Berman's 'Hefner' portrays image of a great warrior

Misani | 4/12/2011, 5:32 p.m.

Hefner also was not influenced by the omnipresent color divide in America, opting instead to take a stand. For example, as the film exposes, "In the early 1960s, when Playboy Clubs in Miami and New Orleans would not allow Black patrons into the clubs, Hefner used his own money to buy back the franchises from the owners at a loss, ensuring that institutions bearing the Playboy name would be racially integrated."

Comedian-activist Dick Gregory got his break in the Chicago Playboy Club when he became the first African-American hired by Hefner to perform in front of a white audience. In effect, this opening broke down the doors for other stand-up comedians such as the great Flip Wilson, Slappy White and Richard Pryor, among others.

On the issue of race, Berman also points out: "His 1959 'Playboy's Penthouse' television shows aired at a time when nobody dared to feature Black and white people together, either as performers or as audience participants in a party setting. Hefner didn't think twice about it. Those were his friends, and that's the way he was. Southern states wouldn't buy the shows, but he didn't care. He's a man of strong principles."

In the film, NFL great Jim Brown weighed in with this comment: "Hefner fought against injustice and fought to change and to bring about a truth in this country. He maximized his influence to make this a better country, and that's all he was trying to do, to make it an honest country."

The film also depicts many other important causes of Hefner's, including fighting against blacklisting during the McCarthy era, championing the sexual revolution and providing assistance for Vietnamese war children by providing his plane, the Big Bunny, for transportation.

While sitting through a screening of "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel" at the MoMA with my dear friend Geoffrey Holder, a special invited guest of Ms. Berman and her partner, Victor Solnicki, of Metaphor Films, I was fascinated by the breadth and depth of Mr. Hefner and his contributions to America and the world. Through Berman's comprehensive and exquisite film, I got the opportunity to get to know the brilliant and controversial Mr. Hefner, an exceptional man who fought to make this world a more humane one...oh yeah, and a sexier one too.

As Brown shared: "There are only a few warriors left from the '60s, and Hef is definitely one of them."