Holly Madison decided to write a book when she was excelling in her career — starring in the long-running Peepshow in Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood, as well as her own E! reality show Holly’s World — and yet fans would not stop asking her about Hugh Hefner and her time as his girlfriend in the Playboy Mansion.
“Women would come up to me, and say, ‘Don’t you miss the mansion?’ Or, ‘I’m sorry Hef didn’t marry you,'” Madison recalled during a recent interview at her home on a tree-lined Los Angeles street. “I was like, can’t you see I’m doing so much better on my own?”
It’s safe to say that after the revelations in Madison’s just-released Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, she has successfully squashed any such questions in the future. With little preamble — Madison and her collaborator, Leslie Bruce, know what the reader came for — Down the Rabbit Hole tells the story of Madison’s time with Hefner from 2001 to 2008 and its aftermath. The result reads like a celebrity memoir infused with The Bell Jar and Going Clear. Madison’s depression in the Playboy Mansion reached harrowing depths, yet she felt trapped there: by her fears about her limited professional possibilities, by her unwillingness to admit to anyone how sad she really was, and by Hefner’s emotional control over her.
The book also explicitly tears down an insidious thread in popular culture in which women have portrayed themselves on reality television as dumb and less than — a phenomenon Madison herself participated in during her time on The Girls Next Door, the E! reality show that chronicled part of her time with Hefner (and fellow Playmates/Hefner girlfriends Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt). In the author’s note, Madison writes, “Around the turn of the millennium, it became fashionable for women to appear stupid — to get by solely on their looks and to be concerned only with fame and materialism. Some of the effects of that moment in the zeitgeist still linger today.”
Down the Rabbit Hole, which on Wednesday made its debut on the New York Times‘ hardcover nonfiction bestseller list at No. 2, is not breezy fare. Sitting on her shaded patio overlooking her garden on a hot summer day, Madison, now 35, said, “I felt like I had something to say about being in the midst of that whole thing that was going on where Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson and Kendra were so celebrated — and I was a part of it too — for being dumb on TV. Part of the reason I wanted to write the book was to show the other side of it.”
Below, Madison talks about what you don’t know in regards to Hefner, her seedy years in the Playboy Mansion, and feminism.