That a feature film biopic hasn’t yet been made about one of the most important cultural icons of the last half century certainly hasn’t been without a lack of trying. Way back in 2007, Universal and Brett Ratner were planning to make “Playboy,” a film about the magazine’s founder Hugh Hefner, but it never got in front of cameras. The project never seemed to gain forward momentum, even with guys like Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman at one time or another kicking the tires on the lead role. But the project now has fresh life, as it has flipped the page over to another studio.
Warner Bros. is taking on “Playboy” with producer Jerry Weintraub (the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy, Steven Soderbergh‘s upcoming “Behind The Candelabra“) lending his talents to the movie. But right now, that’s about all we know. There’s no word yet on the scope of the project, or what time period it will zero in on. But it’s likely it will focus on the ’60s and ’70s, when Hefner was at the height of his powers. At one time, he was a powerful force in print, on televsion and even in music, giving airtime to artists on his show “Playboy After Dark” that would not get exposure anywhere else (James Brown was an early guest when it was unheard of to book black performers on television). Hefner was also a vocal supporter for civil rights, and of course, as the head of a magazine that made nude women a centerpiece, he was a symbol for free speech (whether you liked him or not). Finally, you know that old joke about people reading Playboy for the articles? Well, they often did, with a number of noted journalists and photographers contributing through the years.
But all this comes at a curious time for the Playboy brand. Increasingly seeming out of touch, the Playboy clubs popped up in the most recent season of “Mad Men,” but NBC‘s show “The Playboy Club” crashed and burned hard. Whether audiences really want to see a movie about the man remains to be seen. But with the right casting and director this could be sizzling piece of work. Word is that a new screenwriter will tackle the material, so we’ll see how this goes. But until this arrives, give the documentary “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Rebel, Activist” a spin. It’s a pretty great overview of his importance and impact, particulary in the early days. [Deadline]