During her college days, Barbi Benton had signed up with a commercial agency to be "the new face in town", and started to appear on television commercials. She landed a role on the TV series 'Playboy after Dark' at the age of 18, and appeared as the co-host and companion to the show's director of entertainment, Hugh Hefner.
She soon began a relationship with Hefner and was responsible for discovering the Playboy Mansion West where Hefner still resides. Over the next few years, she was featured in multiple photoshoots for the Playboy magazine, but never became a 'Playmate of the Month'.
Her first appearance on the cover of the Playboy magazine was as Barbi Klein in July 1969, which was followed by three more cover shoots in March 1970, May 1972, and December 1985. She also did two additional nude photo layouts in December 1973 and January 1975.
She made her screen debut in the 1970 West German comedy film 'Mir hat es immer Spaß gemacht' ('How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into This Business?', also known as 'The Naughty Cheerleader'. She changed her name to Barbara Benton as the producers wanted a more American-sounding name.
In 1972, she bagged a spot on the television series 'Hee Haw', which featured comedy sketches and one-liners interspersed with country music. She performed as a regular on the country variety series for four seasons before dropping out of the series in 1976 to pursue opportunities in Hollywood productions.
She appeared as Miss Iowa on the satirical comedy-drama TV film 'The Great American Beauty Contest' in 1973. The same year, she also appeared in another telefilm, 'The Third Girl from the Left', which was produced by Hefner.
Throughout the decade, she appeared on television shows like 'Marcus Welby, M.D.' in 1972, 'McCloud' in 1975, 'The Hollywood Squares' in 1978, and had a role in the 1980 TV-movie 'For the Love of It'.
She had multiple appearances on the talk-show 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' in 1974-80, the TV show 'Sugar Time!' in 1977-78, the TV series 'Fantasy Island' in 1978-82 and 'The Love Boat' in 1978-87.
She debuted as a country singer in 1975 with the album 'Barbi Doll', released from Playboy Records, which peaked at 17 on the US Country charts. Her single 'Brass Buckles' became a top-five hit on Billboard's Country Singles chart.
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She released three more country albums from Playboy Records – 'Barbi Benton' (1975), 'Something New' (1976) and 'Ain't That Just the Way' (1978) – with the single 'Ain't That Just the Way' becoming a hit in Sweden. In 1988, she released the pop album 'Kinetic Voyage' from Takoma Records.
She was a guest panelist on 'The Hollywood Squares' from 1978 to 1980, and later returned as a panelist in the hybrid show 'The Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour' in 1983. On television, she appeared on 'Doug Henning's World of Magic V', 'Charlie's Angels', 'Tattletales', 'Circus of the Stars', 'Matt Houston', 'Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer', 'Murder, She Wrote’, and 'Riptide'.
Her later film credits included the 1982 slasher film 'Hospital Massacre', also known as 'X-Ray', and the 1983 fantasy adventure film 'Deathstalker', both of which had her in lead roles. She partially left the entertainment industry in 1986, but has appeared as herself in numerous documentaries about Hugh Hefner, and about 'Playboy' in general.
Between 2005 and 2009, she has appeared on the TV series 'The Girls Next Door' as Hugh Hefner's former girlfriend. Notable recent documentaries she has been featured on include 'Playboy: Inside the Playboy Mansion', 'Playboy's 50th Anniversary Celebration', 'When Playboy Ruled the World' and 'America's Book of Secrets'.
Personal Life & Legacy
During the shooting of 'Playboy after Dark', Barbi Benton was approached by multi-millionaire Hugh Hefner, the founder and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, for a date. When Barbi, then 19, told him that she never dated anyone over 24 before, the then-42-year-old playboy responded with "neither have I".
The two soon began dating and were together for the next seven years, till they finally parted ways in 1976. Hefner, who was already married, did not want to marry again, but regretted that decision later, stating that it resulted in their separation. However, they still remained friends.
She married real estate developer George Gradow on October 14, 1979. The couple has a son named Alexander Gradow and a daughter named Ariana Gradow. She splits her time between their homes in Aspen and Los Angeles, and has been working as an interior decorator since 2002.