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Staying Power: the story of Barbi Benton


Staying Power: the story of Barbi Benton

Country music originated way back in the 1920s after getting inspiration from folk and blues music. As well as the music there have also been many television shows based around the genre such as ‘Nashville,’ ‘Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders,’ and ‘Party Down South.’ However, one television show that was doing it before it was even a thing was ‘Hee Haw.’ The show not only contained comedy skits but it also heavily focused on country music and that style of living, with one star conquering it all: model, singer, and actress Barbi Benton. With her success in both worlds, Barbi took the ‘70s by storm as she forged her career in the world of Hollywood.

However, Barbi wasn’t always set for a smooth ride, but through pure strength and determination, she has been able to use the decisions she had made to keep coming back time after time.

A multi-talent

Barbi Benton is sure a woman of many talents. While she started her career as a model, she aspired to be an actress and and a country singer and managed to succeed in both of these careers.

A multi-talent

Benton appeared in many television shows such as ‘Nashville,’ ‘Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders,’ ‘Party Down South’ and her most famous performance on ‘Hee Haw’. She also released a handful of singles as a singer in the country genre.

The early years

Barbara Lynn Klein was born on January 28, 1950, in New York City. However, the family made a move across the country to California when Benton was just aged two. Her father was working as a doctor during her childhood, but she chose not to follow in his footsteps.

The early years

By the time Barbi was 16 years old she had begun modelling while she was still in high school, with the long-term intentions of becoming a vet. However, Benton discovered she couldn’t handle the sight of blood.

Career change

With one career idea down the pan, it led Benton to pursue a career in the modelling world instead. At 18 years old she was offered the chance to co-host an entertainment show on television alongside Hugh Hefner.

Career change

The show only lasted one year, but it did give young Benton a chance to mingle with some famous faces. The whole idea behind the show was to as though they were hosting a party amidst interviewing the guests that were attending that evening.

Instant attraction

Despite the 24 year age gap between the two, Hefner asked the young model out on a date. Benton was unsure of how to answer the question as she was concerned what people would say but eventually agreed anyway.

Instant attraction

The relationship was a huge turning point for Benton as she was thrust into the limelight. It also was dating Hefner that caused her to change her name, as he insisted she went by Barbi Benton instead of her birth name.

Modelling work

The name change was suggested by Hefner as he thought that it would ensure Benton was able to achieve great things in the world of Hollywood. To start things off her new boyfriend gave Benton the chance to appear on the cover of his magazine in 1969.

Modelling work

Benton was reportedly very nervous and shy while on photo shoots, to begin with, even going as far as to ask the photographer to turn around when she changed positions, so they didn’t see her.

Country humor

As her modeling career was beginning to blossom, Benton was offered the chance to rekindle her career on the small screen; she was offered a role on the show ‘Hee Haw’ in 1970. The show featured variety acts alongside country music, that was all set in the fictional land of ‘Kornfield Kounty.’

Country humor

Benton’s role on the show was not limited to acting as she also sung a few songs as well as bringing Hugh Hefner in for a special guest appearance.

Time for change

Benton became famous for her comedic acting roles in the various comedy sketches she got involved with on the show. Becoming a household name saw acting offers come in for the young star including her first movie role.

Time for change

During 1970 Benton was cast in ‘The Naughty Cheerleader,’ a German comedy film that was based on a novel. Benton took on the part of Lynn Keefe who left her home in search of finding the perfect husband.

Real estate knowledge

Benton had experience in the real estate world and set about putting it to good use in the ‘70s by helping Hefner find the legendary Playboy Mansion! In fact, Benton (with the help of her mother) was the person that talked Hafner into going to view the house before he made the purchase.

Real estate knowledge

There was only one condition on the cards with him buying the property – Benson wanted to be able to move in with Hefner. He quickly agreed meaning the pair had a brand new million dollar home.

Cover girl material

Benton was destined to be a cover girl as she got her third chance at starring as the cover girl on Hefner’s magazine in 1972. She was also able to get herself spreads in the magazine itself twice which were both a huge success.

Cover girl material

Even though Benton’s shoots were always a huge success, alongside the fact she was in a serious relationship with the creator of the magazine, she was never named the Playmate of the month.

Supporting role

Another movie role came along for Benton during 1973 when Benton was offered one of the supporting roles in the film ‘Third Girl from the Left.’ Benton played the character, Melanie, as the film focuses on the main character realizing she wants to change her life before she grows too old to do so.

