," says Playboy's director of public relations Rich Nelson.
Christie Hefner can travel with the "right" people, and says that she likes the "access" her name affords her. Warren Beatty introduced her to political pollster Pat Caddell, now a good friend. She dated former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, raised money for Alan Cranston and calls the film producer Sherry Lansing ("Nine to Five") a good friend.
But she still has most of the same friends she has had for years, and she seems to inspire unusual loyalties because of what they call her devotion to them. She flew to New York for one's friend's opening night performance at the Metropolitan Opera, always sends postcards when traveling and flowers for special occasions, and makes that extra phone call at the airport to say hello.
Christie Hefner says the more she seems to move into celebrity status, the more she is inclined to cling to her old friends. She is also inclined to protect her personal life fiercely, and is uncomfortable talking about her television producer boyfriend of two years, Jim Korris. With some prodding, she will say that she has a "good feeling about a long-range future in this relationship."
"I'm private because I want to be private," she says. "I live the life I want to lead. I have a lot of trouble talking about my private life and it's been a source of some discussion between Jim and me. I think it was hurtful to him that I would not even say I was seeing one person, let alone say who it was. I think he wanted me to say it publicly because it was an affirmation of how he felt about me and how I felt about him."
And, in fact, her desire for privacy extends throughout her home life. She was at first reticent to allow an interview in her apartment.
"I've agreed to allow you to come by my apartment for a few minutes . . ., " she announced after one interview.
She has assumed The Tone. It is The Tone that one old boyfriend says comes up when she is determined to get what she wants. It is The Tone a friend of 17 years says she always "feared about Christie."
It is also The Tone you acquire when you must protect yourself because you are the only daughter of Hugh Hefner, and have spent much of your adult life on the defensive because people think you, too, are a bimbo bunny; and when at age 31, you find out one day that you have a 26-year-old half-brother.
It is also The Tone you learn to shift into when your interests include fundraising for the American Civil Liberties Union and serving as a delegate to the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but people only ask questions like, "How do you feel about your father dating women younger than you?" or "Would you ever pose for a centerfold?"
She gave her guest a 10-minute tour of the apartment.
It is a co-op on Chicago's "Gold Coast," a fashionable neighborhood not far from Lake Michigan, resembling Georgetown or Boston's Beacon Hill--where a $200,000 apartment is a good deal.
Her apartment is old and elegant, with gleaming wood floors, vast rooms and tall ceilings. She likes the color orange: It's everywhere--in the dining room chairs, the art, the bedroom, the guest room. There is a huge Yamaha piano in her dining room, and nine bowling trophies in her den. It used to be her favorite sport.
Her hall is lined with framed pictures. On one side they are of her family: Her brother, her mother and her mother's third husband, graduation photos and her father. On the other are framed articles about her: New York, Savvy, Cable Vision, Fortune.
Does she ever tire of giving interviews, she is asked at the end of the tour?
"I do it the amount I like to do it," she says, heading for the door.
"I'd offer you a drink," she says. "But we have to leave soon." The Hefner father/daughter team projects a relationship attractive enough to have made the cover of at least six major magazines in the past few years. But it hasn't always been that way. For most of Christie's life, she was raised by a stepfather she did not like. The man she now calls "Hef" was someone who sent a limousine for her several times a year so she could play pinball for free at his house, someone her mother says made Christie sad because he made so little time for her.
Hugh Hefner says he has no regrets about not being around during those years when a child tries on different personas, looking for the best fit.
"I'm so much closer to my childen than parents who were there," said Hugh Hefner in a telephone interview. "I pursued my dream and I have no regrets. Different people enjoy different things in life. I enjoy her as an adult. Some people were made to be parents and some made to do other things. There are many roads to Mecca. When I was growing up, they didn't tell us that. They told us it was immoral to be different."
As late as her freshman year at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Christie Ann Gunn didn't want people to know the identity of her father. She was embarrassed, her friends say.
"When we first got to Brandeis our freshman year and everyone was trying to impress everyone else, we had some guys over and I made the mistake of blurting out that she was Hugh Hefner's daughter," says long-time friend Betsy Phau. "She was furious. There was a time in her life when she was uncomfortable with it."
"She had Playboy stationery around and I thought her father was the janitor or something and that her mother had probably divorced him to marry up," says Paul Regan, Christie Hefner's first love and long-time college boyfriend. "We had been dating a few months before she finally told me."
All that changed when she was 20, the summer before her senior year.
"My mother had already divorced my stepfather and I had finished three years of college and established my identity and friends," she says. "Out of the blue that summer I got a letter saying that I had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. I realized that I was going to have this certificate for the rest of my life. I went to court to change her name and I was very intimidated by the experience. I remember the judge asked me if this is what I wanted to do and I said yes . . .
