Hefner Ads Too Close for College’s Comfort

Times Staff Writer

Thomas Aquinas College is known for its Great Books curriculum that focuses exclusively on the original texts of Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare and other great thinkers who helped shape Western civilization.

Needless to say, Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine are not on the reading list.

More importantly, Hefner and all he stands for are not something the respected Catholic institution in Ventura County wants to be associated with, officials said.

That is why Andrew Puzder, president and chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns Carl’s Jr. and has featured Hefner in recent commercials, resigned this week from the college’s board of governors.


“Thomas Aquinas College stands for principles that are in direct conflict with those of Hefner and Playboy,” college President Thomas Dillon said Thursday in a statement. “I spoke with Mr. Puzder yesterday about this issue, and it was agreed that he would resign from the college’s board, effective immediately.”

Puzder was unavailable for comment, said corporate spokeswoman Christie Cooney.

Puzder joined the 26-member college board in January 1998 when his predecessor, company founder Carl Karcher, retired. Karcher is a devout Catholic who has given generously to the small, liberal arts college, said Anne Forsyth, director of college relations. “We’ve retained great admiration for Carl Karcher and have a close relationship with him,” she said.

At issue is a TV advertising campaign launched this month by Carpinteria-based CKE starring the 77-year-old Playboy founder.

In one 30-second spot that he shares with three young women, Hefner, wearing his trademark silk pajamas, flashes his Cheshire cat grin and talks about his love of variety.

“People always ask me, ‘Hey, Hef, do you have favorites?’ ” he says, coyly. “I tell them no. It’s not about that. I love them all. It just depends what I’m in the mood for.”

Hefner then proceeds to devour a bacon cheeseburger, while a narrator comments, “Some guys don’t like the same thing night after night.”


Puzder explained the decision to tap Hefner as a spokesman for the fast-food chain in a Nov. 3 statement announcing the new campaign.

“Who better to deliver the message of variety than Hugh Hefner,” Puzder said. “We’re appealing to an audience of young, hungry guys who expect a quality product but want to have something different from time to time. As a pop icon, Hefner appeals to our target audience and credibly appeals to our message of variety.”

But the message is a far cry from the one promoted by the 300-student college that sits in an isolated, emerald green valley between Santa Paula and Ojai.

The four-year school, known for its collection of rare texts, offers a classical education steeped in books from ancient Greece through the Renaissance and beyond. The college’s course work is designed to teach students to think, reason and contemplate the great questions of the ages, Dillon has said.

The college also adheres to its own strict code of conduct. There is no visitation between the same-sex dorms and Masses are said three times a day.

“It’s common knowledge that Hugh Hefner and Playboy stand for hedonism and unbridled pleasure-seeking, and that is impossible to reconcile with what we stand for,” Forsyth said. “We are a Catholic college and we take that Catholicism seriously. It is an essential part of what we are. We try to encourage our tutors and students alike to pursue a life of intellectual and moral virtue in a community strengthened and safeguarded by a strong spiritual code.”


Carl Olson, editor of the Catholic magazine Envoy, said he was pleased the college took a stand against the Hefner ads but said it would not stop Carl’s Jr. or other companies from using sexually suggestive material to sell products.

“It bothers us that a company founded by a Catholic would be using a man in their commercials known to the world because of his pornography,” Olson said. “He’s equating a variety of burgers with a variety of sexual partners. What is the connection between selecting a burger and your sex life? It really takes the term ‘meat market’ to a different level.”