Supporting role

The film was produced by Hugh Hefner, and was fairly well received by critics at the time, but wasn’t Benton’s best role of her career according to reviews.

Modelling role with a twist

Benton was able to put a spin on her usual modeling career as she entered the world of beauty pageants for her role in ‘American Beauty Contest’ during 1973. Benton took on the role of Miss Iowa, as the film’s plot followed a feminist that enters the contest in the hopes of winning so she can deliver a hard-hitting speech on exploiting women. Once again the movie was a modest success, but it did leave critics questioning whether the writers got the initial point across.

Modelling role with a twist

Musical debut

Benton took her skills to a new height when she began singing, going on to release her debut album in 1974. The album was titled ‘Barbi Doll’ and featured the model singing country music songs, such as ‘Welcome Stranger’ and ‘That Country Boy of Mine.’

Musical debut

The album was a modest success, but it was the following year in which Benton was able to make a big name for herself in country music after she released her next album.

Chart success

Barbi Benton’s self-titled album was released in 1975 which contained songs such as ‘He Used to Sing to Me’ and ‘Brass Buckles.’ The album managed to climb its way into the top five in the country music charts – the highest that any of her albums managed to reach.

Chart success

Benton’s songs began featuring her playing the piano as well as writing her own music which appeared to be a major hit with her fans. The following year she went on to release her third album titled ‘Something New.’

The breakup

Sadly, during 1976 Hugh Hefner and Barbi Benton split up. Although the public had thought that the pair would end up married, there were too many issues that meant they could no longer be together.

The breakup

Benton desperately wanted to get married and have a family but knew that Hefner was never going to be happy to commit to a relationship that serious, so the pair decided to part ways. Hefner once described the split as the worst decision he made, even commenting on Benton being the one that got away.

Guest star

During her acting career, Barbi Benton was able to land regular guest roles in popular television shows. She appeared in ‘The Love Boat’ which ran for nine years from 1977. The series had a rom-com theme as it followed a cruise ship and its passengers through various storylines.

Guest star

Benton also landed roles in ‘Fantasy Island’ that ran for seven years from 1977 too. This show was based on visitors to an island being granted their fantasies if they paid enough to the mysterious man that lived on the island.

Starring role

At the same time as landing guest roles, Barbi Benton was able to get herself a part in a show that really threw her into the limelight. During 1977 the television show ‘Sugar Time!’ was released on ABC.

Starring role

The series followed an all-girl rock group as they tried to make it in the music world, with Benton as the leading character, Maxx Douglas. However, the show only lasted two seasons, with two of the episodes never being aired before it was canceled.

Husband material

Benton had finally met her true love, and in 1979 Barbi Benton and George Gradow were married. The two met when George’s friend had questioned when he would find himself a wife, to which he replied when he had met someone that resembled Barbi Benton; George had fallen in love with her from the television.

Husband material

Luckily for George his friend’s mother knew Barbi’s mom so arranged a date for the couple – and the rest, as they say, is history! The pair began dating but were engaged after only a few months together.

True love

George Gradow often speaks of how in love with his wife he is, even saying he goes to sleep every night commenting on how lucky he is to have someone by his side like Barbi. However, Benton reported how they have built their relationship on how well their lives fit together, as well as the practicality of them being married rather than emotions.

True love

The difference in opinions seems to cause some fundamental issues, but it appears as though regardless of how it works, both halves are happy.

Wrong decisions

During an interview in 1980, Benton expressed her feelings that she thought she had been making the wrong decisions for her career. One talent agent even told her that she was too famous to audition for a role in ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’

Wrong decisions

The setback led Benton to question whether she had followed the correct path in life, as she was never able to make it big in any area of the entertainment business she entered. It wasn’t until she met George Gradow that Benton was given the push to succeed.

Film success

1982 saw Barbi Benton back on the big screen as she played the starring role in ‘Hospital Massacre.’ The slasher was met with mixed reviews at the time, but critics have gone on to say how as horror films of the time go it wasn’t the worst (high praise indeed…).

Film success

The movie’s plot follows Barbi Benton playing the leading role of Susan Jeremy, who has to fight her way out of a hospital operating theater after a former lover managed to lure her there.

