Barbi Benton may not be a household name, but it’s definitely a name worth knowing. At just the age of 16, Benton started modeling and two years later, she was at Playboy. From there, her whirlwind romance with the one and only Hugh Hefner put her on the map, and Barbi Benton’s face was one everyone recognized. Now we’ve decided to take a look at Benton’s extraordinary life and present you with some juicy facts about the Playboy model, actress, and singer that you may not have known before. Ready?
The First Time
About five decades ago, Barbi Benton and Hugh Hefner met for the first time. Little did Benton know just how much her life was about to change. At the time, Benton was a student at UCLA and she was studying during a break on set. “He came up to ask me what I was so diligently working on,” she said. “I told him I was studying for school. He liked the fact that I was a co-ed and that I went to UCLA. We were talking about my schooling and what I was studying, and he asked me if I would go out with him.”
No doubt you remember this famous line that Hugh uttered! Well he’s the backdrop to that happening, “The first thing he asked me was if would mind if he held my hand.” Then, “I told him I had never been out with anybody over 24 and he said, ‘Neither have I!’ I looked at him like, is he joking, or is it true?” Classic.
Love and Tears
Benton opened up to People magazine about her feelings regarding the death of Hugh Hefner, “I cried all night [when I found out],” and adds, “I was a basket case.” She also recalls one of the times she saw him last, a few months previous, “I went up to the Mansion, and rather than sit where other people were, he wanted to sit with me privately.” This meant a great deal to Barbi as she knew how close knit he was.
Talk, Talk, Talk
“We just had a great talk,” she added. “I felt like he kind of knew that it was coming to an end. When I left, he said, ‘I hope you come up and see me more often.’” Benton adds that Hugh wasn’t thinking about dying, that he was looking forward to what was coming ’round the bend. Heck, he was even humorous about death, he wasn’t scared at all.
Live Life To The Fullest
In her interview with People magazine, she said, “He wasn’t looking forward to death, but knowing he was going to die — he has the best resting place.” Moreover, she adds, “He has a plot next to Marilyn Monroe, so he was looking forward to lying next to the gal who kicked off Playboy. That’s kind of the way he looked at death — nothing could be better than his life. And even though his health had deteriorated, he was still living a good life.”
Yes, I Do
Surely you’re aware that Barbi Benton agreed to the date but do you know why? “One of the main reasons I went is because I absolutely adored Shel Silverstein, and he came too,” she admitted. “Then Hef asked me out again and again, and before I knew it I was holding his hand all the time. I was also dating someone from UCLA and also I had another suitor, Jimmy Caan. So it was between my college boyfriend, Jimmy Caan and Hef. And Hef won. Within a few months, we were exclusive.”
Romantic At Heart
“He was very romantic,” Benton admitted. “He was one of the most romantic men I’ve ever met. 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.” Benton went on to say that they had a whirlwind romance that “was a totally exciting time”. I mean, wouldn’t yours be if it revolved around A-list celebrities?
While Barbi Benton and Hugh Hefner dated, he actually asked her to marry him…four times! “The first time he asked me was after I caught him in an affair,” she revealed. “I confronted him. He didn’t admit it at first, but it was kind of hard not to. I moved out every time!” Then she added, “The first three were early on, and the fourth was after I was already married.” However she also added, “We love each other. I will love him forever.”
So what reason did Barbi Benton have to say no four times? “One of the problems is I became a successful singer, and I was on tour much too much,” she said. “He just couldn’t be faithful that long. 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.”
Originally, Barbi went by the name Barbi Klein, until Hugh Hefner convinced to change it! Anyways, Benton appeared on the Playboy cover four times, July 1969, March 1970, May 1972, and December 1985.
Despite the fact that she was featured in plenty of photo-essays, Barbi never earned the title of ‘Playmate of the Month’.
The Big Screen
Eventually Benton landed a role on the television show Hee Haw where she was involved in short comedy sketches. As a result, she picked up acting and appeared in The Naughty Cheerleader, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.
After four seasons on Hee Haw, Benton left in order to focus on a career in Hollywood. Therefore, she starred in the comedy series Sugar Time! and the film Hospital Massacre.
Unlike most Playgirls, Barbi Benton is still happily married to the man of her dreams! On October 14, 1979, she said “I Do!” to George Gradow, a real-estate developer. Together they have two children, Alexander and Ariana.
The Cosby Show
Just in case you didn’t know, Bill Cosby actually had a regular Playboy girlfriend, while he was married. Furthermore, Barbi Benton said that Cosby was a regular at the Playboy Mansion in LA. Ahem, he didn’t come to the mansion just to be with pretty girls but rather to meet his lover twice a week. “Bill Cosby was one of the first people I met at the mansion, shortly after I met Hef in 1968,” said Benton.
Going off that last fact, Barbi Benton also said, “It was unusual for a family man to be at the Mansion — especially as regularly as Cosby was.” Girl, we totally agree.
Turns out that Barbi Benton was the one with an eye for real estate. Seeing as how she was the one who discovered the property then become the famous Playboy Mansion.
She Sings Too
While she was acting, she was also singing at the time! Especially country music. Her 1975 record, Brash Buckles, peaked in the Billboard country music chart top five. Out of the all her released albums, she only personally produced one. Oh, Benton wrote and composed her single, “Ain’t That Just the Way” which was covered by Lutricia McNeal, who made it a hit.
Even though Barbi’s face is pretty darn famous, she hasn’t been able to transform her popularity into stardom. Currently, the latest estimate places her net worth at a cool $20.0 million. However it seems that Benton has left Hollywood and is working as an interior decorator and designer.
Remember Barbi’s husdand George Gradow? Well their love story is seriously adorable. Apparently Gradow’s employee asked him once when he’d get married, to which he replied, “When I find someone who looks like Barbi Benton.” Coincidentally, that same employee actually knew Benton’s mother so they arranged for a meeting between Gradow and Benton.
“I met George as a businessman, a financial adviser, and not as a possible husband,” said Benton. Shortly after, she invited George to the Academy of Country Music dinner and then just after a few months, Gradow proposed!