Hugh Hefner's ex-girlfriend says women did drugs so they could 'forget what happened' at the Mansion
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Content warning: this article contains references to sexual assault and substance abuse.
"They said that he slipped the pill in their drink. And then before they knew it, they'd woke up next to him. And they don't remember even sleeping with him."
Melissa Howe, 32, once dated Hugh Hefner, the man behind the colossal Playboy empire, and has opened up about what really went on in the mansion when the cameras weren't rolling.
From some ridiculously disciplined schedules and restrictive eating, to alleged sexual assault and 'coping mechanism' drug abuse, it's clear it wasn't always glitter and glory at the infamous gilded residence.
Allegations include routine sexual misconduct against Playmates at the mansion, filming the women without their consent and hardcore drug abuse, and Melissa was able to corroborate several of the many claims made against him.
"There were women there that were way older than me and they used to tell us all the time, 'You do know you girls are the lucky generation because years ago that wasn't the way things went down'," Melissa said.
"They basically hinted it was an ordeal when they had their relationship with Hef.
"If you were invited to Hef's room, you had to submit," Melissa continued, "and then you were gone in a minute.
"A lot of women that did get with Hef and got forced, they've all got so many issues mentally now," she added.
While Melissa is now a model and TV personality, she first sky-rocketed to fame in the early 2010s when she entered the world of Playboy.
She started attending the Playboy parties in 2012 with her twin sister, Carla, and having already worked for Playboy TV and radio for some time, Melissa and her sister were hell-bent on finally meeting Hef.
The pair rocked up to the annual Midsummer Night's party where they were scouted by one of Hef's entourage for being 'so cute' with their 'matching hair'.
The staff member told the socialites: "Hef would love you."
The twins were introduced to the publisher, with Melissa recalling he was 'wearing a pink gown' - in typical Hef fashion - and remembering the whole encounter as a 'really surreal experience'.
Hef was 78 at the time of meeting the Howe twins - putting a whole 57 years between them.
And age was most definitely not just a number, because his seniority was immediately clear to the spritely 20-something.
"When we were talking to him, you could tell he was older because you had to over-say things and repeat yourself. He was getting on," Melissa said.
Melissa soon became an established member of the Playboy mansion household, at which point she learned it was 'very controlled'.
"I would say there were rules for everything - like an itinerary and stuff," she said.
Pondering over why things were so hyper-structured, Melissa suggested it might have something to do with Hef's old age.
"I don't know if that's because Hef's in that older era where that's the way it was in the 50s and 60s," she said, "it was not like in this day and age where everything's more laid back and you do whatever."
JJ Reinhart, a former chef at the Playboy Mansion, told UNILAD the women working as models for the brand were 'always allowed to come into the mansion, especially to get food', and that they could order whatever they wanted.
Melissa provides a different account, though, claiming the Playmates were instructed what times they were to eat dinner and where, and when to place themselves about the mansion at various hours of the day.
"You didn't just go with the flow, there were times for everything you did," she added.
Hef was also fiercely protective of his Playmates from outsiders entering the mansion.
Melissa said: "He had a select [group]. The people there were the people that were there for years.
"In terms of men, it was never a random guy up there. It was his friends."
She continued: "Obviously, he wasn't going to let random men come in on the weekends because he didn't want anyone going near his girls.
"He used to get jealous.
"When a Hef came in a room you were in, you had to give him all the attention," she said. "If you saw other girls acting a certain way, you'd be like, 'Crap, that must be what we need to do'."
According to Melissa, even the Playmates' appearances were controlled by Hef.
"You always had to be like, perfect, ready," she revealed, "kind of like a Stepford wife, you had to carry yourself very correct."
Things were so controlled, they were forced to hide huge parts of their outside lives.
"When you met him, nobody would talk about if they had anyone in their life," she said. "And the only time they did was when they left the mansion.
"You just start to [realise], 'Crap, I'm just on my own', as soon you were there."
