Valley Voices

Why I turned down Hugh Hefner

Melanie Warner
Melanie Warner

RIP Hef! So far, I haven’t heard anyone say that he is in a much better place. For some, they might believe that he experienced heaven on Earth.

I met Hugh Hefner years ago and he was very charming and supportive. I always called him Mr. Hefner – because he was my elder. He hated that!

I had an opportunity to do Playboy magazine, and I turned it down. He personally met with me to ask why. I knew some day I would have kids and, whether they were boys or girls, it was not something I wanted out there permanently. I also couldn't imagine my parents at church having to deflect that. This was before the internet even existed!

My agent argued with me and told me if I wanted a successful career in the film business as an actor, this is something I had to do. He then rattled off a long list of Academy Award-winning actresses who had all done Playboy to launch their careers – and he was right.

I suggested he walk his heavyset body outside his office, strip down naked and stand down on the street corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica avenues for 30 minutes – and then we could discuss it.

After that, my agent fired me. That was the end of my acting career.

A few years ago, I was at a Cub Scout meeting with a bunch of 10-year-old boys and their dads. I was the only woman there. Somehow, the rumor had circulated that I had actually done Playboy. Geez, they were 10! I could hear the whispers, and I could see some of the the dads frantically trying to Google photos, which is exactly for that moment that my 22-year-old self chose not to do it!

I still get invited to the Playboy Mansion and have never been back.

Mr. Hefner was always kind, generous and respectful. I have many friends who have been in his magazines, and I respect their choices as much as they respect mine.

As a fellow magazine publisher for over 20 years now, I know he had a very public life full of scrutiny and judgment regardless of what he published.

In fact, it was that very meeting with Mr. Hefner, who inspired me to start my own magazine at 22 years old in Los Angeles –the most competitive market in the world. He encouraged me and told me why he started his own magazine. He did it to connect people. His intentions were more about writing for the magazine.

He shared how they first started a magazine in the early days and no one was reading it. As they sat around a table coming up with creative ideas – one of the employees piped up “maybe we should include full frontal nudity” as a joke.

He always saw it as a way for women to express their power and beauty. His intention was to empower women, not to make them feel exploited.

I didn't want my own career to be marked by bikinis or be measured simply by my face or body. I wanted to do something different with my life. That is why I made a career change and started my first magazine in Los Angeles.

The rest is history.

I'm still in a rare minority of women who actually turned down Hef. That’s a much smaller group than the women who said yes. It’s something I'm most proud of, even though I didn't receive a trophy!

Thanks, Mr Hefner, for your inspiration and wisdom! And for always respecting my decision and never making me regret it. That meeting became a defining moment in my life.

Melanie Warner is an author, speaker, magazine publisher and a business coach. She is the founder of the Defining Moments book series. Warner has a weekly Live TV Show that shares people’s stories of hope and transformation. She can be reached at or visit