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WHAT SORT OF MAN WORKS FOR HUGH HEFNER?
Leif Ueland Discusses Life as the Accidental Playboy
Barnes & Noble.com: Accidental Playboy recounts your six month cross-country adventure as the "Fearless Reporter" aboard the Playboy bus, in search of the "Millennium Playmate." How did you land the job?
Leif Ueland: I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and like a lot of jobs out there, it was word-of-mouth, my name being passed from a friend to a friend to a friend. I had previously worked on a book for MTV about the show Road Rules. The job entailed traveling around with the show, writing, and taking photographs, which was very similar to the Playboy job, and this came at a time when Playboy seemed to be interested in making a stronger appeal to the MTV generation. I'd also written about sex for a web site that was just then positioning itself sort of as Playboy, the next generation, on the Web, more cerebral, and geared toward men and women. So I was an oddly perfect match for the job as the guy roaming the country on the Playboy bus.
B&N.com: For a single, straight gentleman like yourself, wasn't this the dream job of all time?
LU: It has the ring of dream job about it to the point of sounding like parody. The joke had even been made in the movie Dumb and Dumber. The two leads are walking down the road at the end of the movie when the Swedish Bikini Team pulls up in their bus. The women, I think, are looking for two men to apply their tanning oil on the road, and the guys get all excited, tell the team that they know where they can find two men, and then point to a town off in the distance.
That's about what the description of the Playboy bus sounded like, traveling around for months and months searching for the ultimate Playmate. And my reaction was similar to the Dumb and Dumber guys. When you're in that situation and the Swedish Bikini Team bus pulls up, it doesn't seem like the dream job. In that mind-set, the dream job is Arthur Miller calling up, saying he's going to write his memoir and needs an assistant.
B&N.com: This is probably the first memoir I've ever read where I was actively rooting for the protagonist to "score." Not to give anything away, but it takes a while for that to happen, which might surprise some readers, given the gig you had. Why did it take so long?
LU: You're not alone. A lot of friends have said similar things. And with all that rooting, I feel a little like the human version of Seabiscuit. Even the woman I was involved with as I finished the book had those sort of feelings. She'd been dreading reading it, fearing she was going to be feeling a lot of jealousy, but when she read it and there was at last that sort of moment, all she felt was relief. As she put it, "Finally!" As to why it took so long, that's one of the central issues of the book, and I don't think I can adequately answer it here. The short, slightly facetious answer is to say that I am a neurotic, insecure mess. More seriously, there are some guys who relish the conquest aspect of dating, and then there are the rest of us, those for whom being the pursuer is not necessarily the most natural fit.
B&N.com: At the book's end, you seem to decide against taking a job with the West Coast division of Playboy. Were you tempted to stay on with the magazine?
LU: Would you believe me if I said that there wasn't any temptation? Walking away was a little like waking yourself from a good dream, because you know it's time to start the day. There's a scene toward the end of the book where I'm at the Mansion, and I'm watching Hugh Hefner cavorting with a group of Playmates, in a way that is very much a repetition of something I'd witnessed months earlier in the trip, and it's then that it hits me that I won't be staying.
I do love unusual, extreme experiences, and riding the Playboy bus for six months certainly qualifies, but once it was over, once it started to seem like repetition, I wanted to be back in my dark little office, at my computer, writing about it, trying to make sense of it to myself, while hopefully conveying it to others. The part of me that was tempted to stay is the part of me that at times wishes I were a different person, thinks life is a little easier for those people who are able to stay in the dream.
B&N.com: Are you still in contact with any of the candidates who came aboard the bus looking for fame and fortune?
LU: Yes. Dolores, the candidate who in the book visits me in New York, talks on the phone with me fairly often. She got engaged to a businessman from South America and moved out of the country. The weekend that she, my friend Wayne, and I were all running around in NYC -- me, part of the time, in heels -- still stands out as one of my great weekends.
Daisy, who in the book came out to visit me in Los Angeles, is the person I've stayed in closest touch with. I went back to visit her in her hometown, and she came out to L.A. again. She is doing fantastically well, received a full scholarship to graduate school, works in the summers for a nonprofit aiding a sector of the population in dire need of help, and received an award for that work not long ago in Washington, D.C. I will not be at all surprised if I'm flipping channels someday and stumble across Daisy on C-SPAN, having been elected to Congress.