Magical movie

In 1983 Benton was offered another starring role in a movie, with yet another different genre type to her previous work. The film ‘Deathstalker’ gave Benton a chance to bring her unique character, Princess Codille, to life.

Magical movie

The movie brought in more than $11 million at the box office as the fantasy adventure was released during a time when magical genres were becoming a huge market. The movie went on to have three sequels, but unfortunately, Benton’s character was killed in the first film (spoilers), so she didn’t make a reappearance.

Still close

Some people may not be happy with their partners working with ex-lovers. However, Hefner and Benton shared a special relationship that lasted until the very end. George Gradow luckily didn’t have a bad word to say (at least it appears he didn’t) about Hefner, so he was comfortable with the pair continuing to work together.

Still close

It was a good thing too, as in 1985 Benton starred on the final cover of her career for Hefner’s magazine.

Sound of little feet

Barbi and George welcomed their first child Alexander Benton Gradow on August 23, 1986. Two years later the couple were blessed with a daughter named Ariana Gradow, born in 1988. The two children reportedly spent a lot of time visiting Hugh’s mansion during their childhood, as well as receiving many generous offerings from Hugh Hefner himself.

Sound of little feet

In 2011, Ariana was the star of one of the episodes of MTV’s show ‘Cribs’ as she showcased the family home to the world.

New job role

In recent years Benton has taken on a new career that has seen her get plenty of recognition after the success of her property purchase in the ‘70s, only this time Benton focuses on the inside of the houses as she has been working as an interior decorator since 2002.

New job role

The last 15 years has been a complete change of scenery for the former model, but one that has opened up a realm of new possibilities for Benton. One of which is her ability to now work alongside her husband George.

Perfect lives

George and Barbi were often shown to have the perfect family life. To go with their image the couple bought a mansion in California that contained 28 different rooms as well as a swimming pool. The pair later went on to put the home up for an incredible $3.7 million.

Perfect lives

They then went on to live in various homes, each more glamorous than the last, until they settled in Los Angeles. However, while here they hit some bumps in the road that could have torn the family apart.

Legal troubles

George Gradow, unfortunately, found himself on the wrong side of the law in 2011 while the couple were living in LA. George had got himself into tax trouble over the years which ultimately ended in him having to serve out a sentence in jail.

Legal troubles

The legal fees forced the couple to put their expensive home on the market for $17 million, but this later had to be dropped to $12 million. Since being released from prison, the couple have been stronger than ever.

Strong accusations

During 2014 Benton publicly spoke for the first time about certain things she witnessed during her time inside the mansion. Benton talked about how the comedian Bill Cosby frequently visited the estate during the ‘60s and ‘70s while his pregnant wife was at home.

Strong accusations

While she chose not to disclose the name of the woman Cosby was visiting, Benton did reveal some rather horrifying details about what was going on once the doors of the mansion were closed.

Telling the truth

The mansion was never intended to be a place of inappropriate behavior as Benton spoke about how movie nights were held every week with free dinners to all the celebrities that attended the parties.

Telling the truth

Benton accused Cosby of being involved with inappropriate behavior among the house residents; even though Bill Cosby was allegedly best friends with Hugh Hefner. Hefner stated he didn’t know anything about what was going on and would never have tolerated it if he knew even though the pair were very close friends.

Sad passing

Barbi Benton and Hugh Hefner had remained friends their whole lives, even after their split over four decades ago. Benton also visited Hefner six months before he tragically passed away in 2017. She has since gone on to publicly speak of her distress at the idea of the mansion she once resided in being turned into a museum to commemorate the entrepreneur.

Sad passing

Benton has not only spoken of Hefner’s hatred of the idea but how it would quickly get shut down by complaints from local residents.

Hollywood flop

Benton has spoken about how the choices she made over the course of her career drastically affected her future, as she was unable to reach the level of fame she so desperately wanted to achieve. Even though she was able to reach star status, Benton was never able to get into the Hollywood limelight that she had dreamt of as a child.

Hollywood flop

Although she didn’t achieve the career possibilities she thought may be possible, Benton has still carved an incredible career over the years.

A normal life

Barbi Benton now chooses to spend her time out of the media’s attention so she can focus on her family and interior design career. However, she has spoken out since the death of her friend as well as given interviews about her time inside Playboy.

A normal life

Benton has tried to give up the Hollywood lifestyle though as her and her husband, George, now split their time between living in Los Angeles and Aspen, as they own homes in both cities.