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Into the Night

Hugh & Crew Bask in the Birthday Limelight

March 06, 2001|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — So what do you get an old man for his birthday if he doesn't wear ties and seems to have plenty of pajamas? In this case, you get him more of what he can't seem to get enough of: eye candy.

And so it went at Hugh Hefner's almost-75th birthday party at the oh-so-hot Studio 54 nightclub, a decadent sound-and-light extravaganza alongside the main casino floor at the MGM Grand.

Under normal circumstances, women rated between R and X strut their stuff at Studio 54, but the appearance of the Playboy papa there Friday night ramped up the visuals into overdrive.

This wasn't your father's birthday party. In fact, it hardly seemed a birthday celebration at all, save for the birthday cake.

It was almost impossible, for instance, to walk up to the birthday boy, give him a big ol' bear hug, slip him a card, share an inside joke and wish him continued good health.

Hef and his trophy collection sat along a wall, facing the second-level room of the club, while approaching well-wishers could get only as far as his body guards and a fat theater rope.

It appeared nothing less than a traveling zoo exhibit from Holmby Hills: the patriarch lion and his pride, lounging on the rocks with the tourists standing safely back, taking pictures. Oh, look, he smiled! Hey, check out the blond on the right, she's looking our way! The crowd, four to five deep, mostly men, crowded as close as they could to the rope, and just stared. Eight feet away, Hef and his ladies sat and nonchalantly gazed back.

The lucky few were invited past the rope and into the lair. They shook Hef's hand. They turned and faced a camera--smile, flash--and were directed back to the masses.

Rebuffed, most guests spread out for the booze and food, the men watching the women as the women watched their own postures.

Among the disappointed: Rick Michel, who impersonates Dean Martin in a local show and who had brought along several photographs taken earlier of himself with Hefner. "I'd like him to autograph them," he said, "but I can't get close to him."

Save for the likes of Tony Curtis and Robin Leach, most people on the guest list didn't know Hef. He was in town to unveil the April edition of his magazine, this one featuring some of the hard-bodied ladies of the Hard Rock Hotel, a few blocks away. Months ago, scores had auditioned, with owner Peter Morton's blessing, for a place in a Playboy pictorial, and the lucky ones made their print and videotape debut Thursday at a party lorded over by Hefner at Hard Rock's The Joint.

He was staying, however, at one of the high-roller suites at MGM's Mansion. And the hotel offered to throw him an-almost birthday party. (The real McCoy will be held April 7 at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, two days before he turns 75.)

The event seemed more an opportunity for MGM Grand to impress its "casino guests"--deep-pocket casino loyalists--by inviting them to Hef's party to garner bragging rights back home--than for Hefner to kick back and party down with some of his closest friends.

But never mind; most of them probably didn't come to see Hefner and munch on cake as much as they came to see the blond, brunet and redhead frostings.

And there was plenty of that. Like 27-year-old Bernadine Ralphs, who came here from near Riverside with a figure straight out of a Barbie Doll factory. She didn't miss a beat when asked what kind of gift she brought Hef.

"My happy face!" she said, pressing her arms hard against her torso, which was wrapped in a deep-plunging, faux snake-skin body glove.

Such sights weren't lost on others at the party. "There are more large breasts per capita at this party than in the general population," observed Alison Jones, 26, who accepted a friend's invitation to be his date for the evening. "I'm not really into the pretty-people scene, but, hey, any excuse for a party!"

Even if it was difficult to approach Hef, there were provocative party favors to commemorate the evening. Like long balloons hung from the waists of some young men with clearly inflated egos. And chocolate suckers that seemed to have been molded from the things that make wet T-shirt contests so popular.

Ninety minutes into the party, Hefner received his birthday cake (cue the confetti and happy birthday song!) but didn't seem interested in the balloons or the suckers. Rather, after braving a crowded dance floor for 20 minutes, he retreated to a private balcony and danced with his seven current girlfriends.

Well, maybe shuffling more than dancing. But then, nobody was really watching him.

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