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Hugh Hefner’s Son Rebels


Twenty-three year-old Cooper Hefner proposed to his girlfriend of two years, 24-year-old British actress Scarlett Byrne. In advance of the big ask, Cooper flew across the Pond to secure the blessing of Byrne’s father. And after Byrne accepted, both families celebrated, including Cooper’s grandma.

All of this makes Cooper sound remarkably traditional and family-oriented in a number of ways. First, in an era when the number of Americans marrying is at an all-time low, Cooper is embracing an institution that used to be the undisputed building block of every society. Second, he’s settling down early: the average age for men to marry is now 29-years-old . Third, young Hefner’s seemingly close relationship with his grandmother is heartwarming, if somewhat surprising for the scion of the Playboy Empire.

What’s more interesting, perhaps, is the question of whether Cooper’s traditional tendencies are an unexpected twist in his family’s story. People magazine called Hugh Hefner the “self-described victim of a repressed Methodist upbringing.” While that might have been true, in his adult life, Hef certainly managed to overcome any such repression with endless hedonism. As Hef told GQ about the 1970s: “’I swung. I redefined the very nature of swinging.’”

Now the Hefner lifestyle pendulum appears to have swung again. This time, the radical act is to embrace traditional values Cooper’s father rejected. Can we blame him?

Their father’s reality had an impact on how both sons think about women, commitment, and relationships more generally.

In a 2008 interview with GQ, Kimberley Conrad, mother of Cooper and older brother Marston, opined:

“Marston and Cooper have grown up around Playmates, so it isn’t a big deal. I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, my God, a Playmate!’ I don’t know. But they’ve grown up around it.” A pause. “It’s like working at Krispy Kreme—you don’t eat all the doughnuts.”

Right – how many naked strangers wandering around your father’s mansion does it take before it stops being titillating, or even noteworthy? As Marston explained:

“I’ve just never been like, ‘Let’s go into the Grotto so I can see someone having sex…It’s, like, a little awkward, because it’s not like I’m at some other kid’s house and people are having sex. It’s my house. Just knowing people are having sex at my house is uncomfortable.”

While Hefner’s sons have remarked that they were sheltered during childhood, they both clearly learned about their father’s livelihood and lifestyle choices along the way. Their father’s reality had an impact on how both sons think about women, commitment, and relationships more generally.

When your parent is a libertine icon, you either continue in that direction (as Cooper’s troubled older brother Marston has) or you rebel and move in a different, more traditional direction. Molly Jong-Fast, whose mother, novelist Erica Jong, famously coined the phrase “zipless f***” is a case in point, having embraced both early marriage (for a New Yorker) and motherhood. Cooper seems to be another.

GQ specifically asked Kimberley about the effect of Hef’s lifestyle on their two sons. She replied: “‘You know what, I really believe that every person is wired differently. Whatever the boys decide to do, it will be…They have integrity. I don’t think they’ll be one of these young bucks running around Hollywood—guys in their twenties and thirties—that have five girls going. My personal feeling is they’ll be one-on-one kind of guys.’” Her prediction certainly seems to hold true for Cooper.

If the world’s most famous playboy can have his heart broken, so too can we all.

The thrice-married Hef seems to support his son’s turn toward tradition, if his congratulatory tweet is any indication.  It would seem Hef either reserves judgment about others’ lives or, in spite of his many years as a playboy, Hef sees some value in marriage for younger men.

When Hef wed Cooper’s mother in July 1989, he told People magazine, “’I’ve never been anti-marriage,’ he now says. ‘I’ve always been strongly pro-romance.’” He also added, “’Wouldn’t it be unique if my life became a symbol of the conservative decade ahead, just as it was a symbol of the swinging ’60s and 70s?’”

If Hef is to be believed, he remained monogamous during the duration of that marriage, which would have required some serious behavioral modification on his part. Of course, it then took seven women to help him get over losing Kimberley. While he’s right that that does sound like “‘overcompensation’” it also sounds like playboy Hef may have been earnest about his feelings for Kimberley and had his heart broken.

If the world’s most famous playboy can have his heart broken, so too can we all. Perhaps Cooper already understands that, as well as the value of having and holding onto one true love. Marriage may be more work than eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut, but it’s undoubtedly more satisfying.