The late Hugh Hefner was a complicated figure. A forward-thinking progressive on racial issues, his role in the sexual revolution — or the emancipatory nature of his role, maybe — is debatable at best. Gloria Steinem‘s report on her 11 days a a Playboy Bunny is one of the all-time great burns, an evisceration of a man who devoted his life to the dominance of the male gaze.
However, from 1969-70, Hefner hosted a TV show called Playboy After Dark, which basically furnished a penthouse apartment with attractive young people while Hef hung out with various cultural luminaries, shooting the breeze with Sonny & Cher or James Brown. It’s basically like a party that Megan Draper would have in a later season of Mad Men.
On one episode, a shy-looking 23-year-old Linda Ronstadt sang Bob Dylan’s “Walkin’ Down the Line,” and it’s a knockout performance — if you can stop yourself from rolling your eyes at Hef’s burgundy velvet tux and his pipe-smoking, anyway. Ronstadt can switch from a church-choir purity to a full-throated growl so easily, it’s breathtaking — especially when you hear how nervous she sounds chatting to Hefner afterward. So rather than vilify or commend the Playboy founder, we’ll just note that whatever else he did, he helped make these three minutes happen.
A Tucson native, Ronstadt would go on to live in San Francisco for many years. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012, and no longer sings. She also told The Guardian today that she doesn’t like any of her albums, although her three Trio records she cut with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton have sections she loves. Hopefully, she remembers this performance fondly.