Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries

First Written for Shiny New Books

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Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention

 

Holly Madison is best known for her seven years at the Playboy Mansion and for her position as Hugh Hefner’s ‘Number One’ girlfriend. With The Vegas Diaries, the second instalment of her autobiography, she sets out to change perceptions of herself and her work to become the person she always wanted to be.

The Vegas Diaries is the follow up to the surprise number one bestseller Down the Rabbit Hole (reviewed here) from the former playboy model and girlfriend, in which she made it clear that she did not want to do a kiss and tell and had only entered this process in order to set the record straight. She kicked off her new life with a stint on Dancing with the Stars before going on to the lead role in burlesque show Peepshow. Here she took on the mantle of lead with aplomb, going on to revitalise the Bo Peep inspired show making it one of the most popular spots on the strip while starring as the lead for the longest ever time, truly making the show her own. Her own reality show soon followed. Madison candidly navigates Las Vegas’s social and dating scene. Her last memoir followed an Alice in Wonderland theme, and  for this one it is the Wizard of Oz; each chapter beginning with a quote and the roughly central theme of finding oneself in Oz before finding home.

The first way in which she sets out to do this is through burlesque. Having had a love affair with the art form for many years she finally has the chance to dive head first into the genre. Taking on the headline role at burlesque show Peepshow Madison was responsible for reinvigorating the brand and turning it into Vegas’s number one hot spot. Her interest in burlesque first began in her twenties when she went to a show with Hefner and the other Playboy girls. It offered a refreshingly individual and vital alternative to the blonde, pink lipped beauty expected of her at the time. ‘Sitting around our VIP table was one bottle-blond fembot after the next, clad in some version of the same outlandish bustier, and all slightly dead behind the eyes. In burlesque, a woman could be both sexy and unique’. Alongside this Madison tries to position herself as an empowered independent woman on a journey of self-discovery. Burlesque fits into this perfectly. ‘The independent women who used burlesque as an artistic outlet to celebrate their creativity and their femininity on their terms and in their own unique way. Deep down, that was who I wanted to be’.

The Vegas Diaries begin after she left the Playboy Mansion. When discussing her former life with her friends the germ of an idea to write her story started to grow. She had this to say on why she hadn’t talked before that: ‘I had to accept that I kept quiet about my life at the mansion because I was ashamed. I kept quiet because I wanted people to believe the fantasy version because for so long I wanted to believe the fantasy’.

Vegas may seem like an unusual place to begin a new life but after having survived seven years at the Playboy Mansion the glitz, glamour of Sin City must have been appealing. For some people a Playboy history is something to be proud of and exploit, for others it is something to overcome. Madison uses The Vegas Diaries to try and plant herself firmly in the latter category: ‘attempting to shed the Playboy stigma and asking people to reconsider how they viewed me was an uphill battle’. It is up to the reader how much they buy into this. As a part of her reinvention she has latched onto the idea of female self-empowerment. Whether this provides a feminist story of self saviour will be left for each individual reader to decide. However, the stark difference between her Vegas life, in which she lives and dies on her own abilities, compared to the Mansion, is interesting.

Although she makes it clear from the start that she does not wish to embarrass or publicise others Madison does detail her love affairs with the same humour and honesty that marked Down the Rabbit Hole. This does however limit the interest for those searching for scandalous Vegas gossip as she gives pseudonyms to her partners. She is insightful and does not let herself off, particularly in her retelling of her relationship with Mark. There is some slight overlap with Down the Rabbit Hole, but The Vegas Diaries are angled to show how she worked her way to independence and self-esteem. This does not have the same weight and interest as her previous volume but is an entertaining read nonetheless. The book closes just before she met her husband and gave birth to her daughter. This was either done to mark the point that she had achieved her aim, or the cynic could suggest that it is to leave the door open for a further volume.

The Vegas Diaries is lighter on gossip but provides more insight into her life, circle of friends and love life. A fair amount of this has been covered in her previous book and reality series, as well as in the tabloids, and there is some overlap with the last quarter of Down the Rabbit Hole. As a result of this, this one may be more for fans than the casual reader. It is definitely more for fans of Holly than Playboy.

