Hef’s Playboy Bunnies- A Look Back

Hugh Hefner With Playboy Bunnies At Chicago Playboy Club 1960

Along with Bugs Bunny and Peter Cotton Tail, no rabbit figured as prominently in my Mad Men era youth as the iconic Playboy Bunny.

Next to an Airline Stewardess or a gal Friday at a Madison Avenue Ad agency, a Playboy Bunny was the most glamorous job a gal could hope for.

photo Playboy bunny on the telephone and vintage 1970 ad for executive Secretary

Ring a Ding-ding! Why settle for a job as an executive secretary when you could have a glamorous career as a Playboy Bunny?

Sure a mid-century gal could easily snag a swingin’ job as a stenographer, but Hef’s girls “go places.” Being a Playboy Bunny was the way smart gals got ahead.

At least that’s what Hugh Hefner led us to believe.

Barbie and the Bunny

vintage Playboy Bunny and Barbie Fashions

L) Vintage Playboy Bunny Illustration R) Vintage Barbie Fashions- Solo in the Spotlight

So as a child it was always a disappointment to me that with all of Barbie’s countless ensembles  a playboy bunny costume was not among them.

Oh how I longed to dress my Barbie with satin bunny ears, bow tie and a cute cotton tail, posing her just so in the classic “Bunny Dip” (only my bendable Barbie would do). I imagined gracefully leaning her backwards while bending at the knee, her left knee lifted and tucked behind the right leg, all the better to serve Ken an eyeful along with his whiskey sour.

Playboy Bunny illustraion and Vintage Barbie Doll Fashion

L) Vintage Playboy Bunny Illustration R) Vintage Barbie Fashions- Nighty Negligee

Sure she could seduce shy Allan in her “Naughty Nighty Negligee” with it’s matching pink boudoir slippers but it was no match for the allure of a form-fitting bunny costume. With her impossible figure Barbie was made in Hef heaven. No one would have filled out that rayon/satin merry widow corset better than Barbie.

Thus the Playboy Bunny remained a fantasy for me, just as Hef intended her to be, always just out of reach.

Literally.

Vintage Playboy Magazine Covers 1960's

Vintage Playboy Magazine Covers (L-R) April 1959, October 1962, and March 1962

Even in my local candy store, Playboy Magazine would be tucked high above my usual fare of Archie and Veronica with  their four-color  high school  hi jinx, so juvenile and innocent  while lurking just out of reach and out of prying fingers and prying eyes was the forbidden world of men’s entertainment .

Vintage Playboy Magazine Covers

If the Trix rabbit was for kids, the Playboy Bunny was definitely for adults. Vintage Playboy Magazine Covers

But as luck would have it one balmy August afternoon in 1962, an actual copy of Playboy fell into my lap. Carelessly left on a coffee table by my pal Susan’s absent-minded father, the magazine provided me with my very first eyeful of the world of a Playboy Bunny.

Playboy Bunnies at the Playboy Club, New Orleans, March 1962

The reader was invited into “this glamorously decorated world of the Playboy Club -particularly and pleasurably playboys- a world replete with lush décor, top flight entertainment, epicurean edibles and potables and relaxation with a hiply fashioned flair. ” Playboy Bunnies at the Playboy Club, New Orleans, March 1962 photo Playboy

Playboy Club 1962

“The Living Room” in the Playboy Club,” offers the elegant comfort and tasteful furnishings one might find in a sophisticated bachelors apartment the enticement of a sumptuous buffet dinner for $1.50 which is also the price of all drinks.” Playboy Club 1962

Suddenly Susan’s  suburban den done up in Early American reproductions took on the worldly air of an urbane Playboy Club. Say, was that hipster Joey Bishop tossing down a highball with Sammy Davis Junior in the corner table? For days on end with Bobby Darren crooning in the background, my 7-year-old friend and I innocently pretended to play costumed cotton tail hostesses   at that ultimate swinging house party. And the best part was, no key needed!

Long before my feminist sensibilities would be aroused, no place seemed more sophisticated and glamorous than the Playboy Club, that bastion of male ogling designed to bring to life the pages of the magazine. The ultimate male watering hole where Playboy Bunnies romped and roamed freely was, their ads boasted, “where men come to observe remarkable displays of female pulchritude.”

Let’s Do the Bunny Hop

Playboy Magazine cover April 1957

A look back in the rear view mirror of the world of the Playboy Bunny. Playboy Magazine cover April 1957

With Hugh Hefner’s passing, I became oddly nostalgic.

