Jennifer Bassey applied to be a Playboy bunny the very first week the original Playboy Club opened, in Chicago in 1960.
The Club was an integral part of what would become the Playboy empire, founded by Hugh Hefner, who died Wednesday at 91 years old. A bunny was a waitress or worker in the Club, though eventually the role evolved somewhat.
The hiring process was simple — or impossible, depending on your perspective.
“You put on an outfit and you walk around and then they hire you — if you look good,” she told me when we spoke over the phone.
Bassey, now 75, is an actress best known for playing Marian Colby on the soap opera “All My Children” for over 30 years. She spent about two years at the Playboy Club, working in the Penthouse Room, where she would sit on a piano and sing.
Bassey recalled “gruelling” hours at the Club — the bunnies would start work around 6 p.m. and wouldn’t go home until about 4 a.m. Their feet would bleed through their fishnet stockings.
Perhaps worst of all, customers would drink too much and get out of control.
So the bunnies made a pact, Bassey remembered: If a man tried to grab a bunny, they’d “accidentally” spill a few creme de menthe cocktails on him. It was the only drink you you couldn’t get out of clothes, Bassey said: “If you dropped creme de menthe on a man’s suit, it was destroyed.”
But Bassey said she made a “fortune,” estimating that in an average week, she’d make $US1,000 — or about $US8,400 today. As for salary? Bassey said there was none. In fact, you had to rent your own costume. Bassey put the bulk of her tip money toward her subsequent acting education in London.
Though it’s clear that bunnies didn’t earn much in wages, there are varying accounts of their compensation. In Gloria Steinem’s 1963 expose on the life of a Playboy bunny in New York City, she says that because of minimum-wage laws, “we must get a salary of $US50 a week.” And an old advertisement for Playboy bunnies, published by BuzzFeed, asserts that “a typical Chicago bunny may, for example, earn an average of $US200 a week.”
Bassey said that much of her time as a bunny is now a “blur.” But she sees the experience as instructive, and at least financially empowering.
She said: “I’m not ashamed of anything I did.”
And the job afforded Bassey a surprising amount of leadership opportunity — Bassey said there were no bouncers or official managers in the Penthouse room, so she and the other bunnies were effectively in charge. “It was like the Wild West,” she said.
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