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Playboy Action Figures

Hugh Hefner has finally made a toy for the everyman. Victoria is voluptuous and plastic and costs less than $50. Action grip not included.

11:01 PM, Dec 4, 2001 • By MATT LABASH
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WITH THREE MONTHS DOWN on the Christmas season (which, in some shopping malls, has been on since Labor Day), it is time to begin deciding what not to buy your children. Every year, it seems, there is a raft of horrible toy ideas. One year, it was the Cabbage Patch Snacktime doll, which was supposed to subsist on plastic carrots, but which often ate children's hair. Another year saw the Warrior Nuns, featuring Shotgun Mary, who fended off Vatican infiltrators with skin-tight clothes and a Remington 12-gauge. Then, of course, there is Billy the Gay Doll, who sports an "I love Carlos Forever" tattoo along with a variety of smart leather-bar outfits (Barbra Streisand albums sold separately).

But this year, there is a toy even stranger than "Death Row Marv" or the "Super Dooper Reindeer Pooper." Brought to us by Hugh Hefner and the good folks at Playboystore.com, it's the Playmate Doll ($49.99, airbrush sold separately). The limited edition doll is actually not intended as a toy at all, but rather, a "collectible," the term National Enquirer advertisers often use when trying to separate people from their welfare checks. The inaugural Playmate Doll is a scale version of 1997 Playmate of the Year Victoria Silvstedt, and consumers can expect to see three new Playmate Dolls released every year for the next five to ten years. (Collect them all!)

While most collectible dolls come with hoop skirts and tea sets, the 16-inch Victoria comes with a Playboy robe, a "panty outfit and shoes," and a pouty demeanor. As if this concept weren't creepy enough, the Playmate Doll's ad copy also promises "smooth, lifelike skin and meticulous detailing" which sets " a new standard of anatomical correctness." Just how anatomically correct is a matter of some discomfort for the doll's distributor.

When the New York Post interviewed Jeff Ahlholm, CEO of The Stronghold Group, he said that while the doll's nethers appear to be "Brazilian waxed," the mold is "an exact replica of each centerfold's anatomy, including her breasts and private parts." In an interview with me a few days later, Ahlholm, whose company calls itself a "leading innovator in entertainment brand management" (they have also "brand-managed" N'Sync and Ricky Martin), tries to soften the anatomy lesson.

"It's very tastefully, very tactfully done. We're not pornographers, nor is it meant to be that way at all," he explains. "So does it have nipples?" I inquire, asking the hard questions so you don't have to. "Yeah," he concedes. "Actually, when you look at higher end fashion dolls, there are little bumps there, believe it or not. There's obviously a little more detailing, mostly in the torso area. It is Playboy."

"And downstairs?" I press. "Not really, no," he says flustered, pleading with me not to encourage a New York Post-style backlash. "I would really, really appreciate you not mentioning that whatsoever. . . . Even if you say there's no detail down there, it still draws attention to a subject that pretty much kills it in 48 out of 50 states. . . . It is NOT a sex toy. It is meant to be a collectible figurine."

So how's it selling, then? "It's doing great!" Ahlholm says, his marketer's mask again firmly affixed. I ask him who the natural demographic is for this, since your average Playboy reader wouldn't be into collecting dolls unless they were of the blow-up variety. "It's the perfect Christmas gift," he says, though he cautions that the doll is not intended for children. "Most toy collectors are actually guys between the ages of 13 and 35--and they will find this obviously."

The only remaining question then is, will there be a Hugh Hefner doll? "Absolutely, but down the road," says Ahlholm. "That's going to be a very big undertaking, 'cause Hugh Hefner is such a cultural icon it has to be just to the 'T'--unbelievably great in every way. . . . Mr. Hefner is a very, very classy guy. . . . It's a very daunting challenge actually." A very daunting challenge? To make a Hugh Hefner doll?

If Ahlholm sounds like he takes the whole enterprise a tad seriously, he can be forgiven. After all, journalists, celebrities, and Hefner himself have been making the same mistake for years. It's hard to believe that Hefner was once regarded as a cultural canker sore.

Lenny Bruce once said that "there's nothing sadder than an aging hipster." And after a busted marriage and a splashy late-'90s reentry into swinging bachelorhood, that's precisely what Hefner has become as he wears a testosterone patch, throws "Viagra parties," and periodically gets spotted on the dance floor, chugging like a broken locomotive between several silicone sisters with rhyming names.