"I told my father and he seemed pleased, but it wasn't until later that I could appreciate how touching that must have been for him. He had been out of the family for so many years."
Hugh Hefner had been out of the family for practically her whole life, to be exact. He took another apartment, where he spent most of his time, one year after Playboy first hit the newsstands. Christie was 2, and her mother Millie was pregnant. By the time Christie was 3, and just after her brother David's birth, when Hugh Hefner moved out for good. Her parents were divorced in 1959. Just last month, Hugh Hefner acknowledged a third son, a progeny of an affair during that time. "I was surprised," said Christie Hefner. "I've met him. He seems like a very nice person. Hef seems very pleased about it. It's all too new. It's very personal."
In 1960, Millie Hefner married again, this time to Ed Gunn, a Chicago lawyer. The two Hefner children were given his name in order to create the semblance of a cohesive family environment, although the children never felt close to Gunn.
Still, David has kept his stepfather's name to retain his privacy. Today he is a professional photographer and computer consultant in Los Angeles. "You'd have to ask a psychiatrist why he didn't want to be in the company," jokes Millie Gunn. Like his sister, he is very close to Hugh Hefner.
Yet the two of them were shielded from the real environment in which Hugh Hefner lived. Linda Lovelace, star of "Deep Throat" and one-time Playboy model, reportedly told Gloria Steinem that Christie was protected. "When Christie would turn up," Steinem reported in New York magazine that Lovelace told her, "the mansion was cleaned up, the kinky stuff put away, and the Parcheesi board taken out. There was an apparent effort to keep Christie from knowing what was going on."
While her mother says the limousine that fetched her daughter was the only conspicuous sign of new wealth, Christie was afforded the luxuries of a comfortable upbringing. She attended New Trier High School, an upper-crust public school in Wilmette, a wealthy Chicago suburb. And she summered at the National Music Camp, a prestigious camp in Michigan, where she studied voice, piano and oboe. Hugh Hefner paid the bills.
"While I have always had a good relationship with my father, much of the time it has been a very limited relationship until I was older," she says. "So you can't really give him credit or blame for how I turned out. I think when you're on a visiting relationship rather than a living relationship, it's kind of hard to have impact as a parent."
When she went away to Brandeis and he moved to Los Angeles, the relationship took on a new dimension. She would visit him for days, instead of hours. Friends said she made an effort to be close.
When Millie Gunn moved out on Ed Gunn in 1971 (they later divorced,) Christie asked Hugh Hefner to buy her mother a house in which to live. He did. "They hadn't had much contact because my stepfather was so sensitive about any kind of ongoing presence of my father in our family," Christie Hefner says. "And he didn't buy the house because it was an obligation. Of course he would do it. He loved her. She was the mother of his children."Christie Hefner is proud of her father and his accomplishments, her close friends say, and she seeks his approval. But in an interview, she knows how to say just enough about her father's life style to indicate that she does think it is unique. But not enough so that it could be construed as criticism.
"Last summer, she told me that one of the greatest disappointments in her life was that her father did not date women his intellectual equal," says her friend Betsy Phau.
"Yes, I have heard her express that," says her mother Millie Gunn. She pauses and laughs. "But I guess you'll have to ask Hugh about that."
"I could say same the same thing about her," said Hugh Hefner about Christie good-naturedly. "If either one of us waited till our intellectual equal came along, it would be a long time."
"Yes, well?" asks Christie with a sheepish smile when asked about her father's taste in women. "What do you want me to say? I think it's very unfair to be critical of anybody. I could be hurtful without meaning to and I would regret that.
"I guess," she says after a pause, "there is one way I would try to be descriptive and insightful about this: My father was consumed by work for many years. That's something that's lost in the public image. Of course, the public image focuses on how hard he plays, which is equally true. He is certainly responsible more than any other human being for cultivating that image.
"But he works very hard . . . The magazine is his creation. As a result of that he really likes to be able to escape. So I think what he looks for in his romantic relationships is romance, in the sense where the emphasis is on caring and fun and pleasure--the real romantic side of falling and being in love.
"The relationships that he has are relationships that deliver that, where that is really--relationships that are terribly romantic and loving and fun. They aren't the same kind of relationships you would have if you married someone and intended to raise a family together and put your teeth in the glass together in 60 years."
"I am very romantic person," says Hugh Hefner. "I relate to my own youth and to the dreams of that time period. That's one thing I find with younger people, they hold onto that and that makes me date younger women. Life can and should be an adventure, an exploration of the potential of the world around you. I think I managed to find what I was looking for." THE COMPANY WOMAN She has the walk of a politician, but the demeanor of a best friend. On this freezing Chicago evening, she strides into the Literary Arts Ball--a striking presence swathed in racoon. Underneath she is wearing black satin pants, another high-necked silk lace blouse and a pearl the size of a fat pea.
