Playboy Mansion's new owner said to be a homebody

LOS ANGELES • In June, when the 32-year-old co-owner of Hostess Brands plunked down US$100 million (S$134 million) for the Playboy Mansion, the snickering was instant: Hugh Hefner's pleasure palace had sold to the maker of snack cakes such as Twinkies and Ho Hos.

The buyer, Mr J. Daren Metropoulos, heir to a fortune built on Chef Boyardee meatballs, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer and Bumble Bee tuna, seemed to fit the playboy bill.

He was the kind of guy who, judging by a quick Web search, could put even Hefner to hard-partying shame. One photo showed the young tycoon posing with a PBR tall boy on a private jet while wearing sunglasses and a trucker hat. Another found him whooping it up at the Playboy Mansion with Snoop Dogg and several Playmates.

A sordid TMZ moment resurfaced - a former girlfriend, the 2002 Playmate of the Year, claimed in a 2009 lawsuit (since settled) that Mr Metropoulos had assaulted her - and a close relationship with his older brother only appeared to complete the picture.

As Mr Evan Metropoulos once told a nightlife reporter for The New York Times, as Daren lounged nearby, "I've been with more chicks than any fat guy you know, except Pavarotti". Classy.

But something did not quite add up. For a start, none of the usual suspects in Los Angeles knew this supposed mover and shaker.

Mr Metropoulos and his family, including the patriarch C. Dean Metropoulos, declined interview requests. So did Hefner.

Two real-estate agents who worked on the sale, which includes a stipulation that Hefner, 90, and his wife Crystal Harris, 30, can live in the mansion until his death, did not respond to queries, although a third agent involved, Mr Jeff Hyland, added an interesting tidbit: The Metropouloses had tried to buy the Playboy Mansion six years earlier and failed.

The people who agreed to speak on the record about Mr Daren Metropoulos - pictured on his company's website in a pinstriped suit against a row of serious-looking books - described him as a saintly homebody.

"He's not some bratty billionaire's son in any way, shape or form," said Mr Andrew van der Vord, co-head of consumer investment at Royal Bank of Canada, who helped the Metropouloses sell Pabst Brewing for US$700 million in 2014.

"Daren is a quiet, unassuming guy. He's very polite and considerate."

Purchased by Hefner in 1971 for about US$1 million, the 29-room, 2ha estate is replete with a zoo licence and year-round fireworks permit.

The stone house was built in 1927 for an heir to the Broadway and Bullock's department store fortune. Located off Sunset Boulevard, the property is valuable because it abuts the Los Angeles Country Club.

Neighbours include music mogul Jimmy Iovine and Google kingpin Eric Schmidt.

Whether hipster doofus or titan of industry - or a bit of both - Mr Metropoulos may have plans for the Playboy Mansion that go beyond what has been reported.

The official line is that Mr Metropoulos, with a passion for architecture and history, wants to restore the estate and connect it to his adjacent compound. He bought his current home from Hefner for $18 million in 2009.

In 2003, Mr Dean Metropoulos spent $10.9 million for the tattered Castle at Tarrytown in New York.

Mr Daren Metropoulos took a particular interest in the refurbishment, according to Mr Gilbert Baeriswil, the hotel's former general manager.

When he found out that Mr Metropoulos was buying the Playboy Mansion, Mr Baeriswil said he reached out to his former boss. "I told him: 'Wow, what a purchase. With all of those rooms, you're going to need an innkeeper,'" Mr Baeriswil recalled. "And he said: 'Sounds like a great idea. Let's put a plan together.'"

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Playboy Mansion's new owner said to be a homebody'. Print Edition | Subscribe