Aug 6, 2020
Real Life True Story of Realness: The Day A Music Store Clerk Made Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton Cry
Back in the dark ages before CDs I managed a record store in Chicago. Lots of celebrities stopped in, usually without incident. This time was an exception.
Playboy’s headquarters was two blocks away. We had a deal with them. We got a free Playboy Club membership and they got a discount on records. One evening Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton walked in, followed by an entourage. Johnny Mo, who’d work there for 20 years, stepped up to help Barbi. That’s when it all started going south.
In addition to working nights at the record store, Johnny also worked at a clothing store that sold pimp wear called Smoky Joe’s, famous throughout Chicagoland for their hilariously pimped-out late night teevee commercials. Joe’s is where Willy the Wimp and all of the pimps and wannabes shopped. Johnny worked there for years. He was one tough dude. He didn’t take no shit from nobody.
Just before Barbi’s arrival we’d gotten our daily shipment of records, including a new Joni Mitchell album.
I cracked open a copy and put it on the turntable. Johnny objected.
“What the fuck is that shit? Nobody wants to hear that shit!”
I explained that the album shipped at number one, so we were going to play it.
“Ain’t nobody gonna buy that shit. This is the city.”
I explained the store policy was to play top 20 albums and offered to let Johnny pick the next record.
“Fuck that! This is bullshit!”
Right about this time Barbi Benton walks in. Johnny turns to her and says, “You looking for something?”
“Yes, I’m looking for the new Barbi Benton album,” she says.
Her first country music album, ‘Barbi Doll,’ had just been released on Playboy Records, the label Hef had founded just for her, because no other label would sign her, and she was excited to see it in the racks at a real record store. Johnny had other ideas.
“Barbi Benton!? Barbi Benton? What the fuck do you want that Barbi Benton shit for? Nobody wants that Barbi Benton country-ass bullshit. Barbi fucking Benton… Shit.”
Johnny was right. The album sucked and so did the sales. But his approach left a bit to be desired.
Barbi blinks a couple of times, then her eyes well up and she lets out a wail that would scare off a coven of keening banshees. By the time I was able to get around from behind the counter it was too late. She’s standing in the middle of the floor in full-blown hysterics. I try to apologize, but she just screams louder. This goes on for a few minutes with no sign of stopping any time soon. I explain to the guy in her entourage who looks like he’s in charge how truly sorry I am, but she can’t just stand there in the middle of the store screaming. All the while I’m trying very hard not to collapse in fits of laughter. The guy understands and starts to shepherd her out of the store.
I didn’t think much about it until a week later, when Playboy opened a record store on the ground floor of the Playboy tower, two blocks away, with then 23-year-old Christie Hefner at the helm and Barbi’s album in a huge window display. Christie Hefner went on to become president, CEO and chairwoman of Playboy Enterprises. And that’s how Christie Hefner got her first real job at Playboy. It was also the end of our free Playboy Club memberships.