"I don't know anyone here," she laments.
Not true. She knows everybody and they swim around her like guppies to food.
In the first 10 minutes, Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) grabs her hand and whispers something; she sympathizes with a senior editor at the Chicago Sun-Times about its recent purchase by Rupert Murdoch; one woman pitches her for money from the philanthropic Playboy Foundation; another tells Christie Hefner she is out of work. She is not a social air-kisser, but a firm hand-shaker and confident conversationalist and comforter. She presents an award to a friend in what amounts to a 10-minute salute. She speaks without notes.
"She makes a good impression and she brings a sense of family to the company," says Playboy associate publisher Nat Lehrman. "She has a great value in public relations. She is a sensational speaker. She's super at that, and at making friends for the company. People like her. She's a celebrity."
Within five years of joining the Playboy organization, Christie Hefner was named president, replacing a well-known publishing executive, Derek Daniels. There has been much speculation but little information about why Daniels was fired, and then given nearly a half million dollars in severance pay.
When she became president, Hugh Hefner created "the office of the president," for his daughter and executive vice president Marvin Huston. One financial analyst close to Playboy, who has also dealt with its account, believes that it is Huston who is actually running the company.
After two decades of phenomenal growth and conspicuous displays of public wealth that included the Bunny Jet for Hugh Hefner's personal use, Playboy Enterprises looked as if it was heading for a nose dive in recent years. For the first time, the company reported losses: $51.7 million in fiscal year 1982, and $17.5 million in fiscal year 1983.
This severe decline in profits was directly attributed to the loss of the London gambling casinos, which were denied a license renewal in 1981 because of "technical credit violations." Playboy was forced to sell the two casinos and eight betting houses. And just this month, the firm was denied on final appeal a license renewal for its Atlantic City casino. The company is exploring ways to divest itself of the casino and hotel.
Problems kept multiplying. Faced with the change in sexual attitudes and the status of women, the magazine was slow to adapt. In the past decade circulation has slipped 35 percent from a 6.5 million peak in 1973 to the current 4.2 million figure. Since 1980, the magazine has lost 1 million readers.
And in addition to financial concerns, it has come under increasing attacks by feminists, attacks not offset by its history of contributing heavily to liberal causes through the Playboy Foundation. Most recently, the foundation was faced with negative publicity when, with great fanfare, the Ms. Magazine Foundation returned more than $11,000 Playboy had donated to support "pro-choice" efforts, because of their view that Playboy does not portray women in a favorable light. In a magazine article justifying its position, Ms. conceded: " . . . Christie Hefner has been a tireless pro-choice campaigner . . ."
But Christie Hefner has been presented time and time again with the same question by interviewers and feminists: How can she be a self-professed feminist and head a company that so flagrantly exploits and presents women as sex objects?
Her answer is consistent.
"The magazine presents women in a lot of different ways, depending on what pages you are reading," she says. "Playboy was one of the first to endorse legalized abortion in the '60s. If you want to reduce Playboy to the way some people feel about the photos, you are doing both the readers and editors a disservice. I don't think there is a feminist position on sexuality. That should be an area people give the widest option to define for themselves personally."
Wrote Ms. magazine last June in explaining the return of the $11,000: "There is also the matter of Christie Hefner's recent corporate ascendance--a source of ambivalence for many feminists who hate the magazine but like and respect her." It is the end of the weekend, and Hefner and Nelson are driving to O'Hare Airport in the windy November darkness, on their way to Playboy's annual meeting in Los Angeles. Hefner is preparing to tell the stockholders that the numbers look better for the first quarter of fiscal year 1984: a loss of $1.4 million compared to last year's first quarter loss of $2.4 million.
"I never think in terms of an entire career," she says reflecting on her future with the company. "I mean that's 40 years and that's longer than I have been alive, and a lot longer than I've been in this job.
"At some point, many years from now, I will be the keeper of the shares of the family business. That will remain forever."
At last count, Christie Ann Hefner was referring to an empire worth well over $100 million. CAPTION: Picture 1, Christie Hefner: "[Playboy] presents women in a lot of different ways, depending on what pages you are reading." Picture 2, Christie Hefner with her father Hugh last year; UPI; Picture 3, "I think what people did was take a very superficial look at me . . ." Christie Hefner says, "and therefore it was not difficult . . . to surpass those expectations." Picture 4, "Her friends and colleagues describe [Christie] as being cool as Lake Michigan and as controlled as a Swiss mechanism." Photos by Jessie Ewing for The Washington Post