HELLO AMERICA!—For years and years, the name Hugh Hefner has been a part of our life in some way or the other. His progressive ideas and thinking concerning publishing, entertainment and pushing whatever button necessary to change old-fashioned, corny concepts concerning, women, sex and social morals shook a lot of people up, but Hefner couldn’t care less.
My friend Leon Isaac Kennedy agrees with me totally when he said:
“Hef was much more than the man that presented great centerfolds. He was a universal fighter for civil rights and freedom. In particular, back in the fifties, against fierce opposition, he put Black entertainers on his television show, regardless of sponsor’s and network’s protests. And he didn’t put them on just to perform and be escorted off the set. With Hef’s style, he had them mingle, eat, drink, dance and be part of the conversation with everyone else. This was unheard of in that segregated Jim Crow era. And, for me, more than anything, since 1971, Hef has been family and a dear, dear friend.”
It was film and TV star Ruta Lee who first introduced me to Hefner. From that moment on, whenever we met, Hef went out of his way to discuss his latest projects or ideas because he was quite aware of my interest and involvement within the industry.
Not only that, when he decided to celebrate Ruta’s marriage to Web Lowe by opening up the Playboy mansion to her Hollywood friends, I received a personal call from him, inviting me to all the reveling. It resulted in my having one of the best times I had ever experienced in Hollywood. He made sure I met people who might make a difference in my career. It was Hef who called Jim Brown and reminded him that he should have me as one of the special presenters for the Urban League Awards program.
When I co-stared with Ethel Waters in her Tony Award play “Member of the Wedding,” he appeared on opening night with Glenn Ford, John Huston and so many other industry icons supporting me and the rest of the cast. Hef was a man who genuinely cared; he seemed to understand what kind of journey many of us were forced to undertake as artists of color.
His passing reminded me that it was, Hef, who called when alerted of my exit from PLAYERS INT’L PUBLICATIONS, insisted that we meet at his Century City office to discuss what I might do next. The meeting was quite effective in every way, it was Hef after listening to what my future plans might encounter, suddenly picked up the phone and called a local radio station and insisted they meet with me as a possible member of one of their variety shows.
I considered this as a gift from heaven remembering my few years as a performer for NBC radio in Philadelphia as a teenager. Later, when signed with San Francisco station KDIA, Hef tracked me down and asked how things were going and said with a chuckle, “Give it all you got, guy – KICK ASS!” I’ve been trying to do just that from that time on.
Hugh Hefner was much more than a collector of beautiful girls, he was one who cared about struggling talented people who dared to dream for a better life not only for themselves but for the world as well. He will be missed, that’s for sure!