Drawing on her time in the mansion, Melissa was confident when discussing the allegations against Hefner, saying: "I know they were true."
She also opened up about some of the horrifying events that took place during her residence there, including Playmates' reluctance to have sex with Hefner.
"A lot of them didn't want to do it. That's the problem. Most of them didn't. And they felt like they had to," she said.
Melissa then turned to former Playmates who alleged Hef once spiked them.
Melissa was told he'd 'slipped the pill in their drink' before they woke up with no memory of 'sleeping with him'.
The women subsequently 'had to go to therapy' following the traumatic experience.
"When you're younger, you don't necessarily know what he wants to do," Melissa explained. "They probably thought he just wanted to talk.
"And obviously he had other things in mind."
Melissa went on to explain that while there was some competition between the women in a race to become 'Playmate of the Year', there was one thing they all agreed on.
"When it got down to it, and they had to actually fulfil Hef - that's what girls didn't like," Melissa claimed.
She continued: "Some of them actually picked to do drugs on their own accord, just so they could forget what happened.
"They wanted to be 'not there' so they could get it over and done with."
When asked if there were any lingering jealousies between herself and Hef's many other girlfriends, Melissa laughed and said: "Not one bit. None of us wanted to actually date him."
The act of sex with Hef was so unpopular, the women would be 'pushing each other' onto him in a hopes they wouldn't have to do it themselves, Melissa claimed.
Talking about the change in times from those days to now, Melissa noted: "Back then, it was a different era, like men had the power and you had to do what they wanted.
"You couldn't tell anyone because that was your job," she carried on, before alluding to Hef's desire to have things 'done right', as also mentioned by chef JJ Reinhart.
"If Hef wanted something, you either did it or you're gone," Melissa said. "That was the way it was."
According to Melissa, Hef loved 'younger, fresh meat' because 'you have no baggage' - though she was made to feel lucky when she met Hef in his older age because 'he's not got the same appetite sexually' as he once did.
"The reason he liked young girls is because you will submit and you don't know anything different," she added.
While she dated the 78-year-old, Melissa confessed she saw him as 'more of an iconic figure' and even a 'grandfather' than a partner.
"I didn't see him as a boyfriend. I saw him as an older person who could help," she explained.
Though Melissa's claims about Hef differ greatly from those made by former Playmate Audra Lynn, both women regarded Hef in a similar way, with Audra describing him as 'kind of like a father figure'.
Melissa went on define Hef as 'someone that's older and that you don't find physically or mentally stimulating'.
"That's why I would put that as a father or grandfather figure, because I knew he was helping our career, but at the same time I didn't see him in the boyfriend light."
While chef Reinhart claimed Hef's girlfriends had the pleasure of 'picking out a new car' when they arrived at the mansion, Melissa tells us that that wasn't the case for her all.
She explained that unlike Playboy's glory days in the 90s, Hef had 'lost a lot of money in the 2000s' and he was 'trying to cut back on things a lot'.
Considering the impact of their time at the mansion, Melissa claimed many of her former housemates now have 'so many issues mentally'.
Having come from a place of being 'vulnerable' or 'wanting to be a star', Melissa said many of the women now 'can't commit to anybody, in a relationship or with men, or even with career[s]'.
She concluded: "I'd say Hef, in general, was a nice person, [things only] went wrong when it came to sex because the women don't really want to do it."
When contacted about these allegations, a company spokesperson for Playboy told UNILAD: "The Hefner family is no longer associated with Playboy, and today’s Playboy is not Hugh Hefner’s Playboy.
"Today, our organization is run by a workforce that is more than 80% female, and we will continue to confront any parts of our legacy that do not reflect our values today, and to build upon the progress we have made as we evolve as a company so we can drive positive change for our employees and our communities."
UNILAD's new Stripped Back series is released from May 1 and takes us back into the Playboy Mansion, featuring interviews with a variety of people who spent time working and living there with Hugh Hefner.