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The Great Barbi Benton Through Pictures Then and Now

Entertainment | July 31, 2018

Actress Barbi Benton poses for a portrait session at home in circa 1979 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Beautiful Barbi Benton parlayed her fruitful Playboy career into a moderately successful career as an actress, singer, and comedian in the late-1960s and 1970s. One of the best known Playboy bunnies and Hugh Hefner’s lover and soul mate, Benton has since removed herself from the spotlight and exposure she garnered during the seventies and eighties to tackle the role of wife and mother. 

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Barbi Was Barely-Legal When She Went to Work For Playboy

Born Barbara Lynn Klein in 1950, the curvy model was just 18 years old when she accepted a job at Playboy, appearing in the “Playboy After Dark” show. She was hired as an extra in the show, but that all changed when she met Hugh Hefner. The Playboy founder, then in his early forties, fell in love with the teenage Benton. Hefner increased Benton’s role in the “Playboy After Dark” show to co-host. It was Hefner, in fact, that suggested she change her name from Barbi Klein to Barbi Benton because he thought the alliteration made it a more marketable name. 

Benton Was Hugh Hefner’s Lover and Soul Mate

Despite their age difference of almost a quarter of a century, Hefner seemed to genuinely love the young Playboy bunny. According to legend, when Hefner first asked Benton out on a date, Benton coyly said, “Gee, I don’t know. I’ve never dated anyone over 24 before” to which Hefner, then 42, responded, “Neither have I.” Benton and Hefner stayed together for several years, living together from 1969 to 1976. Throughout that time, Benton was a fixture at the Playboy Mansion and a centerpiece of the Playboy Empire. 

Benton Was a Playboy Cover Girl Four Times

Demonstrating a longevity that is rare in Playboy models, Barbi Benton appeared on the cover of four issues of Playboy, in three separate decades. Her first cover appearance was on the July 1969 issue of Playboy. She followed that up with two covers in the 1970s, in March of 1970 and May of 1972. Her final Playboy cover was for the December 1985 issue. In between times, she frequently appeared within the pages of the magazine in photo essays. Despite this exposure, Benton was never named a Playmate of the Month. 

Benton with Minnie Pearl on the set of "Hee Haw"

Benton Showed Her Funny Side on Hee Haw

Starting in 1969, Barbi Benton had a reoccurring role on the television comedy and country music variety show, Hee Haw, which ran for only a few short years. The show afforded Benton the opportunity to showcase her acting and comedy. Her humor and her buxom good looks made her a popular cast member. During Hee Haw’s run, Benton also appeared in a German comedy film called “The Naughty Cheerleader”, 

Benton Made Numerous Guest Appearances on TV Shows of the Seventies

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Barbi Benton appeared as a special guest in many of the more popular TV shows of the time. She appeared in “The Bobby Vinton Show,” “The Love Boat”, “Sugar Time,” and “Fantasy Island”. 

From Centerfold to Singer

Barbi Benton launched a moderately successful career as a recording artist in the mid-1970s. In 1975, her song, “Brass Buckles”, peaked at the number five spot on Billboard’s country chart. Her 1976 song, perhaps her best known one, “Ain’t That Just the Way” was number one on the charts in Sweden for more than a month. It was covered in 1996 by Lutricia McNeal and was a major hit for her. In all Benton released eight albums. She wrote all the songs, played the piano, and sang all the tunes on the albums. She even produced one of them herself, proving to the world that she had more talent than posing sans clothing for photographs. 

Benton Hung Up Her Bunny Ears for Motherhood

With just a few months of the 1970s left, Barbi Benton married a California real estate developer named George Gradow. The couple, who are still married, had their first child, Alexander, in 1986, followed by a daughter, Ariana, in 1988. Benton entered a semi-retirement from show business to concentrate on raising her children and devoting her time to her husband. Today, the couple split their time between their home in Los Angeles and their second home in Aspen. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.