And most importantly, does she have any regrets? Sit back and get ready to read all about the beautiful Barbi Benton.
Born to Be Barbi
Barbi was born in 1950 in New York as Barbara Lynn Klein. Her father was a gynecologist and her mother was an investment counselor. Both were of Jewish descent.
As a kid, she enjoyed many different activities such as piano lessons and scuba diving. She even got her headstart as a model, working as a tearoom model while she was still in school.
While she was born in the city of New York, she actually grew up in Sacramento, California. At first, she intended to work with animals, so she registered at UCLA, hoping to study to become a veterinarian.
Soon enough, she learned that the reality of veterinary medicine is very different than the dream. She realized that she could not stand seeing blood, so she dropped out of school. Barbi now had to find a new career path.
The Offer That Changed Everything
By the time she was 16, she already had modeling experience. At 18, she was offered a job with Playboy which she decided to take. The offer was to work on a TV show called "Playboy After Dark."
The show ran from 1969 to 1970 and it gave audiences a glimpse into what parties at the Playboy mention looked like.
Hefner Fell in love
Not many know that Benton started out as an extra on the show. But, soon enough, Hugh Hefner noticed her and felt a spark. As he started falling in love with her, her role in the show got bigger and she became a co-host.
Rumor has it that after she recorded two episodes, Hugh asked if he could take her on a date. Her response to that question was not typical, to say the least.
The Story of How They Began Dating
Usually, when a person asks you out you know whether you want to date them or not, but it seems that in this case, Barbi wasn't sure. She replied to Hugh saying that she was not sure, as she has never dated anyone who was older than 24.
Hefner, 42 years old at the time replied that neither has he. The clever response seems to have been enough for her, and they began spending more time together.
Meeting Big Names
Working for Playboy had its benefits. While working as a co-host in "Playboy After Dark" she got to meet an endless amount of huge celebrities. They came on the show as party guests, but they also gave interviews.
Barbi met Jerry Lewis, Ike and Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead, and Deep Purple, to name just a few.
Changing Her Name
The relationship between Hefner, then in his 40s, and Barbi, who was only 18, lasted years. This meant that Barbi took center stage when it came to the Playboy enterprise.
But, according to Hefner, if she really wanted to make it big, she had to change her name. While we think that Barbara Klein is a great name, Hugh wanted her to change it to Barbi Benton, so she did.
Playboy Mansion West
Hefner wasn't the only one to do some convincing in the relationship. It has been said that Barbi was the one who convinced him to purchase what is known as the Playboy Mansion West in 1974.
Located in Holmby Hills, this mansion is where Hefner lived until his death in 2017. Today the house is owned by Daren Metropoulos. It is sometimes used as a filming location for TV shows and movies.
Rumor has it that when Benton told Hefner he should get the property, she had one condition. She told him that she and the house come together, and asked if she could live with him in the beautiful mansion.
This means that Barbi found herself living in a beautiful home in Los Angeles, one that was worth over 1$ million.
Appearing on the Cover
At this point, it felt like everything was looking up for her. Hefner decided to give her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She was to appear on the cover of Playboy.
It was July of 1969 and Barbi could be seen sporting bikini bottoms on the famous magazine's front cover. Benton felt shy during the shoot, asking the photographer to look away whenever she had to shift from one pose to another.
If you love Barbi, then you probably already know everything there is to know about "Hee Haw." It was a variety TV show that aired from 1969 to 1971 on CBS. The show featured sketches, many of them centering on the topic of country music and rural life.
Benton got to participate in the show's short comedy sketches, a fact that started both her acting and singing career.
Hugh on "Hee Haw"
While on "Hee Haw," Barbi could prove to the world that she could do more than just modeling. Those who tuned in to watch the show saw that she's also a talented actress and singer.
Hefner would come and visit his girlfriend while she was filming on set, and as the two were already used to working together, he even ended up being a special guest on the show.
The Naughty Cheerleader
In 1970 Benton was set to star in a West German movie titled "The Naughty Cheerleader." Known in German as "How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into This Business?" The film was a comedy based on a novel of the same name.
She starred as a woman named Lynn Keefe. Lynn was a woman on a quest to find the perfect husband.
The Great American Beauty Contest
In 1973 Benton was cast in a comedic TV movie called "The Great American Beauty Contest." She filled the role of Miss Iowa and got to act alongside Farah Fawcett and Eleanor Parker.
The plot centers around a feminist who decided to join a beauty contest in order to win and get to deliver a speech about the mistreatment of women.
"The Love Boat"
Not many remember that Barbi was actually on the popular show "The Love Boat." The show, which is a staple of American television, followed the captain and the crew of a cruise ship.
It ran from 1977-1986. Barbi appeared more than once, in different roles each time. These roles included a nudist who likes to sunbathe as well as a friend of a guest.
"Fantasy Island" ran from 1977 to 1984 and aired on ABC. This fantasy drama show featured a mysterious man named Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán) who fulfilled guests' wishes for money.
This peculiar-yet-intriguing concept was enough to make the show last for seven full seasons. Barbi guest starred and played roles such as Bunny Kelly and Dee Dee Verona.
In 1974 Barbi released her debut album cleverly titled "Barbi Doll." Benton proved to everyone she can do more than just carry a tune with songs like "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep With You" and "That Country Boy of Mine."
The album didn't fail miserably but it also wasn't a high commercial success. However, that wasn't the last the public would hear of Barbi's voice.
In 1975 she released yet another album, simply titled "Barbi Benton" and this one took off. It even scored one of the top five spots on Billboard's country music singles chart. She went on to record three more albums called "Something New," "Ain't That Just the Way," and "Kinetic Voyage."
