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Published by Dey Street Books on June 23rd 2015
Genres: Adult, Memoir, Non-Fiction
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The shocking, never-before-told story of the bizarre world inside the legendary Playboy Mansion—and, finally, the secret truth about the man who holds the key—from one of the few people who truly knows: Hef’s former #1 girlfriend and star of The Girls Next DoorA spontaneous decision at age twenty-one transformed small-town Oregon girl Holly Sue Cullen into Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner’s #1 girlfriend. But like Alice’s journey into Wonderland, after Holly plunged down the rabbit hole, what seemed like a fairytale life inside the Playboy Mansion—including A-list celebrity parties and her own #1-rated television show for four years—quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation, and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies. Life inside the notorious Mansion wasn’t a dream at all—and quickly became her nightmare. After losing her identity, her sense of self-worth, and her hope for the future, Holly found herself sitting alone in a bathtub contemplating suicide.But instead of ending her life, Holly chose to take charge of it.In this shockingly candid and surprisingly moving memoir, this thoughtful and introspective woman opens up about life inside the Mansion, the drugs, the sex, the abuse, the infamous parties, and her real behind-the-scenes life with Bridget, Kendra, and, of course, Mr. Playboy himself.With great courage, Holly shares the details of her subsequent troubled relationship, landing her own successful television series, and the hard work of healing, including her turn on Dancing with the Stars. A cautionary tale and a celebration of personal empowerment, Down the Rabbit Hole reminds us of the importance of fighting for our dreams—and finding the life we deserve.
This is going to be a little ranty. You’ve been warned.
My face going into this story:
And this was my face at the end:
Okay, so LOOK. I wasn’t expecting some magical, profound autobiography. But I was a fan of Girls Next Door while it was on air, and I had always thought Holly Madison was one classy bitch. Turns out, she’s just a bitch.
So let me back up and start from the beginning.
I used to watch Girls Next Door religiously. I perhaps did not always catch it when it aired, but I eventually caught the reruns. I’m not the kind of person who likes reality television or follows celebrities, so the fact that I liked the show surprised even me. But, like it I did, and when I found out that Holly Madison was releasing a tell-all memoir chronicling her time in the Playboy Mansion and why she became a girlfriend was tantalizing. I knew I must have it!
I immediately immersed myself in Madison’s story. I’ve always been curious how an attractive, young woman can chain herself to an befuddled, old man who gets his rocks off by dating women who are young enough to be his granddaughters.
(I mean, think about it. He was 60 years old when his wife Crystal Harris was born. When I was born, my grandmother was only 44. Harris could be his great-granddaughter!)
In the beginning, I felt sad for Holly Madison. She was young and vulnerable, and Hefner was completely able to take advantage of that. I felt bad for her that she was so insecure and desperate for help that she thought moving into the Mansion was her only option for survival. She was too stubborn and proud to go back home, and I get that, too.
And…I think I could have continued to sympathize with Madison, if she hadn’t spent much of the novel putting every other girl down:
“(They all tried the best they could to re-create that ideal Pamela Anderson – I on the other hand wasn’t interested in transforming myself into a Spearmint Rhino version of the Baywatch beauty. I wanted to look good enough to be a Playmate, but still hold on some of what made me unique – and frankly, avoid looking like a blow-up doll.)”
“That might sound insane, but I supposed you are the company you keep. . . and let’s just say the other six girlfriends weren’t necessarily winning any spelling bees.”
“Carrie was a 21-year-old with a 16-year-old face. She had striking green eyes, but no personality.”
“Vicky, however, disgusts me.”
“Desperate to swipe the spotlight away from me, Daphne came to crash the shoot, but her spot ended up on the cutting room floor. Shucks.”
“Someone a little bit more Hef’s type than I was: someone younger, blonder, and much, much ditsier.”
“Her personality could best be described as ‘deer in headlights.’ It was difficult to get a word out of her, and she seemed to have fried her brain somewhere along the course of her life.”
“And, let’s face it, Kendra wasn’t the easiest person to have a conversation with.”
