A Playboy in the Penthouse?

Will he or won’t he? That’s the question now facing Hugh Hefner and Playboy Enterprises.

On Thursday, FriendFinder Networks Inc., owner of rival skin mag Penthouse, made a $210 million-plus offer for Playboy.

FriendFinder’s bid is $6.25 a share, a near 14% premium to the $5.50 a share offered by Playboy founder and mascot Hugh Hefner earler this week. Hefner can sweeten his bid, although some think he won’t.

“It all comes down to what Hefner wants to do,” says Marc Bell, CEO of FriendFinder Networks. “Does he want to partner with us, cash out or keep things status quo?”

Hefner already owns 70% of Playboy’s Class A voting stock and nearly 28% of class B shares. Hefner’s $5.50 bid was for the Playboy shares he doesn’t already own. Bell told peHUB Thursday that his offer is for everything. “All the [Playboy] shares, plus assuming the debt,” he says.

Playboy Enterprises said it has received Bell’s proposal and will give it appropriate consideration.

Bell, in a letter to Playboy’s board Thursday, is proposing a deal where FriendFinder would partner with Hefner. Senior management would stay on until the deal is completed and Bell is open to having senior execs continue with the company going forward.  “Mr. Hefner would retain editorial control of Playboy Magazine and would be entitled to reside in the Playboy Mansion,” the letter said.

What a guy!

Bell also said he could boost his offer if he receives and reviews certain due diligence information, including updated financial data. Bell already has contacted major lenders to finance the proposed transaction and is confident he will be able to complete a deal.

Bell says he’s never met Hefner, although he’s tried. “I have never met the man but it’s not for lack of effort. He has not returned my calls,” Bell says.

The ball is now in Hefner’s court. The 84 year-old can boost his $5.50 a share offer. His bid is also backed Rizvi Traverse Management. Imperial Capital is advising FriendFinder.

“Hef won’t want to get into a bidding war that pushes the price up,” one banker said.

Bell has proposed a July 21 meeting with Playboy’s board to discuss the transaction. Let’s see if Hefner attends with bunnies.