Normally in 1979 I wouldn't watch something called "Playboy's Roller Disco and Pajama Party". I'm not a prude and I'm not judgmental about Hugh Hefner and his empire, but I just wasn't that interested. I was pretty young back then, and maybe I thought the subject matter was for older people, so I didn't pay attention.
The special itself is a fairly disjointed series of musical numbers (with the Village People, Chuck Mangione, and others), footage from Hefner's birthday party, extensive video of Playboy models rollerskating at the Playboy Mansion, shameless hamming from host Richard Dawson, dance and party sequences, brief comedy bits, and candid moments with Hefner and his guests. Wayland Flowers is really not very funny, Magione and his band are very good, the Village People do their usual thing, and it's interesting to see some Hollywood stars from a time long ago. The whole two-hour special is punctuated with almost nonstop, pulsating disco music, which was very popular at the time.
I've watched the special in recent years and I find it historically interesting and rather sad in a way. The program is interesting because it features a few people who are no longer with us, including Robert Culp, Wayland Flowers, Glenn Hughes of the Village People, and host Richard Dawson. Also appearing are Cheryl Tiegs, James Caan, Jim Brown, and Bill Cosby, who look awfully young in footage from almost 36 years ago. The real sadness comes from watching 19-year-old model Dorothy Stratten, who is prominently featured. As most of us know, she was murdered by her jealous husband about nine months after this special aired, prematurely ending a career that seemed destined for success.
While watching the special I found myself thinking of a more innocent time 36 years ago. Back in 1979 we didn't worry about terrorism, greenhouse gases, identity theft, genetically modified crops, artificial intelligence, Ebola, or computer viruses. We read our news in the morning paper and watched Walter Cronkite in the evening. There was no internet and PCs were expensive and still quite rare. People weren't constantly playing with their smart phones, and no one walked down the street with an iPad and ear buds. People back then seemed a lot more focused on their daily lives and enjoying themselves, and it's pretty obvious in this special. Even the commercials are very dated, and some of them would probably be denounced as insensitive, racist, or sexist today.
The late 1970s were a time of excess and indulgence, so this special summarized its time with great accuracy. The 1980s ushered in a much more restrained and conservative time, so the program depicted something of the last gasp of the 1970s, about five weeks before the 1980s began. It's obvious that this special would never air in our current politically correct time, since it would be denounced by feminists and its sponsors would be picketed and boycotted. Times have changed, and it's up to you to decide whether they've changed for the better.
PS--Sharp-eyed viewers will glimpse Peter Bogdanovich talking with Hefner in a long shot during one of the skating scenes. The two had a huge falling-out after Stratten's murder in 1980, and the animosity appears to linger to this day.
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