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Mrs. Hef? : How a Canadian Centerfold Got America's Most Militant Bachelor to Say the 'M' Word

October 21, 1988|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

They're as gooey and mushy as any lovebirds.

"After 10 months, it just gets better," she sighs.

"She's getting more and more beautiful," he coos.

He likes animals. She likes animals. They finish each other's sentences. They like to putter around the house.

It's enough to send a person into insulin shock.

But that's the kind of relationship Hugh Hefner and his fiancee, Kimberley Conrad, have. The 26-year-old Canadian Miss January got the 62-year-old founder of the Playboy empire to actually utter the "m" word.

Ready to Settle Down

The man who elevated bachelorhood to a state near nirvana says he has found "the one" and is ready to settle down.

When? Next year. Have they set a date? "Well, we're not talking about . . . it'll be sometime next year," says Hefner.

"We can't let the date be known yet," adds Conrad.

They sit on a worn sofa in the library of the Playboy Mansion West in Holmby Hills, close enough so he can rub her thigh and she can caress his shoulder.

They have just finished posing for a photograph next to the wishing well where Hefner popped the question last July during a stroll on the property. The picture taking over with, they quickly revert from street clothes back to their natural state: he in teal silk pajamas and a paisley robe, she in white shorts and a black sweat shirt decorated with the bunny logo. Her upper lip is still a bit puffy from recent dental work.

Conrad is half-obscured by Hefner whenever he leans forward, set to go on a rambling tangent while sipping a Diet Pepsi. Occasionally her blond head bobs up and she stares cautiously with tremendous blue eyes, as if she wants to trust you, but not sure if she should.

"I knew I was going to propose that night," Hefner recalls, "but I didn't have the notion as to where. As we came out of the game house, the wishing well was there, and I just took her by the hand and said, 'Take a little walk with me.' I think I simply said, 'Will you marry me?'

"We had talked around and about marriage together and with friends over the last several weeks," he explains. "And at one point she said to me, 'I don't want to hear any more about marriage . . .' "

"I said, 'I can't give you an answer unless you give me the question,' " says Conrad, mocking her own exasperation.

"And then I said to Kimberley, 'Do you remember the last time that we stood by this wishing well? And she said, 'This is what I wished.' And I said, 'This is what I wished, too.' "

He lets out a high-pitched giggle and squeezes her hand.

'I Just Knew in My Heart'

"I wished that we would be together forever, not necessarily the marriage thing," says Conrad, "because I didn't believe that Hef would get married. But you know what's funny? Whether or not we would get married, I just knew in my heart that we would be together forever. And I wanted to spend my life with him.

"I still don't believe it," she says, blinking her eyes. "No, I believe it. It's just too good to be true 'cause we're so happy together."

Their bliss is obvious to friends, including director Richard Brooks, who says that, pre-engagement, he noticed "an increased intensity on the part of Hef's romanticism. And here's a man who created a kind of new life for gentlemen with Playboy, and wouldn't it be interesting if people took up his new frontier: Why not get married and make your wife your playmate?"

For Hefner, it's a drastic change. He has made no secret of his disdain for matrimony since his 1949 marriage to Mildred Williams, which produced a daughter, Christie, and a son, David.

"Marriage is the death of hope," he is often quoted as saying, echoing a Woody Allen line that seemed to sum up his existence. Instead of marriage, there was a succession of women and relationships with playmates that lasted years: Sondra Theodore, Barbi Benton, Shannon Tweed. All now have children, are pregnant, or both.

In His 'September Years'

His engagement now also comes as Hefner gracefully slips into his "September years," three years after a stroke and shortly before he officially turns over control of Playboy Enterprises to the 35-year-old Christie, who will most likely be elected chairman and CEO, succeeding her father.

Hef continues to lord over the magazine and the social doings at the Tudor-style mansion with its heavy, masculine furnishings, immaculately manicured lawns and menagerie of exotic birds and primates. He's also working on his autobiography.

Conrad and Hefner met when she was staying at the mansion while shooting her Miss January 1988 centerfold layout last summer. They talked but didn't date at first.

The timing of her arrival was right--two weeks earlier, Hefner and former Playmate Carrie Leigh had called it quits. According to Hefner, that infamous relationship was already in a downward spiral, culminating in Leigh's $35 million palimony suit, followed by Hefner's countersuit, followed by a slander suit filed by Leigh and attorney Marvin Mitchelson. All suits were eventually dropped.

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