Barbi Benton’s name is nearly synonymous with Hugh Hefner’s. If you’ve ever looked up photos of Hefner in his younger days, you’ve probably seen Barbi next to him. The doe-eyed, youthful gal was 29 years younger than Hef, and at the center of the secrets of Playboy. She was in half a dozen Playboy magazine issues and many more TV, film, and music production projects with the brand.
How Barbi Benton Became a Playboy Playmate
Barbi Benton was born Barbara Lynn Klein in New York City. She was raised in Sacramento and studied everything from music to scuba diving to modeling. At the age of 16, she moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. She wanted to become a veterinarian. But this dream was short-lived. Barbi got sick at the sight of blood and kept fainting.
At age 18, Barbi was cast to be an extra on the TV show, Playboy After Dark. However, Hugh Hefner immediately fell in love with her and made her a co-host. After two episodes, he asked her out. She told him that she’d never dated anyone over 24 years old, and he said neither had he!
Soon after, the two were a real couple. Barbi said that he’d bring her dozens of roses to her dorm at UCLA and pick her up in his limousine. They’d go dancing at the disco. Eventually, they moved in together. Barbi convinced Hefner to purchase the Playboy Mansion, and Hefner convinced Barbi to change her last name to Benton to be more marketable.
Barbi Benton was Jet-Setting Around the World With Hugh Hefner
“People recognized us together and our names were synonymous,” Benton told People. “Whenever you heard Barbi Benton, you think of Hugh Hefner. And I loved that. I was his girlfriend, and he was my boyfriend.”
Hefner helped Benton get her career going, and not just with the name change. Playboy records released the first 4 of Benton’s music records. She loved singing country music and could play a variety of instruments. And in return, not only did Benton love Hefner, but her presence itself became part of the Playboy image.
Benton Gave Hefner a Lot of Leeway
In an interview with Benton and Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, the couple was quite sweet to each other. Interestingly, when Bill Boggs asked about monogamy, the couple seemed to squeak by without saying too much. Benton did call Hefner a “chauvinistic pig” at one point, but then said she loved him. She also said that, while he may go astray, and while she believed that she should be able to do whatever he does, she isn’t that kind of person. Benton obviously loved him.
“He was one of the most romantic men I’ve ever met,” she told People. “He was always rubbing my neck, holding my hand, squeezing me, and making me feel loved. He was also affectionate with other girls … and he loved kissing. I didn’t mind because I was very secure in our relationship.”
Hefner F***ed It Up. Are We Surprised?
But infidelity eventually eroded their relationship. Every time Benton caught Hefner cheating, he’d then ask her to marry him.
“The first time he asked me was after I caught him in an affair,” she told People. “I confronted him. He didn’t admit it at first, but it was kind of hard not to. I moved out every time!” She said that he asked her to marry him four times, and the first three were when he was cheating.
“He just couldn’t be faithful that long,” said Benton. She attributed her success as a singer and the traveling that came with it to Hefner’s infidelity. “The more successful I became, the harder it was. It was hard on our relationship. And when you’re hurt, it’s not a good time to ask someone to marry them. It was his way of him getting me to come back. Because I moved out every time. By the third time, I moved out for good.”
Despite the ups and downs, Barbi Benton still maintained a positive friendship with Hugh Hefner up until his death in 2017. And she worked Playboy well after she moved out of the Playboy Mansion and moved on to other things. She appeared on The Girls Next Door in several episodes when Hefner’s girls visited her at her home in Aspen, Colorado.
Every Barbi Benton Nude
Barbi Benton was on the cover of Playboy four times: July 1969, March 1970, May 1972, and December 1985. She was also in nude photo layouts in December 1973 and January 1975. Surprisingly, Benton was never Playmate of the Month. Maybe this is because she was already Playmate of the decade or Hugh Hefner’s main squeeze.
Benton moved out of the Playboy Mansion in 1976 and went on to act on several TV shows, comedy skits, and even a slasher film. She married her current husband, George Gradow, in 1979, and the two have two children together. Benton’s final appearance in Playboy was in 1985. That same year that Benton posed for Playboy one last time, she also appeared in a Playboy movie, Playboy Mid Summer Night’s Dream Party.
Soon after in 1986, Benton’s son Alexander was born. Two years later, she had a daughter, Ariana. Once Benton had children, she retired from the entertainment business. She and her family split their time between Aspen, Colorado, and Los Angeles, California.
Benton has also appeared in a handful of Playboy documentaries, from during her time at the Mansion and long after she left. But her final nudes were in 1985.
Decades Later, Benton Has Good Memories of Playboy & Hefner
It’s clear that she maintained a good friendship and rapport with Hefner and Playboy. After Hefner’s death, Benton spoke highly of him.
“When he died, he took a big piece of me with him,” she told People. “I’m sure that every time I do something, I’ll think about having done it with Hef. He had an enormous impact on culture and lives of people all over the world. I’ll miss him immensely.”
Benton added, “One never knows when the angels are coming to get you, but everybody has to go. And Hef had a great life — what a wonderful life.”
Benton is also one of the few Playboy models from long ago who has her own profile page on Playboy’s website. Her name is also dropped throughout several other Playboy articles, as she was so integral to the Playboy scene once upon a time.