Not many know that Barbi started playing the piano as well as writing some of her own music. Sadly, not many people even remember her for her music today.
In 1976, after seven years of dating, Hugh Hefner and Barbi Benton parted ways. The main reason for the breakup was that the two had very different life goals.
Benton wanted to get married and start a family, something no one could imagine Hugh doing. Many years later Hefner admitted he was very sad when the relationship came to an end, even saying that he regretted the decision.
Now that she was no longer dating Hugh Hefner, Benton was ready to try and find her prince charming, one that is willing to settle down with her. In comes George Gradow, who was a real estate developer.
Gradow saw Barbi on TV and like many other men, had a crush on her, but she had no idea who he was. So how did the two end up meeting?
A Meeting of Chance
A friend of George's asked him if he would ever get married. He jokingly replied that he would, only if he found himself a woman like Barbi Benton. This friend's mother happened to know Barbi Benton's mother.
When they finally met, Barbi actually interviewed George for the position of manager, not a boyfriend. But, soon enough they started dating, and not too long after they got engaged.
Lucky in Love
The happy couple ended up marrying in 1979. Unlike other Hollywood couples, these two still seem to be going strong. While there are always challenges when a famous person dates someone with a normal lifestyle, it seems to be working just great for these two.
Gradow has even been quoted saying that he feels like the luckiest man alive. If you asked Barbi for marriage advice she'd say that it's hard work and that many times it's about being practical rather than emotional.
Could Benton's career have been different? Did she take some wrong turns that prevented her from being a bigger star? Barbi gave an interview in 1980 in which she revealed that there were many heartbreaking "almosts" in her career.
One such example was the fact she never auditioned for "The Dukes of Hazzard" as her agent claimed she was too famous for that film. Looking back, she regrets taking advice from people who didn't really care for her.
Another Film Role
Despite missing out on a lot of things, Benton did get a leading role in a slasher flick. Titled "Hospital Massacre," the movie is about a woman named Susan Jeremy, who is being stalked while visiting a hospital to pick up some test results.
As you can imagine from the title, chaos ensues. Barbi was praised for her role, but overall critics weren't impressed with the film, which they felt lacked depth.
Her Last Cover
In 1985 Barbi shot her last Playboy cover. She was already 35 at this point, but the public was still as interested in her as they were when she first appeared on the cover.
She was already married to George at the time, but we can only assume he was unbothered by that. Could you imagine the awkward phone call made by Hugh Hefner to the Benton-Gradow residence?
In August of 1986, Barbi finally got to fulfill her ultimate dream of becoming a mother. On the 23rd of the month, she and her husband welcomed Alexander Benton Gradow into the world.
Two years later, in 1988, a little girl by the name of Ariana joined the family. Along with her husband and two children, Barbi had the picture-perfect family she had always dreamed of.
Pool Parties With Hefner
If we asked you to name kid-friendly activities, we bet pool parties at the Playboy mansion would not cross your mind. But, for Barbi's children, such a party was a regular occurrence. Hefner often spoiled the children with gifts.
In 2011, Ariana made her TV debut when she appeared on MTV'S "Cribs". The house that she showed on the show was the Benton-Gardow family home, of course.
Barbi the Designer
After many years in the limelight, it seems like Barbi has had enough. She was a mother of two when she decided to get back to the workforce in 2002, so it makes sense she didn't want to work in show business anymore. Instead, she turned to interior design, working alongside an architect Bart Prince.
As her husband is a real estate developer, she also got to work with him, something she enjoyed very much.
Looking at Barbi and George's relationship, it seems like it's a dream come true. The two have already spent several decades together and acquired many luxury homes. They have a fancy one which even contained a nightclub inside of it.
They also purchased a seven-bedroom home in L.A. Everything seemed perfect, but their American dream was almost shattered when they faced some struggles that could have ended thier marriage.
Troubles With the IRS
In 2006 George Gradow found himself in some serious trouble. He was found guilty of hiding his income and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Benton could have left at that moment, but instead, she opted to stay with her beloved husband.
Gradow also had to pay back a lot of money, which is why the couple had to sell their L.A. home.
Telling It All
Barbi Benton used to live at the Playboy Mansion and just like with any other girl who lived there, everybody wanted her to tell all the juicy details.
For most of her career, she has kept quiet about the mansion, but in 2014 she finally opened up about it. What she told came as no surprise to some people, but completely shocked others.
On one hand, Benton said she thinks that people have the wrong impression of what it's like in the mansion. She said it wasn't a party house, but the home of her and Hefner. On the other hand, she couldn't deny that Hugh loved to party with his celebrity friends.
One such friend was Bill Cosby, who, according to Benton would come over a lot to party.
Despite the fact that the two broke up in 1976 Hefner and Barbi stayed close for decades later, even after she got married and had children. The last time she saw him was about six months before his passing.
In 2017, Hefner took his last breath, and Barbi, who always had a soft spot for him, was overwhelmed with sadness.
A Hugh Museum?
After Hugh's passing, there were talks about what to do with his beloved mansion. Some suggested it should be turned into a museum, honoring Hefner's life and the Playboy brand.
When Benton heard about this she rejected the idea saying she thinks there was no way the neighbors would approve of such a thing. More importantly, she's sure Hugh would have hated it.
Living With No Regrets
While Barbi was just as talented, even if not even more than many other 70s starlets, her career never really took off as much as it could have. Still, if you ask her about her life she'll tell you she has no regrets.
Sure, she used to have a glamorous life back when she was young, but today she enjoys nothing more than spending time with her husband and kids. People still recognize her on the street from time to time, and she still enjoys talking about her time in Hollywood but at the end of the day she's happy with where she is.