It’s worth hopping back now to those misty, glorious days of Camelot and see how a 1962 Playboy Magazine showcased one of their working Bunnies or, as they were referred to, “the hutch honey’s decorating the club premises”.

collage Womens Movement against Pornography and Gloria Steinem as Playboy Bunny

L) Women Against Pornography march 1970’s NYC. Photo: Freda Leinwand Schlesinger Library (R) Future Feminist Gloria Steinem goes undercover in 1963 as a Playboy Bunny

It was 1962 and it would be nearly a decade before feminists took Playboy and Hef to task. It would take 6 long years before a group of women libbers tossed, along with their bras, copies of Playboy magazine into trash bins at the Miss America Pageant. And it wouldn’t be until the following year that future feminist Gloria Steinem squeezing herself in to a too small bunny costume, infiltrated a Playboy Club as “Bunny Marie” and published an unflattering expose of Hef’s bunnies in captivity.

Still innocently mired in a Mad Men’s world of misogyny, in 1962 we were blissfully unaware that out handsome president was himself a playboy a serial womanizer who romped with the ultimate Playboy centerfold Miss Marilyn Monroe.

Play boy Bunny Jan Roberts 1962

Lovely Jan Roberts Playboy Bunny at the Chicago. Photo Playboy Magazine August 1962 By Pompeo Posar

A popular feature of the magazine was the Bunny pictorial which presented The Playboy Club employees in class ic girl next door fashion. These photo essays became a prominent feature in Playboy – serving the dual purpose of promoting the clubs and helping sell more magazines.

In the August 1962 issue we are introduced to silver-blond Jan Roberts who: “cottons to the bunny business at Chicago’s Playboy Club”

“In the two plus years since the first Playboy Club bounded boldly onto the entertainment scene in Chicago, 24 of this magazines prettiest Playmates have taken the bountiful Bunny trail to fun, travel and excitement as highly paid hostesses in our ever lengthening chain of luxurious key clubs. With this issue we present a neat twist on the customary Playmate-to-bunny progression: she’s ingenious Jan Roberts- the first Playmate to be discovered among the hutch honeys already decorating club premises.”

Becoming a Playboy Bunny could open a lot of doors for a clever career girl who didn’t want to be stuck behind an adding machine. (R) A Playboy Bunny swings open the door to The Playboy Club New Orleans 1962

Snagging a job as a “Hutch Honey” was no easy feat.  Even Playboy’s training manual described being a bunny as “the top job in the country for a young girl.”

Becoming a bunny was a hop up the career path for any smart well-endowed cookie who wanted a job filled with excitement. Why take dictation and slave over an IBM Selectric when you could stand on your feet all day in high heels (demerits for wearing heels under 3 inches) and serve cocktails to lascivious men.

Hugh Hefner and Playboy Bunnies at opening of the first Playboy Club 1960

The first Playboy Club opened on Walton Street in downtown Chicago in Feb. 1960. Hefner was not the first to have images of buxom bunny’s dancing through his head. Chicago already boasted a chain of clubs named the Gaslight Club which had opened seven years earlier in 1953 and featured their own version of the Velveteen rabbit-curvaceous women in velvet one piece bunny costumes. Photo: Hefner surrounded by Bunnies at the opening of the Chicago Club 1960

By the hot summer of 1962, the Chicago Playboy club was hopping with business thanks to the Post-War-Post-Kinsey-Married Man and Hugh Hefner was poised to open several other clubs in a three-week span. As reported in the “Playboy Club News” in the same issue “Sophisticated revelry awaits key-holders and guests when the St Louis and New York Club swing open September 20 and October 11 respectively.

With all the new clubs multiplying like rabbits, Hef had to fill his lair with cottontail honeys.

Vintage ad for Playboy Bunny 1964

Vintage ad for Playboy Bunny 1964

To attract future bunnies to fill the new clubs, Playboy ran ads announcing “casting sessions- staged like a call for a Broadway show.” Others proclaimed “This is show business the perfect opportunity for beautiful young ladies interested in a glamorous and rewarding career.”

“Travel Exciting part of a bunny life. If you are as attractive as Bunny Jan and between the ages of 18 and 25 you have the opportunity to become a Playboy Club Bunny. You couldn’t ask for a more glamorous and rewarding career.”

Her D Cup Runneth Over

Playboy Bunny/Playboy Centerfold Playmate Jan Roberts Playboy Club 1962

Playboy Bunny/Playboy Centerfold Playmate Jan Roberts Playboy Club 1962 Photo:Playboy

Lovely Jan from the buckeye state would answer that siren call.

“Like hundreds of beauties from every part of the US and several foreign countries, Brooklyn-born, Toledo bred Jan stormed Chicago specifically in hopes of landing a job at the Playboy Club. Her credentials (executive girl Friday for the Juhl Advertising Agency of Elkhart Indiana and honor graduate of a 2 year medical technology course in the same city) were impressive enough to earn her a Bunny berth.

Playboy Bunny and Bunny Mother

Playboy Bunnies went through rigorous training.There was a woman in charge of the Bunnies in each club, called the “Bunny Mother.” This was a human resources type of function The Bunny Mother was in charge of scheduling work shifts, hiring, firing and training. Before every shift the Club Manager would weigh each Bunny. Bunnies could not gain or lose more than one pound (exceptions being made for water retention)

Like Katherine Gibb’s Secretarial School,  the bunnies got their own strict training from The Official Bunny Training Program complete with its own manual,  before they could dare don a pair of bunny ears.

