Date:Friday, January 1st, 2010
After graduating from Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, Benton headed to Los Angeles to begin a career in modeling for Valerie Cragin’s Flaire Agency in Beverly Hills to supplement her allowance.
During her late teens, Benton landed steady work on various television shows, and teamed up with Playboy magnate
Soon after she began playing the role of Hefner’s girlfriend on television series, Playboy After Dark, eighteen-yearold Benton found life imitating art when she became involved with Hefner who was forty-two-years-old at the time.
She met Hugh Hefner in 1968, when she was booked as “atmosphere” for his television show Playboy After Dark which filmed A-list entertainers performing in Hugh Hefner’s mansion surrounded by Playboy Playmates.
Benton said she pretended to be Hefner’s girlfriend for a couple of episodes and soon found herself living the role full time.
Shortly after meeting Hefner, at his suggestion, she changed her name to Barbi Benton. Benton was Hefner’s girlfriend and lived with him from 1969-1976. She also became a recording artist, a Las Vegas performer and a movie actress, with credits including Deathstalker, The Naughty Cheerleader and Hospital Massacre.
Besides the Hefner connection, Benton is best known for her years as a regular on the country music series Hee Haw, appearing in comic skits with other cast members.
She left the program after four seasons to concentrate on a more Hollywood-oriented career. She also starred in the short-lived ABC-TV comedy series Sugar Time! about an aspiring female rock group in 1977.
Benton was also a recording artist with some success. Her 1975 record, “Brass Buckles,” was a top five hit on Billboard’s country singles chart. Benton has recorded eight albums, the last of which she personally produced in 1979. She also composed the songs, sang them and played piano.
One of her better known songs was “Ain’t That Just the Way” in 1976, which was also a major hit for Lutricia McNeal in 1996, and was recorded by the Dutch singer Patricia Paay under the title Poor Jeremy in 1977.
Despite her association with Playboy, and especially its founder, Benton has never actually been featured as a Playmate of the Month centerfold in Playboy magazine, although she has graced the cover and appeared in various pictorials. In 2006, Benton’s life came full-circle when she met Hefner’s three main live-in bunnies during a guest appearance on the Playboy mansion reality-TV-show, The Girls Next Door.
Benton’s relationship with Hefner ended when it became apparent to her that Hefner was not interested in having children. In 1979, Benton married real estate developer, George Gradow, and the couple went on to have two children, Alexander and Ariana, both now in their late teens.
In addition to being Hefner’s main squeeze, Benton was also an actress throughout the 70s, appearing in such films as
Deathstalker in 1983, The Naughty Cheerleader in 1970, and Hospital Massacre. On the small screen, Benton appeared
regularly in Hee Haw, as well as the comedy series Sugar Time! in the late 70s.
In 1975, Benton released the album Brass Buckles, which landed in the top five on Billboard’s country singles chart. She went on to record seven more albums throughout the decade, which also featured her own song compositions and piano playing.
Benton also collaborated with Neil Sedaka, who co-wrote a song on one of her earlier albums. Benton married George Gradow, a successful real estate developer on October 14, 1979. The couple have two children, Alexander Benton Gradow (born August 23, 1986) and a daughter, Ariana (born 1988).
These days, Benton works as an interior designer, dividing her time between homes in Aspen, Colorado; and Oahu, Hawaii.