 

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention (Dey Street Books,  2017). 978-006245714, 288 pp., paperback.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: CURIOUS ADVENTURES AND CAUTIONARY TALES OF A FORMER PLAYBOY BUNNY BY HOLLY MADISON

First Written for Shiny New Books 2016

I always thought it would be classy to not kiss and tell … but after a while you just get sick of having other people trying to tell your story for you.”

rabbit hole

This is how Madison addresses at the beginning of her autobiography what is probably the first thought everyone has when a celebrity announces they are going to sell their story. Why and why now? The memoir caused a sensation when first released in America and the discussion around it doesn’t seem likely to dim as she takes the reader behind the scenes of the once mysterious Playboy Mansion and the man who reigns over it: her former boyfriend, octogenarian pornographer Hugh Hefner.

Madison grew up in small town Oregon before trying her luck in LA. Waitressing and studying at college she found herself in difficult financial circumstances when an opportunity presented itself to live at the Playboy Mansion. This would involve becoming one of Hefner’s girlfriends. At first she was one of seven. By the time the top rated behind the scenes reality TV show Girls of the Playboy mansion went to air she was now the number one of three girlfriends, alongside Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson. The show was a hit, introducing Madison to a wide audience. When she finally left the mansion after seven years she found she was still only known for her association to Playboy, almost tainted by it. She went on to star in her own E! reality show Holly’s World which followed Madison as she began her new life. After leaving the Mansion she embarked on an ill-fated love affair with illusionist Criss Angel, before becoming a hit on Dancing With the Stars. Then her chance to find success independently came along as she headlined the popular Las Vegas burlesque show Peepshow, at Planet Hollywood to great acclaim. All of this is covered in depth in the memoir.

In Girls of the Playboy Mansion Madison was widely perceived to be in love with Hefner, with hopes of marriage and children. In the end however they broke up. Madison discusses this in her book, answering the question of whether she was really in love and what it was like in practice to be one of several girlfriends to the ageing lothario. On this point her account differs somewhat to the programme. Whether this is down to clever video editing or Madison is trying to reclaim and retell her story one cannot be sure.

This candid and detailed memoir goes much further than Girls of the Playboy Mansion ever did. Through living at the Mansion Madison quickly lost her sense of identity, connections to the outside world, self-worth and hope for her future which resulted in some very dark lows. At her darkest she considered ending it all. “Maybe it was the pot and the alcohol, but drowning myself seemed like the logical way to escape the ridiculous life I was leading.” The double edged sword that is fame and the life she chose is explored with clarity. In the end she takes charge of her life and digs her own way out of the rabbit hole, creating her own happy ending.

Those looking for gossip and behind the scene anecdotes to life and the Playboy Mansion and her relationships with the other girls will find that aplenty. Depictions of the happenings in his bedroom are detailed and enlightening. Her portrayal of Hefner differs significantly from the image of himself that he presents to the media; coming across as old fashioned, manipulative and jealous. She also delves into her relationship with the other girls of the Mansion. First the many other girlfriends she was in competition with and finally the two who became with Madison Hefner’s main girlfriends: Marquardt and Wilkinson. Rumoured tension between Madison and Wilkinson is addressed in an impersonal, short and matter of fact manner near the end of the book.

If the Playboy Mansion seemed bizarre before Madison’s account is only going to enhance this idea. She discusses the dated décor, the hierarchy that existed between the different girlfriends, the 9pm curfew and the undignified lining up to be given their allowance and hear any complaints against them. Those living at the Mansion had to follow a strict code of conduct. The stories of sex, drugs, abuse and rivalry are both shocking and surprising.

Cleverly Madison avoids the pitfall that many autobiographies fall into and only gives a short amount of space to her early life, aware that what the reader is looking for comes later. Madison treads the fine line between telling her story and descending into scandalous point scoring largely successfully. She is a capable writer (no ghost writer is credited) and the chapters skip along. It is very easy to find you have started the book and next thing you know you are a hundred pages in. Madison comes across very well, as an intelligent, hardworking and friendly individual. Although many will have difficulty with the life path she chose for herself Down the Rabbit Hole sounds more like a cautionary tale than a how to guide. She does not encourage others to follow in her footsteps but instead re-examines her life as she takes charge and rediscovers herself. Down the Rabbit Hole is a juicy and unpredictable memoir that has much to offer fans and the curious alike.

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Holly Madison, Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny (Harper Collins, 2016). 978-0062372116. 334pp., paperback.