1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)

Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

Playboy, 007’s old ally, may be subject of takeover fight

Playboy magazine and its parent company, Playboy Enterprises Inc., may be the target of a takeover fight. Why should James Bond fans care? Well, the magazine does have a half-century relationship with a certain gentleman agent.

First, the events of July 12 as described by Brett Pulley on Bloomberg.com:

FriendFinder Networks Inc., owner of Penthouse adult magazine, plans to submit a bid for Playboy Enterprises Inc., following a $123 million offer from Playboy’s founder Hugh Hefner.

Things began when Playboy issued a statement. Here’s how Pulley described it:

Hefner plans to offer $5.50 apiece in cash for the Class A and Class B shares, Chicago-based Playboy said in a statement today. Hefner, 84, is partnering with Rizvi Traverse Management LLC for the transaction. The offer, at a premium of more than 30 percent, values Playboy at about $185 million.

It was after that FriendFinder Chief Executive Officer Marc Bell gave interviews (to Bloomberg and elsewhere) that he was looking to counter. To read the entire Bloomberg story, JUST CLICK HERE.

Playboy has had a rough time. Hefner’s daughter, Christie, stepped down as CEO last year and the magazine has had some staff cuts because of declining advertising revenue and circulation. It’s a story that has been repeated at other storied magazines, including Newsweek (currently on the sales block by the Washington Post Co.).

Playboy’s situation is worth noting here because of the ties between the magazine and 007. Playboy published Ian Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity in its March 1960 issue. The magazine later serialized later Fleming Boind novels, including You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The magzine also published THE LAST INTERVIEW WITH FLEMING. And Playboy also had a MEMORABLE 1965 INTERVIEW WITH SEAN CONNERY that demonstrated the star was tiring of the 007 grind.

Bond films acknowledged thre relationship with the magazine. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the George Lazenby version of 007 looks over an issue of the magazine while a device is cracking the safe of a Swiss lawyer as Bond pursues Blofeld’s trail.

Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, we see Bond (Sean Connery) has a membership card at a Playboy club.

Over the years, there were various Bond-related pictorials. But the relationship, at least on the literary side, with Bond intensified during Raymond Benson’s 1997-2002 tenture writing 007 continuation novels. The magazine published Benson’s first Bond work, the Blast From the Past short story as well as another short story, Mid-Summer’s Night Doom, where Bond ends up at the Playboy mansion (strictly in the line of duty) and hanging out with Hefner.

The possible Playboy takeover fight is business, of course. But for Bond fans, there may be a bit more — including fond memories — at stake.

UPDATE: FriendFinder made its bid for Playboy on July 14 15. It’s bidding $210 million, which FriendFinder says is a premium over Hefner’s bid. We’ll see how it turns out.