By Susanna Speier
Former Playboy bunnies from around the U.S. and as far away as Jamaica and London got together in Baltimore recently to remember the heyday of Hugh Hefner’s nightclubs, reconnect with old friends and swap a few war stories.
Hefner, now 88, sent a heartfelt video message, reports reunion organizer Marsha Callender, presiding over 123 former bunnies gathered at sunset on the dining deck of a cruise ship in the city’s Inner Harbor.
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Callender, who worked at the St. Louis Playboy Club, said her stint as a bunny (waitress) opened all kinds of career doors: “If you look at where we came from and where we are today, I’m convinced we would not have been nearly as accomplished as we are.”
The women at the reunion had gone on to other careers, but for many of them the Playboy gig was their first job (bunnies could be hired as young as 18). “All my kids were born during the time I was with Playboy,” recalled Barbara Holstein, who worked in the New York and Jamaica clubs. “I would go home, put on jeans and be this stay-at-home mom. I changed diapers by day and became glamorous at night.”
That glamour had a pull date, alas: “They called me in one day and said, ‘Sorry, Barbi, but you’re not able to maintain the youthful look for which you were hired.’ I was 32. I went right to the airlines and they hired me.”
Ironically, bunnies could also be penalized for breeding. Susan Thoms Cotton, who worked in the Kansas City Playboy Club from 1970 to 1972, remembers being told to turn in her bunny ears when her pregnancy began to show. “There was no such thing as maternity leave,” she said.
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Indeed, weight gain of any variety was verboten, recalled Mieko Nakamura of her time at the Denver club. “I got suspended for gaining weight,” she said. “You had to fit into your costume.” Nakamura lost the weight through diet and exercise. “Then they let me back.”
Those antediluvian work experiences notwithstanding, Callender remains upbeat about her time in Hef’s hutch: “I used the opportunities provided us to better my life and make something more of it than I ever saw possible before Playboy hired me.”
Photos: then — Courtesy Marsha Callender; now — Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
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