The claim was in A&E’s news docuseries “Secrets of Playboy,” which features explosive new interviews with past girlfriends, along with numerous members of Hefner’s staff and inner circle. The 10-episode show debuted Monday night with a two-hour special.
“There were so many similarities with the way the girls followed everything he said, and we were all one big happy family,” ex-girlfriend Sondra Theodore alleged, as quoted by Us Weekly.
According to the outlet, one photographer even alleged that the Playboy founder had obtained home videos of the infamous Manson family that was filmed before their 1969 murder spree.
Miki Garcia, who was a Playmate and head of promotions from 1973 to 1982, also described the Playboy Mansion as “cult-like.”
“The women had been groomed and led to believe they were part of this family,” Garcia claimed, as quoted by the outlet. “And he really did believe he owned these women. We had Playmates that overdosed. There were Playmates that committed suicide.”
Former girlfriend Holly Madison, who also spoke out in the documentary, had also described the Playboy Mansion as “cult-like.”
“The reason I think the mansion was very cult-like looking back on it is because we were all kind of gaslit and expected to think of Hef as like this really good guy,” the 42-year-old alleged. “And you started to feel like, ‘Oh, he’s not what they say in the media, he’s just a nice man.'”
“It was so easy to get isolated from the outside world there,” she continued. “You had a 9 o’clock curfew. You were encouraged to not have friends over. You weren’t really allowed to leave unless it was like a family holiday.”
Alexandra Dean, the director behind “Secrets of Playboy,” also told Yahoo! Entertainment that the term “cult” came up frequently during her interviews.
“At first I didn’t know about the cult word, you know, I was a little skeptical,” Dean explained to the outlet. “But I kept hearing it from different women over the decades so I knew I had to take it seriously. And then I put something in Episode 2 to kind of explain to you why I did take it so seriously and include it and that’s the fascination Hef had with Charles Manson … it was very profound and multiple people told me about it.”
Manson was convicted of ordering the brutal murders of seven people in 1969, including actress Sharon Tate. He died in 2017 behind bars at age 83.
“I didn’t really get to get into it very much in the episode, but, you know, [Hefner] was close with Sharon Tate,” Dean continued. “So it’s really weird that he held up Charles Manson on this sort of pedestal and was studying him because Manson had just killed his friend. It was really bizarre and chilling.”
According to Dean, Theodore told her that Hefner “would study” the book “Helter Skelter,” which was written by Vincent T. Bugliosi Jr. who prosecuted Manson and his followers.
“Other people told me about Hef studying [Manson] home videos and having them in his personal library,” said Dean. It was like, OK, Hef is intentionally cribbing off of this guy — and he’s obviously not a coldblooded murderer. What he’s cribbing off of is this control of the women. That’s what we try to show is that there’s this thing that Hef does, which is very controlling that he seems to have honed over the decades.”
In response to the doc, a spokesperson for Playboy issued a statement to Fox News.
“Today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy,” the statement began. “We trust and validate these women and their stories and we strongly support those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security, and accountability are paramount.”
“The most important thing we can do right now is actively listen and learn from their experiences,” it continued. “We will never be afraid to confront the parts of our legacy as a company that do not reflect our values today.”
“As an organization with a more than 80% female workforce, we are committed to our ongoing evolution as a company and to driving positive change for our communities,” the statement concluded.
Hefner’s son Cooper also took to Twitter to defend his late father.
“Some may not approve of the life my Dad chose, but my father was not a liar,” the 30-year-old tweeted. “However unconventional, he was sincere in his approach and lived honestly. He was generous in nature and cared deeply for people. These salacious stories are a case study of regret becoming revenge.”
Hefner passed away in 2017 at age 91.