Long before Hugh Hefner and his guests in the Playboy Mansion graced television reality shows, women known as "Bunnies" served as the waitstaff in Hefner's clubs. Bunnies were distinct from Playmates, and clubs carefully vetted women for elite roles in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London. Rare in the 1960s, Playboy Bunnies were afforded a largely unprecedented level of financial independence, and many were able to save enough money to purchase their own homes.
Playboy Bunny jobs were competitive; hundreds of girls often interviewed for the handful of available positions. Hires were trained intensely using the "Bunny Manual" and outfitted with their uniforms. However, as glamorous as the job could be, there were downsides. Bunnies were subjected to strict rules, such as daily weigh-ins and strict appearance standards. Not abiding by the rules could get a Bunny fired or, at the very least, have her pay docked.
Despite exposes and tell-alls about being a Bunny, many former Bunnies have fond memories of their time at the Playboy Club during its early years and saw it as an introduction to an entirely new world and way of life.
Bunnies Could Get Demerits For Not Following Rules
Not unlike summer camps or boarding schools where demerits are essentially punishment strikes that can add to larger consequences, Playboy Bunnies faced demerits for not following the strict guidelines found in the "Bunny Manual."
During her undercover stint, Gloria Steinem reported negligence like having a scruffy tail, wearing anything less than three-inch heels, not showing up with a clean uniform, having bad nails, chewing gum and wearing hosiery with runs could cost Bunnies demerits. Additionally, the "Bunny Manual" dictated the Bunnies be constantly cheerful with a smile on their faces.
The Bunny Hiring Process Was Very Selective
Prior to the opening of the club in Chicago, Hefner and his business partner had to find Bunnies. 400 women showed up to audition. Recruiting material posited, “A Bunny is not a broad or a ‘hippy.’ She may be sexy, but it’s a fresh healthy sex - not cheap or lewd.” Of the 400 applicant, Playboy Club co-founder Victor Lownes remembered that "most of them were awful." According to interviews in Vanity Fair,
More than 400 young women showed up for an audition at Playboy’s offices on a January Saturday. They all brought bathing suits to model in and, in Lownes’s words, “Most of them were awful.”
"Bunny Mothers" Managed The Bunnies
Contributing to Playboy Clubs' sorority-like atmosphere was the presence of Bunny Mothers. The "Bunny Manual" defined these women as akin to a "college adviser," and the Bunny Mothers helped manage the Bunnies in all aspects, particularly their appearance. As Gloria Steinem put it, the Bunny Mother provided "friendly personal counseling."
Bunny Mothers also delivered tough news when necessary. One Bunny Mother allegedly told a 28-year-old Bunny, “When you start looking wilted, you’re through as far as Hef is concerned.”
Angie Best was a Bunny Mother in the 1970s during a break from her then-boyfriend and future husband, famed UK soccer player George Best. As a Bunny Mother, she was responsible for making sure the Bunnies met appearance standards before beginning their shifts. Best said, “George and I had split up at the time - he was naughty so I left him. I walked straight into the Playboy Club and said, ‘I want to be a bunny.'"
Bunnies Could Make A Lot Of Money - But It Was Often Harder To Do So Than Playboy Claimed
Though Playboy advertised that a Bunny could make $200-$300 per week, not all of them did. The club took part of their tips which, in addition to the cost of maintaining their uniform, made the gig not quite as lucrative as it first appeared. Bunnies also reportedly had to arrive one hour before their shift started in order to put on their uniform and do their makeup. This hour was unpaid.
Bunnies did have opportunities to earn extra money, though. Women could choose to work private parties, take on extra shifts or assist management at their Playboy Club. But they could just as easily have their pay docked: having a messy locker, being late or not having a clean cottontail could all be just cause for decreased wages.
However, by many of their own accounts, the Bunnies made good tips. Bunnies who wandered the clubs with Polaroid cameras and cigarettes charged a nickel for their various services but notoriously heckled any frugal-minded patrons who dared to actually pay the asking rate, as men were expected to offer much more money. Everyone from celebrities to mafia members frequented clubs, and their deep pockets benefited the Bunnies.
Marilyn Miller, who was a Bunny in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, admitted:
The regular Bunnies made close to $1,000 a week [in 1961]. We made so much in cash, Hef finally called me in and said, "You’re not cashing your paychecks.” And I said, “No, I don’t need them.” And he said, “Well, please do, because you’re throwing off my accountant.” That’s how much we used to make."