Arlene Nelson Brings Secrets to Light

Libby Slate

July 1, 2022

The dark stories she heard while shooting A&E's Secrets of Playboy led the cinematographer to infuse rays of hope.

Years before she worked on A&E's Secrets of Playboy, Arlene Nelson, ASC, filmed Hugh Hefner for the 2012 documentary Sunset Strip.

"He was very polite, very gentlemanly to me," Nelson says of the Playboy founder. "He complimented me at the end and said what a great experience it was, and that I was the first female cinematographer he had ever worked with."

Hefner's demeanor that day foreshadowed the dichotomy Nelson would explore as codirector and director of photography on codirector-showrunner Alexandra Dean's Secrets of Playboy. Hefner supported civil rights and women's causes, pushing his brand as a road to empowerment, liberation and freedom for women. But abuse that is alleged to have occurred at his homes — Playboy Mansions in Chicago and Los Angeles — led to drug overdoses, suicides and at the very least, PTSD among many of Hefner's girlfriends, employees and the famed Bunnies.