Dwight Eisenhower was President, and Perry Como and Patti Page had Number One record hits when Hugh Hefner began publishing Playboy Magazine in 1953. In that year, Marilyn Monroe herself (who was not yet famous), was a Playmate and featured on the cover of the magazine.
By 1960, when Hef opened his first Playboy Club in Chicago, the Beatles were a fledgling Liverpool band that no one had heard of and Alfred Hitchcock had just released Psycho. The times were clearly changing.
The Playboy Clubs were big earners for Playboy. They sold a pre-fab version to anyone who had the $25 for a year’s membership. The Clubs were an instant hit, with smokey “Playrooms” featuring super-sized illuminated magazine covers and sexy Bunnies serving food and drinks. Some 25 were opened during the 1960’s in places like New York, London and Miami. In their heyday, there were over 100 dotted all over the globe.
The Bunnies were at the heart of the Club concept. They were tricked out waitresses, who pranced around the Clubs carrying trays, smiling toothy smiles and charming the clientele. In these days and times, the idea of a young woman dressed in a skimpy sateen costume, with protruding cone-like breasts, sporting shiny rabbit’s ears and a cotton tale the size of a baby’s head, seems a little ridiculous, at the least. But in the Swinging Sixties, the Clubs were “in”. In 1966, when the Playboy Club opened in London, the likes of Woody Allen, Sidney Poitier and Julie Christie attended. Playboy Magazine and the Clubs were simply the epitome of cool. Even James Bond, played by Sean Connery, had his membership card. When the Beatles came to New York to do their first big U.S. television show, in 1964, they went to the New York Club, wives in tow.
The Bunnies came and went. Some became famous, while many disappeared into ordinary lives, and a few saw heartache and tragedy. Here are 10 Bunnies from the Swinging 60’s to the heady 80’s, and what they are up to now.
10. Debbie Harry
Before she went blonde and punked out as the lead singer of Blondie, a brown-haired Debbie Harry worked as a Bunny in the New York City Club from 1968 – 73. Pictures of Harry during that time (she also did stints as a go-go dancer) show a dark haired beauty, stuffed into her bunny costume, staring unsmiling at the camera. Considered one of the greatest female rockers of all time, Harry eventually left Blondie and launched a solo career from her home base in Miami. Her last solo album came out in 2008, but she has remained active, working with cancer charities.
9. June De Young
June De Young has gone from “Bunnydom”, to acting, to being a psychic, and beyond. A 1980’s Bunny, she went on to make a couple of movies in Hollywood. She claims to have been struck by lightning and to have survived 5 near-death experiences before launching her career as “Psychic to the Stars” in Los Angeles. These days, she also describes herself as an investigative reporter and has made occasional appearances on daytime shows like Ellen. Her Facebook page lists her interests as “charities” and asks the question, “How many psychic mediums have been dead five times?” In short, only June De Young.
8. Susan Sullivan
The Castle star is a seasoned actress, a veteran of 1970’s shows such as Falcon Crest. The New York native and college student worked in the New York Playboy Club from 1963-64. When the Beatles came to town, she was their Bunny waitress. She tells of turning up to her Bunny interview, complete with toilet paper stuffed into her bra. When she passed and was sent to the Bunny Mother, she confessed to her ruse. The woman was nonplussed and Sullivan was told everybody did it. The actress has said she became a Bunny because making $60 a night as a Bunny beat out the $20 a night she could make as an ordinary waitress.
7. Kathryn Leigh Scott
Actress and writer, Kathryn Leigh Scott was a Bunny in the New York Club from 1963-66. In 1966, she got her big acting break and began a 4-year stint on the cult TV vampire series, Dark Shadows. She went on to make appearances in shows such as Dallas, Dynasty and Matlock. A successful author, she has published The Bunny Years, a memoir of her life and times as a Bunny in the company of women like Susan Sullivan, Honor Blackman and Lauren Hutton. She has also written a series of Dark Shadows books and her 2013 book, Down and Out in Beverly Heels, which follows the hilarious saga of a well-heeled Beverly Hills women who goes from rich to homeless.
6. Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek
Bambi worked in Michigan Playboy Clubs in the 1970s, before signing on as a police officer with the Milwaukee force. In the early 1980s, she was convicted of the murder of her police husband’s ex-wife and sentenced to life imprisonment. After 7 years in prison, she slipped through a laundry room window, climbed a 7 foot fence and escaped to Canada. Supporters sported tee shirts reading “Run Bambi Run”. She voluntarily returned to the United States in 1991 and orchestrated legal moves that led to her conviction being set aside. Protesting her innocence until the end, she died in an Oregon hospice in 2010, of liver failure.
5. Lauren Hutton
The model and actress, with the distinctive front tooth-gap, was a Bunny in 1963. She was only 20 and already an aspiring model and actress. While she only worked at the New York Club for a few months, she figures in Susan Sullivan’s, The Bunny Years. The woman who graced the cover of Vogue (some 28 times) and who, as an actress, appeared in movies such as American Gigolo, credits her experience as a Bunny with bringing home to an inexperienced young woman, the power of sex. Born in 1943, Hutton never had children. She is currently working on her memoir.
4. Kimba Wood
Kimba Wood will not thank you for bringing up the topic of her Bunny past. She is a Federal Judge, with a J.D. from Harvard and a degree from the London School of Economics. She was a struggling student when she worked briefly at the London Playboy Club. It came back to haunt her. When Bill Clinton nominated her to become U.S. Attorney General in 1993, the short stint at the Club kept coming up, but at the end of the day, her candidature derailed on the issue of her having employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny.
3. Gerrie Woo
Gerrie Woo is a vivacious entertainer. Before joining the Hollywood Playboy Club in the 1960’s, Woo worked the line as a Las Vegas show girl in an Asian review. She moved from being a Bunny, to teaming with popular musician Jack Constanzo (Mr. Bongo). The act took their show to Vegas, where their Latin energy and verve garnered rave reviews. The show toured the world for a number of years and she and Constanzo had several children together. Woo, still personable and energetic, can currently be found hosting the “Best Karaoke Show” in San Diego.
2. Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem a Bunny? Yes, but. In 1963, the quintessential feminist briefly worked as an undercover Bunny in the New York Club, in order to research an article she intended to write. Pictures of Steinem in her Bunny costume show she made a good show of her impersonation. Show Magazine published the piece, in which she cited harassment, low pay, grueling schedules, and low morale. Kirstie Alley even played Steinem in the movie about the sting. Steinem has since pronounced the “All women are bunnies”.
1. Honor Blackman
The English actress with the sultry, throaty voice, who played the notoriously seductive Pussy Galore in the 1964 Bond film Goldfinger, was a Bunny in 1960’s London. In 1999, she recalled those years relatively fondly, in her narration of the documentary, The Bunny Years. The actress who appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001), still makes occasional appearances in film and television, including iconic shows such as Doctor Who. She has recently criticized her Bond co-start Sean Connery for being a tax-exile from the United Kingdom. She is apparently fond of watching football (English) on TV.