Playboy has been a huge part of my life for nearly 37 years thanks to Playboy photographer David Chan, who discovered me when I was attending LSU, back in 1981. David and I shared a bond and he became the dad I never had growing up in and out of foster homes. Since he never married and never had children, I became his only daughter. He gave me away when I got married for the first time in 1989 and was my mentor and advisor on all major decisions in my life. I trusted and valued him so much. His Chinese heritage became part of me and our Chinese dinners were so special for us. David introduced me to new foods that I had never tried like his favorite, “Peking Duck.” David was a Playboy photographer for over 30 years and was from Vancouver, Canada. I remember David inviting me to meet his entire family one magical Christmas shortly after I became Miss June 1985. I met David’s four brothers and sisters and found out he was right smack in the middle. All of his siblings children and their children were there that Christmas and they all welcomed me into the Chan family with open arms.
It became a running joke around the Playboy offices in Chicago that David’s 90 year old mother never knew he was a famous Playboy photographer nor did anyone ever know his real age not even me! David was a consummate professional who was highly respected in his craft and was graciously polite and humble. I wanted very much to make him proud of me and worked hard to gain his upmost respect and trust. He taught me so many things about business and about life in general. So it was very heartbreaking to learn of his death while we were in Europe and it was just two weeks after Hef passed. I had told Ronn I felt that Hef would pass while we were in Europe and have been trusting my intuition more than ever before. I just felt Hef’s body was failing him and that he had lost his will to live in it, especially after his only brother Keith passed away a couple years ago. It was very sad to watch and we all knew it was coming, but you are really never prepared for it.
Many of the regular movie night friends were commenting on how much and how fast things have been changing around Playboy. The parties were starting to decline and Hef’s appearances at the dining room table became less frequent. They finally put in that elevator to make it easier on him to come downstairs, but you could see he was becoming more and more frail and the guests at the mansion were becoming very sparse in number. Many regular movie night guests were eventually called and told they could no longer come up, but would continue to be invited guests at any Playboy party. It was the beginning of an end of era and this was no ordinary era. This was an era in which Playboy became one of the biggest brands in American history for the past 64 years. Hef, Playboy and the bunny became American symbols that represented the sexual revolution from a repressed puritanical decade; and Hef was a visionary who saw a need for young adult men to have their first lifestyle magazine. Hef became a world recognized brand with his Playboy clubs, magazine, Big bunny jet and legendary Playboy parties. Hef also was an honest, loyal and happy person. These words resonated with who and what he stood for in every aspect of his life. They also resonated with his longtime loyal employees, children, friends, girlfriends, wives and the Playmates themselves. We were truly a family and they were the family I never had growing up.
Some of the best times in my life has been with my Playboy family. From the annual Easter egg hunts, to the magnificent fourth of July fireworks and the incredible Midnight Summer Dreams parties that were unmatched by any party I’ve ever been to in life, will now never been seen again by the lucky ones who had those unique experiences thanks to Hef. He dreamed big and manifested his dreams in ways he couldn’t even imagine and he was generous enough to share that dream with us. I was one of the lucky women that got picked by Hef to become a Playmate and that is something I am very proud of. Being a part of the Playboy empire will truly be one of the greatest decisions in my life. I believe Hef’s life will ultimately be studied for decades to come. Hef has documented every single day of his incredible life with scrapbooks and videoed almost every single moment of those legendary parties. As new generations learn more about our American Playboy, they will be surprised at how much he changed our country’s laws, how much he fought for civil rights, how much he gave to restore our classic films and how much opportunity he gave to artists, writers, illustrators and women.
There is way more to Playboy than the beautiful women that graced that magazine and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. David Chan saw something in me as a shy teenager from Baton Rouge, Louisiana even before I had the confidence to see it in myself. He was part of that American history and had the same values as Hef regarding honesty, loyalty and happiness. These are words Cooper Hefner said summed up his dad. Cooper told a story of he and his brother Marston cheating at the annual Easter egg hunt, which disappointed Hef greatly. He said, as little boys he remembered his dad saying that what disappointed him the most was that they were dishonest. Many people over the years have tried to bring the Playboy empire down, even the federal government. Anyone who has seen Amazon’s series, “An American Playboy” knows that Hef was arrested in Playboy’s 10th anniversary year for publishing still photos of a Jayne Mansfield film, which included a man in the photo. Seems the federal government thought that was indecent and arrested Hef, who stood before a trial and jury on what was considered indecent. Hef prevailed against religious leaders bashing him, along with the controversy that came with each decade, as America grew and changed along with the times. Other men’s magazines came to compete, but none had the class, intelligence and prestige of Playboy.
Hef embodied the lifestyle and became the symbol of it himself. Everyone who has ever met him or wanted to meet him would surely come away in awe of his lifestyle. Hef was quoted as saying, “In all my wildest dreams I could not have imagined a sweeter life.” He also was quoted as saying, “Life is too short to live someone elses dream.” Hef not only manifested his dream, but shared it with so many of us and loved every minute of his amazing life. David Chan also manifested his dream of becoming a great photographer and was loved and adored by his family and friends. David also outlived all of his brothers and sisters making his the last of his generation to pass. I was one of the few people who knew the greatness of David for he was a very private and humble person. I was also the one his family chose to release his ashes into the waters that bordered Canada and the USA; because David also loved the USA and called Chicago home for a large portion of his life. He even had a license plate that read, “LOVE USA” that was on his 1962 convertible Thunderbird.
I wrote about all of my Playboy experience in my memoir, “The Day It Snowed In April” and I’m so happy I have that book as a reminder of the incredible journey I have had with Playboy. I feel blessed to have shared most of my life with my Playboy family and to be part of American history that surely will be studied for future decades. Maybe I manifested myself into Hef’s and David’s dream or maybe I was just lucky enough to be manifested by them? All I know is that this was one hell of a dream to be included in and I didn’t ever want to wake up from it. However, all parties much come to an end, but that doesn’t mean new parties cannot begin? As Hef and David were always ones to instill the importance of laughter and joy in others. They both had lives that were well lived and I finally learned how old David really was, which was 88. So I guess he and Hef are having some party of their own up in the great unknown right now? I can’t imagine it being better than the ones we enjoyed down here, but one thing I’m sure of is that they are laughing and having fun! I’m at peace now knowing that they are at peace in their final resting places and I’m a better person for knowing them both.
Wow! I just searched about David because I knew him when I worked in Vancouver for Lexus. He was such a character and told me many stories about Hef and Chicago and how he was the start of the college Playboy photos.