EXCLUSIVE: RatPac Entertainment has optioned the life rights to Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, and Brett Ratner will spearhead the development of a feature film. The picture will be done as a co-production between Ratpac and Playboy/Alta Loma Entertainment. Ratner will produce with John Cheng and Hefner will be exec producer along with Dick Rosenzweig and Peter Jaysen. They will set a writer quickly.
This comes as Amazon Prime releases American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, a 10-part documentary on Hefner’s life, one that had the participation of the Playboy founder. It also marks the second go-around for Ratner to bring to a movie screen the story of Hefner’s life and his mark on the culture. Hefner might now be identified as a saucy senior with a gorgeous blonde on each arm, whose famed mansion got sold for $100 million (Hefner can stay in the home for the remainder of his life), and his magazine hanging on in the digital age with son Cooper calling the shots and restoring its signature nude photo spreads discontinued under a previous regime in a futile attempt to boost newsstand sales.
That’s not the story Ratner has long wanted to tell. The movie is Hefner’s metamorphosis from a dreamer raised in a conservative Methodist household, to an icon of the sexual revolution. Armed with nude photos of Marilyn Monroe and $8000 he scraped together, Hefner published his first issue in 1953. He became an influential voice in the turbulent 60s, confronting taboos from sex to race relations. He published groundbreaking journalism, hosted the racially progressive TV show Playboy After Dark; butted heads with feminists who said he objectified women, even as he pressed feminist causes and other progressive issues like racial integration. He also battled government censors and the Religious Right. Hefner also became known for a hedonistic lifestyle that once would not have seemed possible given his conservative origins that were marked by heartbreak when his first wife admitted she had cheated on Hefner while he was in the Army in WWII. It left Hefner devastated. Indeed, Hefner’s life is a tale with contradictions and one that has long fascinated Hollywood.
“In recent years there has been plenty of interest and much conversation about doing a feature film based on my life,” Hefner said in a statement. “I have always believed that when the timing was truly right, the perfect creative partners would come together for this project. I believe we’ve found those partners in Brett Ratner and RatPac Entertainment. I’m very much looking forward to this collaboration.”
Said Ratner: “Hugh Hefner started a sexual revolution from behind the walls of his legendary mansion by using the pages of Playboy Magazine an his own infamous lifestyle to build a global empire that included publishing, clubs, casinos and television networks.”
The new attempt at a feature film follows several previous attempts, even one that was meant to be a movie musical. The movie action started when Imagine Entertainment chief Brian Grazer developed it with Oliver Stone. John Hoffman and Scott Silver wrote drafts. Ratner came on board to direct, and actors including Robert Downey Jr and Hugh Jackman were discussed. After Universal canceled its subscription, Warner Bros and Jerry Weintraub got the rights and hired Frost/Nixon‘s Peter Morgan to draft it.
Ratner remained obsessed with the story even after he lost the movie. “I thought it was such a brilliant idea [when Grazer first got the rights] that I sent Brian a Playboy pinball machine from that 70s,” Ratner recalled. “Scott Silver wrote a script but they could never crack it and then I told Brian there was nobody better for this than me. And then I spent years unable to crack it, as a straight drama, or as a musical. Finally, Diablo Cody pitched a take that seemed promising, but Universal let it go and Jerry Weintraub and Warner Bros grabbed it. And they couldn’t crack it either. In the meantime, I went from a seller to a buyer and I’m relieved to have it back so that we can develop it without the impatience from studios.”
Ratner, who at this point will work on it as producer, has been working toward this deal for months. He wasn’t specific on the take, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t similar to the splitting-of-the-atom depictions of zeitgeist cultural moments found in The Social Network and Straight Outta Compton. “Whether young people today read or care about Playboy, this was a guy who had a dream and changed the world,” said Ratner. He got to know Hefner during that early attempt to make the movie and when Hefner learned of Ratner’s passion for photography, he got him to shoot a cover (it featured his then girlfriend Alina Puscau).
“Hefner cared about civil rights, women’s rights, the preservation of the arts, jazz…his magazine featured interviews with important leaders from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. And with one stroke of genius he changed sexuality in America,” Ratner said.