B&N.com: How about your former Playboy co-workers?
LU: There were some great people who worked on that bus and though we live all over the country, we keep in touch. Mikki, who was one of the people who handled PR, stayed with me on a visit to L.A., which was another Accidental Playboy moment. Mikki, who has appeared in the magazine and also works as a producer for Playboy, brought two Playboy models with her. They were in town for the Midsummer's Night's Dream party at the Mansion, which is by far the most decadent of Hefner's parties. I was still in the tiny, crumbling duplex described in the book, and in a fit of minimalism, had gotten rid of nearly every piece of furniture. I warned her that it was a terrible place to stay, and she admitted they had in invite to stay in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, but they preferred my air mattress, with its lack of sexual strings. The day of the party, they spent hours and hours getting ready, though they were wearing little more than spray-on glitter. Word spread fast, because guys I'd never met were suddenly stopping by to say "Hi." And the sweet-natured hippies next door were on their balcony staring wide-eyed at what they were seeing in the window, these flesh-and-blood Barbie dolls nakedly primping in my loner writer's hovel. That's the connection with Playboy I do still enjoy, when it pops back up in my regular life.
B&N.com: After a number of near-misses, you strongly connect with "Julie," an ex-exotic dancer and former office manager. Anyone who reads Accidental Playboy will no doubt wonder what happened with Julie. Do you want to spill the beans?
LU: I wish there were more to spill. We kept in touch by phone after the search and were planning a rendezvous to coincide with a work trip I was taking, but when I called her with the arrangements, the person who answered the phone said I had the wrong number. A couple months later it occurred to me to look at my phone bill to see what number I'd called in the past, and it turned out I was off by a digit. I'd transferred the wrong number to my address book, thanks to my illegible handwriting. So I finally called the right number, but by this time it had been disconnected. That said, I think -- and I'm sure my trusty consigliere from the book, Burt the therapist, would second -- that there's something to be said for affairs like that, sudden, intense connections that only last for short period of time.
B&N.com: I can't resist asking the obvious question: What sort of man reads Playboy?
LU: And I can't resist asking, reads? Riding around on that bus, living in the Playboy world, what was so striking is what a phenomenon it is in people's minds, men and women. People would just about drive off the road when they'd see the bus coming. When we pulled into town, they would want to get their pictures taken with the bus, plead to come onboard. Obviously, the relationship people have is not like the relationship they have with Newsweek, or even GQ or Vogue. And it comes into our lives just as we're having our sexual awakenings, so it establishes deep roots.
B&N.com: Accidental Playboy would be perfect movie material, complete with cameos by Hugh Hefner and a gaggle of Bunnies. Has there been any discussion of a movie version?
LU: DreamWorks bought the movie rights long before the book even came out, so early, in fact, that their option has already expired, and it is currently being shopped around. I was on the phone with a very successful young director the other day, nervously answering his questions, as he mused about how best to adapt it for the screen. On one hand, my interest was in turning the story into a book, and seeing how books get changed into movies, Accidental Playboy will probably end up a martial arts epic and I'll be played by Jackie Chan -- I don't have strong feelings about whether it happens.
On the other hand, "Someone should be filming this" was a frequent refrain among my co-workers on the bus, and that life we were living was often such an absurd circus, that I think it's hard for people who read it not to imagine it will be turned into a movie. That was probably the oddest part of the trip, feeling that we were in a movie.
B&N.com: Any plans to write another book?
LU: Plenty of plans. The novel that I was working on at the beginning of Accidental Playboy is still alive, alive like the bad guy in the horror movie that just won't stay down, so I have been working on that. And it's a pleasure to switch from nonfiction, where the story is tied to facts, to fiction, and being able to start from moments in real life, but veer off wherever the imagination suggests. But as I said before, I have a habit of ending up in strange situations, and I won't rule out getting swept away on something new that might result in another book before finally finishing the novel. It would great to be able to go back and forth, fiction and nonfiction.
At present, though, I'm trying to remember to enjoy the moment of the book coming out. I imagine most people who love to read have fantasized about writing a book, and that's something I had been doing since the age of five or six, so having a book published is very much in the category of dream coming true. That's probably what Playboy is for Hugh Hefner, only different.