Joan Smith: Bad luck, Hef – the bunny's hopped it

The jilting of the original Playboy

Discovering on the eve of your wedding that your prospective bridegroom is still seeing other women might come as a shock. But I can't help feeling it should have been a less-than-seismic event for Crystal Harris, 25, who turned down the opportunity to become Mrs Hugh Hefner at a lavish ceremony in the Playboy mansion yesterday.

The former Playmate of the Month (December 2009, if you wish to consult your archive) pulled out of the wedding last week and gave a tearful TV interview, astounding the world with the revelation that "I wasn't the only woman in Hugh Hefner's life".

In other breaking news, it also turns out that Henry VIII had a bit of a roving eye, although sadly his contemporaries were denied his thoughts about matrimony on Twitter. The Playboy founder responded manfully to being jilted, tweeting that he hadn't seen it coming but "I'm glad things went wrong before the marriage instead of after". I can see why Hefner, 85, is relieved to have escaped the prospect of decades (ahem) of marital disharmony, but the cancelled wedding has caused red faces at Playboy magazine. Executives are frantically trying to fix "runaway bride" stickers to the latest issue which features Harris with a jaunty sailor cap and pipe – no, I don't know why either – and describes her as "Mrs Crystal Hefner". Technically, indeed prophetically, this form of address suggests she's already divorced, but I don't suppose they worry about such details at Playboy.

Playboy has been around for nearly 60 years. Its founder has aged and so has his ideology of faux-sexual liberation, overtaken by gender equality on the one hand and a rapacious commercial sex industry on the other. For years there's been something vampiric about this elderly man, shuffling along in pyjamas and dressing gown but still casting a critical eye over "girls" who weren't even born when he launched his career as America's most swinging bachelor. Hefner was actually married when he founded Playboy in 1953 and he didn't get divorced until six years later, but in the drab post-war world he offered American men a vision of themselves as perpetual consumers: of apartments, flashy cars, vacations and women.

He amassed a fortune and enjoyed a lifestyle most of his readers could only aspire to, but he also surrounded himself with acolytes who seem never to have warned him what an absurd figure he was becoming. His decrepit appearance at the recent reopening of the Playboy club in London was a brilliant metaphor, a reminder that his "philosophy" is long past its sell-by date.

The original Playboy bunnies were expected to abide by a code that might have drawn approving nods from the religious police in one of the more liberal Arab dictatorships, permitting them to "converse briefly with patrons, provided that conversation is limited to a polite exchange of pleasantries". Hefner flatters himself that his ludicrous empire was at the forefront of liberal values and it's true that there was a moment, probably circa 1965, when he was briefly in step with some of the aims of the sexual revolution. But that was before a new generation of feminists emerged and proposed that modern women should have more adventurous erotic ambitions than being nude centrefolds or glorified waitresses.

I can't say I blame Harris for rejecting another alternative, becoming the third Mrs Hugh Hefner. She's had to forgo the strawberry wedding cake and the party at the Playboy mansion, but every cloud has a silver lining. My advice is to dump the sailor cap, get a proper job and go for a younger man. He's unlikely to be as immature as the world's oldest swinger.