In Christie Hefner’s first public event since the death of her father Hugh Hefner, the daughter of the legendary Playboy founder — who herself ran his empire for more than two decades — hosted a discussion with author David Friend at The Hideout on West Wabansia about his new book, “The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido.”
While Hefner has consistently declined media requests to comment on the passing of her father or the future course for Playboy — including from the Sun-Times — her own lifetime of exposure to issues of sexuality and women’s sexual and political liberation clearly came into play as she chatted with Highland Park native Friend, a longtime editor at Vanity Fair magazine.
Before an audience Tuesday night that included author Scott Turowand journalist and Vanity Fair contributor James Warren, plus Marlene Iglitzen, the widow of film critic Gene Siskel, Friend said he has spent a long time on the East Coast, but “I’ve always felt my roots were very much in Chicago. My sense of myself is tied in with the middle of the country. In the ’90s [the focus of his book], I was working for a middle-American publication, Life magazine. I had much more ties mentally to the Midwest than to the East Coast in many ways.
“Initially, my idea of the ’90s came from being a parent and being a guy with Middle-American roots,” said Friend, until he was hired by Graydon Carter to jump over to Vanity Fair. On his first day on the job, Carter asked him to pursue an interview with Monica Lewinsky. That led to Friend spending more than three weeks with the infamous White House intern — and his first big world exclusive at Vanity Fair. “That made me realize I wasn’t in Kansas anymore,” quipped Friend.
During their nearly hourlong Q&A session at The Hideout, Hefner engaged Friend to draw analogies between the big, sexually charged stories of the 1990s — Anita Hill’s testimony against ClarenceThomas, Lewinsky and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, plus the Lorena Bobbitt and Heidi Fleiss cases — and the current state of affairs in American political and popular culture. Today’s sensational headlines about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment, Friend said, differ from but are somewhat related to attitudes expressed in the last decade of the 20th Century — by Clinton and others.
Friend admitted his original ending of “The Naughty Nineties” focused on Hillary Clinton succeeding Barack Obama in the White House. He explained that much of the unrest and dissatisfaction that led to the election of Donald Trumphad its seeds sown in the ’90s, or perhaps even a few years earlier.
The spark for the book came from something quite sexual. “I was at a dinner with a cardiologist friend of mine,” said the writer, “And he was explaining the backstory of how Viagra was discovered. Originally, it was a drug all about heart health issues. During the trials — the tests for this drug — the patients who were taking this drug…”
“… Had some side effects,” Hefner interjected.
“Yes,” smiled Friend, “They had some good side effects.”
Learning the drug’s origin made Friend think that other backstories from the 1990s could coalesce into a real book. “I began to see there’s this weird sexual overlay in society now. I was looking back at the ’90s and feeling a lot of that started then.”