Q & A: Hugh Hefner

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Hefner: I was raised in a very typical Midwestern Methodist Puritan home. My Puritan roots go back ten generations to William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower. One remembers H. L. Mencken's observation that a Puritan is someone who is very upset because someone, somewhere, is having a good time. And that is as American as apple pie. That is who we are — we still have problems with nudity, we still have problems with sexuality, we're fascinated with all of that, but there's a guilt and shame connected to it. And no question I think that the magazine comes directly out of that, and the rest of my life is a response and reaction — and some might suggest an overreaction — to that repression. There was a point in my middle years when my mother tried to apologize for not being able to show more affection when we were growing up, and I said, "Mom, you couldn't have done anything any better."

TIME:Your personal relationships get a lot of attention, especially now that you're into the second season of your reality show, Girls Next Door.

Hefner: I've noticed that. When reality shows became popular, a lot of people came to us and wanted us to do one because of the fascination and curiosity about life at the mansion. And I was reluctant to do that. But when [the producer] came up with the idea of doing the show focused on the girls, I thought that was an inspired idea because it took the pressure off of me, because unlike a lot of the people who do reality shows, I have a real life. I'm a busy guy.

TIME: Would you have agreed to do it if you still had seven girlfriends?

Hefner: Not those seven. That would have been a very different show. I downsized intentionally because there was a lot of conflict going on. I was married and faithful through that marriage for eight and a half years, and when that didn't work out, I came out of it kind of emotionally beat up and bruised, and probably the multiple girlfriends was a reaction — or overreaction — to that. But I must say that it is easier for me to handle the three girlfriends than it was the one wife. One would think there would be some rivalries but there really isn't. All three are very happy to be here.

TIME: Izabella St. James, one of your former girlfriends, recently wrote a pretty accusatory tell-all autobiography. How did you react?

Hefner: Izabella was a girlfriend for two years — she was one of the seven. But I think my life has always been to some extent an open book, with illustrations. So I don't have a lot of secrets. Of course I've got mixed feelings, but whatever. After a relationship, some people get on with their lives, some people write books.

TIME: You once quoted Woody Allen saying "Marriage is the death of hope." Then you went and got married again. Why?

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