Documentary

Stephen David accesses Hugh Hefner archives for “American Playboy”

There are a few words that come to mind when it comes to American icon Hugh Hefner. He was known as a philanthropist, activist, media mogul and, of course, a playboy. An ...
April 6, 2017

There are a few words that come to mind when it comes to American icon Hugh Hefner. He was known as a philanthropist, activist, media mogul and, of course, a playboy.

An avid scrapbooker is fairly low on the list.

Fortunately for Stephen David, CEO Stephen David Entertainment, having access to Hefner’s personal scrapbooks, which number more than 2,900 and constitute a Guinness World Record, was key to creating the new series American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story.

The 10-part docuseries tells the story of Playboy magazine’s charismatic founder who set out to disrupt the status quo and create one of the most recognizable brands in history.

The docuseries combines archival footage, pulling from thousands of hours from Hefner’s personal archives; interviews with notable figures including Jesse Jackson, Gene Simmons and Bill Maher; and cinematic reenactments.

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Produced by the Emmy Award-winning Stephen David Entertainment and Alta Loma Entertainment, American Playboy begins in post-war America and takes viewers through the launch of Playboy magazine in 1953 and the next six decades of Hefner’s life and career, including time as an activist and philanthropist.

The series is the result of unprecedented access to thousands of hours of never-before-seen footage from both Hefner’s and the Playboy archives as well as Hefner’s personal scrapbooks, which David says Hefner’s been adding to since he was a teenager.

While the 91-year-old is a notoriously private figure, after watching The Making of the Mob, another miniseries created by the prodco, he approached the prodco about. He liked the hybrid documentary-scripted style Stephen David Entertainment is known for, and opened up his entire archive for them to use for the show’s production.

“[Hefner] was very involved in the project — he took a look at every outline script, every cut,” says David. “He was going over the stuff almost like it was his magazine.”

David says it was unique for him to work on a project where its subject is an active contributor.

Some of the prodco’s other work — The American West, The Sons of Liberty and The Men Who Built America, to name a few — tackle historical moments where researchers and archivists are usually the source of knowledge, as opposed to the figures themselves.

Many of prodoc’s series also used the mixed documentary and scripted-style that Stephen David Entertainment is known for.

“We don’t do a lot of projects, but what networks expect from us is for a series to be big and buzzy — they’re coming to us for premium events,” he says. “We’re taking on big subjects that hopefully have mass appeal.”

But David says the prodco comes at its shows from the perspective of a specific person, showing a character arc and what they have it stake. In this case, having Hefner as a resource was invaluable.

The Amazon Original Series will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 7.

This is the first time David’s worked with Amazon, and he says its appeal was a mix of logical — access to a mass audience — and practical. A series about the creator of Playboy would naturally have to be aired on broadcaster that allowed nudity.

“The entire world [Hefner] lived in was filled with nudity,” says David. “Some of the most interesting archives we have in the show are from his own parties at the Playboy mansion.”

The Amazon Original Series American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 7. Prime members will be able to stream all 10 episodes of the docuseries via the Amazon Prime Video app for TVs, connected devices including Fire TV, mobile devices and online.

Upcoming for David are projects with Russell Simmons, Leonardo DiCaprio and a scripted series with James Paterson.

“We’re looking at big projects with some big attachments,” he says. “We might not put out a lot of projects, but it’s because we really love what we do and choose what we work on carefully.”

American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story is produced by the Emmy award-winning Stephen David Entertainment, a Banijay Group company, and Playboy Enterprises’ production company Alta Loma Entertainment, and executive produced by Stephen David (The Men Who Built AmericaThe World WarsThe Making of the MobThe American West), Peter Jaysen (You Me Her, Fired Up, Dateline NBC) and longtime Playboy executive Dick Rosenzweig (The House BunnyThe Playboy Club) with co-executive producers Shirley Escott (Shadow of DoubtThe Making of the Mob: New York) and Tim Kelly (NASCAR: The Rise of American SpeedAmerican Genius).

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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