Hugh Hefner's Former Girlfriend Sondra Theodore Claims She Was Groomed by Playboy Mogul at Age 19 (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
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New allegations against the late Hugh Hefner are coming to light in the new docuseries Secrets of Playboy. The 10-part docuseries includes some of the mogul's former girlfriends and associates making disturbing allegations against the magazine founder, including Sondra Theodore, who claims Hefner groomed her at the age of 19.
"The real Hugh Hefner, he could have been a great man. He did a lot of great things but I watched him slip into this madness as the years progressed and towards the end it scared me," Theodore tells ET's Lauren Zima. "I saw a man obsessed with sex, couldn’t get enough of it and [it] wasn’t ever enough for him. He got bored easily and the taboo was something he searched out."
Hefner died in September 2017. The Hefner family no longer owns Playboy. A spokesperson for the company responded to the new allegations, telling ET, "Today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy. We trust and validate these women and their stories and we strongly support those individuals who have come forward to share their experiences. As a brand with sex positivity at its core, we believe safety, security, and accountability are paramount. The most important thing we can do right now is actively listen and learn from their experiences. We will never be afraid to confront the parts of our legacy as a company that do not reflect our values today. As an organization with a more than 80 percent female workforce, we are committed to our ongoing evolution as a company and to driving positive change for our communities."
Theodore was 19 when she met a then 50-year-old Hefner at a party and she says he chose her to be his girlfriend. The former Playboy model claims that for five years he groomed her into bringing other women into their bed.
"He had this way of making everything go away and questioning yourself…He said, 'Do you think that they can just stay in my house and not sleep with me?' And that was, Whoa!" Theodore claims. "Would you have dinner guests and expect that of them? No. It was just so cold and callous and not the man that I've fallen in love with. I didn't know who this man was. But then he became the man, his charm, his words, and it reeled me back in and that's how he kept me there. He kept painting this fairy tale to me, and making me question what I've seen. He had a way of twisting my world really badly."
As for what snapped the fairy tale for her, she shared that it wasn't so much what he said but "how he said it."
"It was like cold water being splashed in my face, and once my eyes were open, there was no going back. I started questioning things and remembering things and I was like, 'My god, I was 19! How dare he have used the love I had for him -- because I had fallen in love with him -- against me like he did for his benefit. And why I didn’t come out -- I mean, my parents, my family, my children -- it wasn’t the right time," she recalls. "The Me Too movement came along and all of a sudden we had a voice and we would have been listened too. We tried for years to come out with our story and we were blocked."
Theodore, meanwhile, says that Hefner's "greatest gift was his charm" and turned himself from a scrawny kid into a leading man.
"He reinvented to be this alluring man, and if you ever watch him closely, they're very practiced moves and maneuvers and facial expressions and he had his story down," she says. "And he loved the romance. He loved the romance of it, but was he romantic? No, not really. He was practiced at it and it's the same story over and over from decades of women. But their faces all change. His remains the same. We're getting older, of course."
"By the time we finally broke up, I was tired," she shares. "He had used me up and I started questioning -- and I was 25 -- my brain had come together. He didn’t like being questioned and another girl stepped in because every girl who came in wanted my position, but they never were a threat to me," she says. "This one pretended to be my best friend [but] what she wanted was my position. So it was an easy transition. I left there broken. They didn’t have words like post-traumatic. That didn’t exist. There was no social media. I couldn’t tell my parents and I didn’t understand why I was a wreck. But now I know I’ve been traumatized and it still affects me, but I’m aware of it and like I said, I’m not gonna let him win. I’m gonna fight back and make a difference for what I experienced."
Another Hefner former girlfriend, Girls Next Door star Holly Madison, is also part of Secrets of Playboy and claims she became a victim of his controlling behavior. And, while chatting with ET, she alleged that sedatives were part of Hefner's seductive techniques.
"Hef offered me Quaaludes on the first night and I didn't want to take any and I never did. But I saw him offer them to many girls every night we went out for a couple of years," Madison claims.
Theodore also alleges that Hefner "took acid every night for the last year of our relationship. He put it in my mouth and expected me to too. He turned his head, I spit it out onto the floor."
Meanwhile, Kendra Wilkinson, who also starred in Girls Next Door as one of Hefner's girlfriends, continues to stand up for Hefner, telling ET she never felt used or abused.
"Honest to god, I never saw nothing that has ever been 'dark,'" Wilkinson says. "I mean, look, it is taboo to be with an older man with five girlfriends, OK. I get it. All I saw living there was parties and fun, and I guess that is what I was there for. That is what I did. I just had a good time. I never saw anything that stuck out as dark. I didn't. Sex is sex."
Theodore, though, doesn't believe Hefner "ruined" her, telling ET, "I'm not going to use the word 'ruined' because that's implying he won. I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and hold onto my hope and my joy and it wasn’t easy."
"My kids are still confused, but in the long run, they’ll respect me for being more than the girl who took off her clothes for Playboy," she adds. "I had guts to speak out and sacrifice myself in doing so to make a difference."