Playboy magazine did not beget Playboy Bunnies, Peggy Wilkins reminds me. It is the Playboy Club that’s responsible for our image of comely lasses in tuxedo lingerie with rabbit ears and a fluffy tail—the very same featured in NBC’s new show The Playboy Club. But after launching the flagship location of the nightclub chain in Chicago in 1960, Hugh Hefner often featured the clubs and their Bunnies in his magazine. Getting celebs to don the bunny getup was also Hef’s sly end around to putting more conservative A-listers on the cover. As word spread that investors are planning to open a new Playboy Club in River North, an excited Wilkins, 45, who runs servers for the U. of C., pored over her complete collection of Playboy at her Hyde Park home and discussed a few of her most prized Bunny- and Club-related issues.
“Though the first Club opened in February, 29, 1960, it wasn’t until August that Playboy did the big reveal in the magazine: ‘The initial club in Chicago has become, almost overnight, one of the most singularly successful, most talked-about nightspots in the U.S. The Playboy key, with familiar rabbit emblem stamped on it, has become a new, meaningful status symbol amongst men of means. No one who’s really in wants to be without it. For if you are not a member of the club and do not hold a key, you cannot enter, and the Playboy Club is a meeting place for the most important, most aware, most affluent men of the community.’ ”
“Cover girl Kelly Collins, who was a Bunny on the first day of the Playboy Club’s opening in Chicago, autographed this issue for me.”
“Playboy used to do an annual feature called ‘The Bunnies of,’ an article and pictorial featuring women who worked at different clubs around the country. I tend to enjoy the atmosphere photos: the club scenes of women, all costumed up, serving cocktails. Some of these women are still in the Chicago area. They have regular Bunny reunions.”
“I remember the reaction at the time this came out was, ‘Really, Sally Field of all people as a Bunny in a sexy pose?’ She’s the interview subject: ‘A candid conversation with the Oscar-winning actress about family, sex, friendship, self-esteem, dirty words, flying nuns and scrambling to the top.’ ”
“There have been a lot of weird celebrity Playboy spreads, but I think the weirdest is Sandra Bernhard. She’s posed as a wanna-be Playboy Club Bunny, and the cover line says, ‘Now you tell me the clubs are closed!’ This was in ’92 and the clubs first closed in ’85. It’s funny, but it’s not, um…attractive.”
“A Playboy Club opened at the Palms in Las Vegas a few years ago, and this issue features many of its Bunnies in the pictorial. The cover girl autographed it for me when [my boyfriend] Dan and I went there. The women are more athletic and have more toned bodies than the women of the original Playboy Club in Chicago—the new girl next door.”