“The gorgeous Playboy Club Bunnies go through a rigorous and thorough training program designed to give them the savoir-faire desired in serving key holders. A Bunny must not only be beautiful; she must possess grace and charm. This is what a key holder expects and deserves – no matter if he is junior executive or senior cinema star.”

The manual was full of strict dos and don’ts.

The Playboy Bunny Manual R( 1968 ) was full of do’s and don’ts. The proper way to serve a drink as displayed by this New Orleans Play Boy Club Bunny in 1962

The Bunnies received demerits for un bunny like appearances or behavior. Woe the poor cottontail cutie with bunny ears not worn in the center of her head or bikini panties showing or heaven forbid, no panties at all! And there was no excuse for an unkempt tail. Bunny’s kept in shape by hopping on and off their Detecto scales lest they get a demerit for weight gained. Regular daily weigh-ins only allowed a one pound weight gain   (due to water retention)

Grooming tips were essential naturally, and girls were encouraged to enhance themselves any way they could  including stuffing their skimpy costumes with everything from gym socks to plastic dry cleaning bags to fill out the bust line.

Playboy Bunnie Jan Roberts 1962

Like her sister Bunnies at Playboy Clubs around the country Jan enjoys being “on” before admiring eyes of key holders

“Although the lissome (39-23-35) arrangement of her 120 compact pounds on a five foot five frame tends to belie it, Miss August prefers mental exercise to physical; she thrives on chess and bridge bouts, reads omnivorously (mostly books on mathematics and theology) dabbles in graphology and earnestly paints landscapes which bear she believes, “an unfortunate resemblance to my favorite foods-spaghetti and cheese blintzes. She can’t abide a sloppy pad, views beatniks with suspicious brown eyes, loves shoot-’em up war flicks and feminine frills

With her crackerjack math skills, Jan easily memorized all 143 brands of liquor required of all Bunnies and could garnish 20 cocktails in a wink.

Jan Roberts 1962 Playboy Bunny

Playboy Club members often wrote to Playboy requesting pictorials and information about their favorite cocktail waitress. Jan Roberts serving drinks at Chicago Club 1962

Playboy noted how skillfully Jan poured drinks for her customers. She also possessed “a very fine frame, which the key holder is free to visually enjoy while the beer is slowly, ever so slowly filling his glass.”

Affectionate by nature she is apt to greet friends with warm hugs and double cheek kisses.

But careful around the customers please!

vintage Playboy cartoon 2 Playboy Bunnies

“That nice Mr. Burton said I have curves in places where other girls don’t even have places.” Playboy Cartoon April 1966 by Don Lewis

A good bunny knew to be friendly but not too friendly. Bunnies were not allowed to date customers nor reveal their last names, telephone numbers or home address. Physical contact was a no no  but the manual pointed out that the girls were allowed to dance with patrons with acceptable dances like the Twist, Watusi and the Bugaboo.

Meeting a boyfriend or husband within 2 blocks of the club earned a strict reprimand. Maintaining yourself as the object of fantasy was key to the job of keeping keyholder’s happy. The illusion of availability was part of that.

A good bunny was also well versed in the delicate art of taming a wolf, without losing a customer.

Helpful hints from the manual suggested getting a fellow Bunny to spill drinks in the lap of an overly fresh patron, or quoting Shakespeare in the hopes of revealing ones intellect along with flesh.That would be a turn off for sure.

Happy Customer

Vintage Playboy Centerfold August 1962 Jan Roberts

Jan Roberts Playboy Bunny and Playboy Playmate Centerfold for August 1962 Photo Playboy by Pompeo Posar

“Jan regards her current welcome-to-the-club duties with honest satisfaction. ‘I’m interested in a show business career,” she says. ‘As a bunny, I’m already leading a show-biz kind of life. It’s a big step on the way up.” For a fetching view of rising and shining Jan consult the foldout where our breakfast Bunny Playmate is shown stating her day and brightening ours- with an RSVP smile.”

Yes, it was like a show business life since women faced weight and age regulations.

Even with Jan’s sterling credentials as a Girl Friday at an Ad Agency she knew learning shorthand didn’t automatically mean a girl could step into the job of her dreams. Like any smart career girl she understood – To open the right door often what was needed was a business skill your prospective boss can use. Her 39-23-35 “arrangement” was at the top of her resume.

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Copyright (©) 2017 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 comments

  1. Hugh Hefner was a pimp and pornographer. How strange that the media portrayed him as a philosopher and activist! Thanks for this overview of our national delusion, Sally.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maybe in the late 80’s or early 90’s franklin mint offered a Barbie doll dressed as a playboy bunny–not the toy of your childhood–probably not bendable, but it did exist.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hershel Katz

    Very well researched as well as very well writtenAs an adolescent i thought I was “hep” getting hold of copies of Playboy and then sharing them with the guys 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

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