Many people recall Barbi Benton as a famous Playboy playmate who was also the girlfriend of Playboy magazine founder and publisher Hugh Hefner from 1969 to 1976. She was a prominent face in the Playboy empire. But Benton (born Barbara Lynn Klein) is much more versatile than that.
She made her reputation as a talented singer, model, TV personality, and actress. Benton also appeared on the CBS-TV country-themed comedy show Hee Haw (1969-1971), as well as other popular entertainment programs.
Now retired, Benton has been married since 1979 to George Gradow. Her fans want to know what she been up to lately and whether she ever expressed an opinion about the #MeToo movement or the alleged misogyny associated with the Playboy organization.
We looked into those and other questions. This is what we discovered.
After Playboy, Barbi Benton Had Careers In Both Television And Music
Benton was born on January 28, 1950 in New York City and grew up in Sacramento, California. She was on Hee Haw for four seasons.
She guest-starred in many iconic television shows in the 1970s and 1980s, including American Bandstand (1975), The Bobby Vinton Show (1976), The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1977), Charlie’s Angels (1980), Fantasy Island (1978-1982), The Love Boat (1978-1987), and Murder, She Wrote (1986).
Benton starred in Sugar Time! (1977-78), a comedy about a female rock and roll group called Sugar that was waiting for their big opportunity in show business. Benton played Maxx Douglass, who was the group’s frontwoman when she wasn’t busy being a hat check girl. The show ran for 13 episodes.
Benton recorded eight albums, producing the final one herself in 1979. She performed songs, wrote them, and played the piano. One of her tunes, “Brass Buckles” (1975), made it into the top five on Billboard’s country singles chart.
Another one of Benton’s songs, “Ain’t That Just the Way” (1976) topped the charts for five weeks in Sweden.
She’s Built A Happy Family With Real Estate Developer George Gradow
When Gradow spoke to People in 1980 about his bride, he sounded utterly besotted with her. “It’s a fairy tale,” he said. “When I go to bed every night I say, ‘I’m the luckiest man in the world.'”
“We have a good relationship,” Gradow continued, “and one reason is that it’s not only built on love. Love is very illusory so we’ve tried to build our marriage on practical, objective things.”
Gradow mused about his good fortune. “Here I am, tremendously insecure, with this extremely beautiful woman who could have anyone in the world. I wonder how the hell I did it.”
The two met in 1977 when a woman named Liz Prince, who formerly worked for Gradow, asked him when he planned to settle down. He reportedly replied, “When I find someone who looks like Barbi Benton.”
Prince and Benton’s mom, who knew each other, played matchmakers. Benton didn’t seem to have very high expectations for her initial meeting with Gradow. She was seeing actor Andrew Prine at the time and didn’t seem too interested in anyone else.
“I met George as a businessman, a financial adviser, and not as a possible husband,” Benton said. “Besides, I was going out with another guy.” Her relationship with Prine didn’t last, so she invited Gradow to the Academy of Country Music festivities.
He popped the question to Benton in just four months. At first, she hesitated, then she thought it over and said yes.
“He’s so funny and he has the energy of 10 men,” Benton explained. “We’re so alike. George is a one-woman man, and I could never get beyond dating more than one man at a time.”
They tied the knot on October 14, 1979. The couple shares two children: Alexander (born August 23, 1986) and Ariana (born July 13, 1988).
Benton prioritized her family over her career after her first child, Alexander, was born, thus her acting and musical endeavors are limited after 1986.
The Gradows seem to maintain a lavish lifestyle. She and Gradow have homes in both Los Angeles and Aspen, Colorado. He has a small but opulent fleet of luxury vehicles: a Mercedes limousine, a BMW, and a white Corniche. He and Benton sometimes throw extravagant theme parties worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional tycoon Jay Gatsby.
She Remained Close With Hugh Hefner Until His Death In 2017
Hugh Hefner began dating Benton despite their huge disparity in age. She was 19, while he was 43. “I told him I never dated a man over 24,” Benton said. “He told me he never dated anyone older than that either.” The celebrity pair shared living quarters for nearly nine years.
Bill Boggs interviewed Hefner and Benton at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles, probably sometime in the 1970s, drawing each of them out about love, marriage, and fidelity. In an interesting exchange, Boggs asked the couple about being faithful to each other.
Hefner said, “I think there’s a certain double standard [that applies to men versus women]. You’re raised a certain way and you fight a certain part of that background, but part of the boy remains father to the man.”
Benton wasn’t shy about admitting she felt much differently about that subject than her beau did. After playfully teasing him about being “a chauvinist pig,“ she said, “I don’t agree with his rules. I feel that the woman has every right to do everything that the man has that they like to do.”
Benton added, “But Hef was brought up in an era where girls do not fool around, guys do. I live by that. I know that even though I would like to see the rules change, I’m not promiscuous by nature, so I probably wouldn’t fool around even if it were acceptable for girls to.”
When Boggs asked them if this double standard about faithfulness was “a time bomb” in their relationship, Benton paused for a moment, then thoughtfully said, “We’ve done alright so far.” Hefner mentioned that there a couple of years prior they nearly broke up. He explained that there were “no other emotional involvements” in his life.
On another occasion, Hefner said that he felt bad about not marrying Benton. “I only regret not marrying Barbi because it finally led to our going separate ways [in 1976]. But I have been married and have children and wasn’t, and am not, interested in doing it again. Barbi hadn’t had that and wanted it.”
After Hefner died in 2017, Benton went to bat for him. “I honestly think that Hef had a lot to do with women making more money and getting better jobs. He’s had a huge impact on the entire world, and I think that’s for the better” (per People).
Benton also said, “Hef always felt that he was in favor of women’s [liberation]. He was in favor of what they were fighting for, and he was always rather surprised that they felt that he was exploiting women.”
She sounded almost wistful when talking about him even though so many years had passed since they were together. “I’ll miss him immensely,” Benton reflected.
Barbi Benton was the significant other of a man who was probably one of the most influential, if polarizing, figures in the sexual revolution. Hugh Hefner clearly changed her life even though they eventually parted. She had the guts to disagree with his views on sexual double standards rather than passively going along with them.
Benton went on to find her soulmate in George Gradow and seems content to be a wife and mom to their children. In her career and personal life, she resolutely does exactly what she wants to do.