LOS ANGELES — On Friday, Feb. 8, at the Playboy Mansion, a memorial service honoring the late Mary O’Connor had this underlying theme: Once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier. O’Connor, a 1946 Marion (Ind.) High School graduate, worked as Hugh Hefner’s secretary for 40 years. She was born Mary Eugenia Feuchtinger. When she passed away on Jan. 27, Hefner tweeted “We loved her more than words can say.”
Although she hadn’t lived in Indiana for the past half-century, O’Connor’s Indiana roots shone throughout the service. Native Hoosier Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, played a key role in planning the service, and also made the closing remarks. See video of his statements here:
Roesler's CMG Worldwide corporate office is a classy building on Indy’s northside, and he has an office in L.A. as well. He himself is a Hoosier, born and bred, having been valedictorian of Alexandria Monroe High School’s graduating class of 1974. What's more, the DePauw graduate snagged a law degree and an MBA from IU. His business manages intellectual property rights for the family of James Dean, among many other celebrities. In 1991, when Roesler began working with Playboy Enterprises and met O’Connor, their Indiana ties were one reason they became fast friends. After his close family members died, she told him, “I’ll adopt you.” They spent much time together at the competitive card parties O’Connor became known for hosting.
The logistics for the private memorial service were kept tightly under wraps. Friends and family were invited to a special Facebook page to sign up to attend, and the limit was capped at 500. Guests trekked to a parking garage and took shuttles, which wound their way up to the wooded, 5-acre property that harbors the mansion.
At the service, more than a dozen people remembered O’Connor, including Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label, in a taped message. Kevin Burns—who made O’Connor a star in her own right by casting her in the popular E! network reality show, The Girls Next Door—also appeared via taped message. O’Connor’s original cameo role on his show had been expanded as her popularity grew. (O'Connor also appeared in this clip on former Hefner girlfriend Kendra Wilkinson's own reality show, Kendra.)
Numerous people told how O’Connor had inspired and advised them over the years. Crystal Harris Hefner, Hugh's wife, credits O’Connor with getting her and her now-husband back together after they had called off their wedding. Harris Hefner sold her wedding dress and shoes to raise money for lymphoma, the disease which took O’Connor’s life. Meanwhile, Smokey Robinson—who didn’t sing, as had been reported—sent a written message saying he was out of town and offered his condolences. Deepening the Indiana influence, Marion (Ind.) mayor Wayne Seybold, the former 1980s Olympic pairs skater, spoke at the service. He said O’Connor had cooked him dinner at her house, and they spoke for hours catching up on Marion happenings.
Another speaker outlined O’Connor’s 1960s career managing SCCA-California Sports Car Club, the cross-country racing league that first gave James Dean his competition driving license. O’Connor actually became a participant, and won in this “man’s sport,” according to news clips interspersed with photos shown on a screen throughout the service.
"Coming from Indiana, we were just racing nuts," O’Connor said in a 2003 interview with the Chronicle-Tribune of Marion. "We always went to the 16th Street Speedway.”
Roesler finished his remarks, and the service itself, with a quote from O'Connor's fellow north-central Indiana native, James Dean: "If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he's dead, then maybe he was a great man."
Roesler said O’Connor’s life had done that and ended by noting that the memorial service was on James Dean’s birthday, saying O’Connor would be buried in Fairmount near Dean's own final resting place.
Cathy Shouse is a journalist, novelist, and author of the photo history book Images of America: Fairmount.
Photo of Mary O'Connor by Elayne Lodge; additional photos by Cathy Shouse and courtesy Playboy Enterprises; photos including the Hefners via Hugh Hefner and Crystal Hefner's Instagram accounts; video courtesy Mark Roesler.