There are someentertainers who stay with us forever. Even if we go years without hearing from them, they are stuck in our minds and our hearts because of their excellent work. These entertainers have a charisma and a presence that can’t get shaken off so easily…
Among the many great pop culture icons of the 1970s and 1980s, one that truly stands out is Barbi Benton. She is a retired film and TV actress, singer-songwriter, and model. She had a magnificent personality that captured our attention forever.
She then, all of a sudden, left it all in the 1980s to raise her children and focus on her family. Yet, even though she’s now retired we can’t stop thinking about her and her amazing presence…
Let’s dive deeper to learn more about Barbi Benton then and now…
Barbi Benton was born as Barbara Lynn Klein on January 28, 1950 in New York City. Though she wasn’t from a showbiz background, it seemed that she was destined for stardom from the get-go.
She began her career shortly after she turned 18. She appeared as an extra in the Playboy After Dark show. But she wasn’t going to remain an extra for too long. When she met Playboy’s founder Hugh Hefner, he immediately took a shining to her. He promoted her to serve as the show’s co-host. It was also his suggestion that she adopt the stage name: Barbi Benton.
She became a household name almost overnight and her beauty didn’t go unnoticed. She first appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine in 1969 and would appear on the cover for a total of four times. But her career was just getting started. She was going to be more than just a beautiful face and body for Playboy…
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As she began to gain popularity through Playboy After Dark and from the cover of the magazine, there were demands for Barbi Benton to appear more often on television and in films.
She would get called to make guest appearances on popular TV shows. One of her most popular TV roles was in Hee Haw and Sugar Time! In which she played Maxx Douglas. In Hee Haw, she showed her incredible comic talents. The show was a country music variety show that interspersed skits with musical performances.
She became one of the favorite cast members and proved that she had acting chops. It comes as no surprise that film offers wouldn’t be too far around the corner.
Her first film role was in The Naked Cheerleader – a comedy film from West Germany. She also appeared in the slasher film Hospital Massacre.
She also appeared in TV movies such as The Great American Beauty Contest and The Third Girl from the Left.
She continued to get regular work in film and television. She had recurring roles on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. She also appeared in the films X-Ray and Deathstalker.
It was in the 1970s that she also showed off her musical talents. Her first albums were Barbi Doll and Barbi Benton – both released in 1975. She entertained us with her singles “Brass Buckles,” “Movie Magazines, Stars in Her Eyes,” “Roll You Like A Wheel,” and “Ain’t That Just the Way.”
But what about her life apart from her career?
One of the reasons why Barbi Benton was famous was not only because of her incredible talent and her looks. But she was also known for her romantic relationship with Hugh Hefner. Though there was a great age gap between the two, it was clear that they loved each other.
Barbi Benton dated Hugh Hefner from 1969 to 1976 and lived with him at the Playboy Mansion. They remained good friends until Hugh Hefner’s death.
Toward the end of the 1970s, Barbi Benton met a real estate developer named George Gradow. They fell in love and got married before the 1980s. Their children Alexander and Ariana were born in the 1980s. Barbi Benton recorded one album – Kinetic Voyage – in this period. She made a few TV appearances and acted in a few films during this decade. However, it was clear that she was slowing down because she wanted to spend the rest of her life to raise her children.
She quit show business and focused on raising her children. Today, she and her husband George spend much of their time between Aspen, Colorado and California. Since retiring from show business, she has made a few appearances in documentary programs to discuss her career and especially the legacy of Playboy.
Since Hugh Hefner’s death in 2017, she’s often been asked to discuss her relationship with him. In a 2017 interview with PEOPLE magazine, Barbi Benton stated, regarding Hugh Hefner:
“When he died, he took a big piece of me with him…”
During the final months of his life, Hugh Hefner made sure to spend as much time as possible with the people whom he loved the most. Among this small inner circle, was Barbi Benton.
She discussed that she was extremely sad when Hugh Hefner passed away and that she cried all night. She would spend as much time as possible visiting him at the Playboy Mansion. They had always remained friends and would reminisce about old times. Though their relationship didn’t last, she was always grateful to Hugh Hefner for launching her career and giving her a chance when he saw her as an extra.
During one break on the Playboy After Dark set, Barbi Benton was sitting and studying for a class at UCLA. Hugh Hefner noticed her studying and approached her. They discussed her studies and then Hugh asked Barbi if he could take her out on a date.
She joked that she had never dated anyone who was over the age of 24. At the time, Hugh was 42 years old!
They went on a date to a disco in Los Angeles called the Candy Store. They had a strong relationship for almost a decade. Barbi Benton recalled how romantic Hugh Hefner was.
She said in her interview with PEOPLE magazine,
“He was one of the most romantic men I’ve ever met. He was always rubbing my neck, holding my hand, squeezing me and making me feel loved. He was also affectionate with other girls … and he loved kissing. I didn’t mind, because I was very secure in our relationship.”
Through Hugh Hefner, Barbi Benton got a chance to meet many of the great personalities in the film industry. These included stars Tony Curtis, Tony Bennett, Jack Nicholson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Warren Beatty.
Hugh Hefner asked Barbi Benton several times to marry him. But though she loved him, her focus was on her budding career. It seemed that in the early 1970s, she wasn’t yet ready to settle down and retire from her career. After all, she was just getting started!
Nevertheless, they remained close friends after their relationship ended and until Hugh Hefner’s death. Barbi Benton often looks back fondly at her time with Playboy and has spent time discussing the company and Hugh Hefner.
She appeared in documentaries to discuss Hugh Hefner and also appeared on the popular show The Girls Next Door about the Playboy brand. She was portrayed by actress Shara Connoly in the series American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story.
Since her retirement from show business, Barbi Benton has also developed a new hobby. She spends a lot of time advising on interior design. In fact, her Colorado home looks like a 1970s disco!
The Colorado home features rococo interiors, curved hallways, and a beautiful view of Starwood Mountain in the Rockies. The home is known as Copper Palace and is often described as being of the ‘space-age.’ No doubt Barbi Benton acquired this interest for interior design from being married to real estate developer George Gardow.
While they may not live in the extravagance of the Playboy Mansion, there’s no doubt that both their California and Colorado homes also have their own extravagance. Her children are now adults, and she spends much of her time with her beloved husband.
Her husband often recalls that he’s lucky to have married someone as beautiful as Barbi Benton. Now in her 60s, she’s still as magnificent and charming as she was in her youth. It’s no wonder that she became a star. It’s also no wonder that even after her retirement, she’s still an icon of American popular culture.
So why don’t you take the time to look back at Barbi Benton’s remarkable career? Go on your favorite music streaming app and have a listen to her albums and her singles. Check out some of her film work – whether it’s The Naked Cheerleader or Hospital Massacre! Have a laugh at her wonderful work in Hee Haw, Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. We know you’ll enjoy watching her brilliant acting and comedic talents!
And of course, see if you can dust off your shelves and find some old copies of Playboy Magazine…
So what do you think about Barbi Benton’s remarkable career?
Do you think she never got the recognition she deserved? Or will she be remembered as one of America’s most versatile entertainers and stunning models?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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