“For her part, Kendra was reality TV gold – especially in 2005. America was at the height of its obsession with dumb blondes.”
I could go on, and in fact, Madison does continue to call Kendra Wilkinson a dumb blonde many more times in the book (which I’ve highlighted on my Kindle), and she was very disparaging of her roommate. And to her credit, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she also compliments Kendra a few times in the book, but it’s not often, and overall, Madison comes across as snide and nasty about any girlfriend who might have been her competition. 30% of the way through Down the Rabbit Hole is when I stopped respecting her as, you know, a person.
Throughout the memoir, Madison continues to say how badly she wanted to be a Playmate, and I just pitied her that her entire life goal was around getting naked on a magazine cover. I don’t mean that to sound condescending, but she also spends a lot of time complaining that people treated her like an idiot, or a gold digger, and how she spent all this time convincing herself she loved Hef, when we all know that they were using each other. And PS, Mads, you can’t be mad for being treated like a prostitute when you were trying to screw you way to the top. Damn, girl. At least admit it.
Now let’s talk about what a dirty fucking asshole Hugh Hefner is. Of course, this is all alleged, because this is just Holly’s story and Hefner has publicly stated she has “rewritten” history, so really, who the fuck knows which person is right. If I had to guess, none of them are. They are all assholes.
Madison details many instances where Hefner attempts (often successfully) to control and manipulate her and the other girlfriends throughout their years at the Mansion, dangling the possibility of centerfold opportunities, with outright coercion and force (like weekly allowances, 9pm “curfews” and not allowing them to spend nights away from the Mansion except under special circumstances). It’s like Hefner was cultivating his own little harem of Stepford girlfriends, and his methods were sociopathic and deliberate.
I would almost feel bad for Madison for being in such an awful situation, if it wasn’t for the fact that she put herself there and continued to make excuses for why she should stay – and continues to make excuses to this day, by not even recognizing that if she had been a confident woman prior to Mansion life, as she says she was, she never would have felt the need to put herself there. And she constantly puts down the other girlfriends for living at the Mansion while reminding readers that her reasons for being there were benevolent:
“(I was just grateful to have a roof over my head.)”
Right. Like your moving in to the Mansion had nothing whatsoever to do with the opportunities you thought it was going to afford you. Totes believable.
Her descriptions of the Mansion, from the moment she stepped inside until the moment she left were vibrant and eye-opening. In the beginning, she says it’s the nicest home she’s ever stepped foot in, but as the memoir progresses, she begins to notice the lack of shine to their little palace, even insofar as describing the urine stains on the grand staircase and the old, dirty corners of the place. Paradise is crumbling and as Hefner ages, so does his world around him. Age is a dirty opponent, old man.
While I’m very glad (actually, glad may not be the right word, so how about “relieved”) that Madison has found her happiness, the only chapters in the book that aren’t all “woe is me” are the ones where she has moved on to perform in Peepshow and on Holly’s World. It was nice to see how she came to find happiness and success, but it didn’t encourage my respect for her as a person, considering how negative and just plain mean she was throughout this book.
Overall, it felt like, because he had controlled her for so long, she was writing this memoir as a big “fuck you” to him to show he had no control over her anymore. He is so intent on keeping a clean reputation (hahahaha) that any bad press tarnishes him and makes him crazy. So tarnish away, she does. I just wish it had been with more class so other women who are in similar situations could take some measure of strength from her story.
(And, like, I can relate to her circumstances in a way. I was in a terribly abusive relationship before I met my husband, so I know how she feels, but man, some people just don’t know how to own their shit.)
And can a girl get a fucking editor?! This memoir was so poorly punctuated and edited that it should be a criminal offense. Are you kidding me? I’d give this three stars for being relatively interesting, but I just can’t because it’s so poorly written and edited, and the narrator seems spiteful and nasty.
There are exactly two worthy people in this book: Hef’s secretary Mary and Bridget Marquardt.
I’m done talking about this book. I can’t even anymore. So here’s a final meme. Enjoy.