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Bunny Love

Hugh Hefner's "Little Black Book" tells his own heroic epic and shows us the world he has wrought.

12:00 AM, Jul 22, 2004 • By MATT LABASH
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NO MATTER WHAT KIND of life you lead, there is inevitably a guidebook to help you lead it. Right now, as we speak, on Amazon.com, one can find a Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World, or a Guide to Living in Sin Without Getting Burned, or a Fat Girl's Guide to Life. There are numerous guides to "simple living" and "better living" and even a Canine Guide to Living With Humans Without Going Mad, if your dog, unlike mine, happens to be a big reader.

Most of these, of course, are applesauce. Who needs some jackleg generalist fuzzing over the idiosyncrasies of each of our lives, telling us Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, and It's All Small Stuff, until they come out with their tie-in follow-up, What About the Big Stuff? which, as luck would have it, we're not supposed to sweat either. As an American and an individualist, I'll sweat where I please.

THE ONLY ONE OF THESE BOOKS I've ever found remotely appealing is the 1974 Rockin' Steady: A Guide To Basketball and Cool, by former Knicks superstar Walt "Clyde" Frazier. If you love to be cool, particularly while playing basketball, there is all manner of indispensable tips and nifty party tricks. Not only does Clyde literally throw open his closet, revealing what every gentleman should wear. Pants: maroon cords with UFO patch on backside; and suits: black cow skin with poncho and silver studs. But renowned for his hand-speed, he also teaches us how to catch a fly in mid-air (relax your hand, bring flexor and extensor muscles to a spring-like tension, then flex hard enough that your muscles will pop like a trap just before the tendon separates from the bone). News you can use, if ever there was some.

I thought I might be in for a similar treat when cracking Hugh Hefner's new offering, Hef's Little Black Book. But the name itself is something of a misnomer. Yes, the book is both black and little (5 inches x 7 inches). But if you think you're in for the unlisted phone numbers of Shannon Tweed or Barbi Benton, you're clean out of luck. It is a thin hybrid of biography and guidebook. To dumb down its premise, if that's even possible, it purports to tell us how to live like Hef, i.e., how to be a hedonist, to get laid at will, and to spend your entire working life in satin pajamas.

Hefner has been promising/threatening to write a full-blown memoir for years, though this book serves as an anemic placeholder. Keenly convinced of his own historical magnitude, he has long documented every facet of his life, right down to filming his extramarital affairs. His co-writer is Bill Zehme who has, in the past, proven himself a formidable talent, this year picking up a National Magazine Award for an impressive Esquire story he wrote on disgraced columnist Bob Greene. But as a longtime celebrity chronicler, Zehme has fellated more stars than most of the denizens of Hef's bunny hutch. Thus the Hefner/Zehme collaboration is a love story of sorts: Zehme's love for Hef, Hef's love for himself.

Anyone who glances at tabloid headlines can be forgiven for harboring a natural set of assumptions about Hefner. While he is an indisputable deity to one-handed magazine aficionados, Hefner has, in his senectitude, become a figure worthy of pity, as much as scorn. After his second, decade-long marriage collapsed in 1998, the temporarily monogamous Hefner re-launched himself as a party animal. His Holmby Hills lair, which reportedly represented a monastery during his years of matrimonial bliss, again was deemed the vortex of cool, as the Jimmy Caans of yesterday gave way to today's Ashton Kutchers. The whole second coming smacked of a smirky nostalgia trip by the New Hollywood set, who habitually cannibalize bygone pop culture either because they're too lazy to forge new ground, or because all the possibilities have been exhausted. But Hef's status as a Children's Museum exhibit hasn't seemed to bother him. In the last several years, the septuagenarian began showing up in public with arms full of women one-third his age. Largely bottled-blondes with rhyming 'andy-suffixed names (Mandy, Candy, et al), the fame-hungry minxes dutifully posted up beside him, their plunging necklines barely immuring their silicone sisters, standing at attention like soldiers guarding the queen.