Commentary

Jim Brown in Hugh Hefner documentary

Originally Published: June 30, 2010
By Kelley Carter | Special to Page 2

It's not exactly what you might think.

Hugh Hefner's documentary "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel," doesn't open until July 30 but ESPN.com has the exclusive first look at the trailer of the film which was shot by Oscar-winning director Brigitte Berman.

Berman also chatted with ESPN about why she wanted to show a different, unexplored side of the magazine founder.

Why do this now?

"It really all began when I visited Hef for his 80th birthday. I'd known him prior to that and I wanted to go to his party. When I was there, the party was quite amazing. Painted girls, it was wonderful. They celebrated him, but they only celebrated him as a playboy. I've known him for many years and knew about the activist part of him. I felt that was all missing at that party. I wanted to make a film about that other side of Hugh Hefner. I researched it, sent him down a treatment and he said 'Yes, go ahead. Anything you need, I give you, including creative freedom.' I felt very fortunate, but also very responsible."

Why focus so much on his philanthropy?

I find this side much more sexier, much more sensual. This has weight; it's really fascinating and it fascinated me more. At the same time, all the civil rights and everything is very, very important because he was -- in major ways -- putting his neck out on his shows, with his magazine, all kinds of ways about civil rights and breaking the color line with his Playboy club with Dick Gregory."

He's the kind of player that other players are attracted to. Why is this?

"He is the ultimate playboy. Men want to emulate Hugh Hefner. That's why he began the magazine. He told men how to dress, how to drink, how to mix drinks, what music to listen to. He really laid out to the men what you could do to become a hip, swinging guy. If you look in those early magazines, it's all there. I know guys today who go after that. The younger kids today, to them, he is a hero. They love the very fact that he was a rebel. That he stuck his neck out. That he took on the government. He never shied away from anything. Nothing. It's tremendously inspiring for many males. And at the same time, he is such a rebel. He's not afraid to do what he believes is right. To say no to something; to fight for something. He's a man of incredible convictions. As a woman, I really admire that. He does sick his neck out and puts his money where his mouth is."

Talk about his relationship with former NFL great Jim Brown, who is featured prominently in the film.

"Jim Brown has known Hef a very, very long time. He was on Hefner's 'Playboy After Dark Show,' which was a show that Hef created. It was a platform that gave Jim Brown a voice when nobody else would listen. Jim Brown says Hefner fought against injustices."

And he's such a big part of the documentary, too. Why did you use him so much?

"I did a very, long interview with Jim Brown. He was absolutely tremendous. It was interesting what he said about feminists. He also believes in the feminist cause. He believes in activism of all sorts. And I talked to him about that. He said he could see why the feminists were so against Hefner, and they had to be. But at the same time, it was a very honest battle between the two of them. Both of them were so strong, it kept them both more honest. And I thought that was a really interesting take he had on that."

Did his friendship with Brown begin this kind of long-standing pop culture relationship he's had with the NFL? Every year he throws these amazing Super Bowl parties …

"Oh yes, he hosts those Super Bowl parties everywhere. More than that, sports was very, very big in the magazine always. He knew a lot of sports figures. The great basketball player Wilt Chamberlain -- he was a great friend. Bill Russell also is a good friend. And many others came to the mansion. He would hold sports events at the mansion: tennis championships and fight parties. Sports was huge for him. Huge. And all these boxing events -- he screens them, plays them late Friday nights. It gets shown there as part of the Friday or Saturday night movie night."

So what is it that you'd like people to walk away from this film thinking?

"I would love people to be able to look at a person without judging them first. Like a blank slate. Who is this person? Let's see what he's done. I just want them to take a look and explore all the things that he has done. And if you still come out afterwards saying 'I really don't like what he did to women', it's a free country."

Kelley L. Carter is a freelance entertainment reporter. She can be reached at Kelley@thekelleylcarter.com.

Kelley L. Carter is an Emmy-winning entertainment journalist who has written for publications including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, Vibe and Essence magazines. She also regularly provides expert pop culture and entertainment commentary for outlets including CNN, E! and the TV Guide Channel.