My name is Sharon Peyton, (nee Bernstein), born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. As a 16-year-old teenager, I remember looking at the Playboy Magazine in my boyfriend’s house. I saw the pictures of the Bunnies and fantasized about what a glamorous job that would be. Little did I expect that I would become a Bunny at the Baltimore club just 2 years later at age 18.
Throughout most of my adult life I have been a businesswoman who has forged new territory and cleared a path for many businesswomen who have followed in my wake. Meeting an entrepreneurial woman may be common place these days. However, when I began my unconventional career, in the entertainment and media industry years ago, it was unusual.
Today’s generation of young women, whose career choices and paths are virtually unlimited, would barely understand how restricted traditional career opportunities were back then. The standard choices that were encouraged were secretary, teacher, nurse and traditional waitress. However, it seems that my destiny was to be unconventional from the beginning of my work career.
In the summer of 1964 I finished one year of college at Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore, Maryland and decided not to continue my art training the next school year. I began looking for a job and saw the ad for the new Baltimore Playboy Club opening in July 1964. This stylish, sexy and glamorous world was quite different from the life I had been living.
Throughout most of my high school years I was pursuing a more Bohemian lifestyle. I didn’t exactly look glamorous. I had long, dark wavy hair that reached to my waist. The clothing I wore was mostly plain and casual, slacks and turtlenecks. With encouragement from my best friend I took a leap of faith. Though I was somewhat unsure of my chances, I was confident that I had a nicely shaped figure. I wore my skimpy bikini for the audition/interview and Keith Hefner hired me.
The club was brand new so we were given four weeks of intensive training in delivering superior customer service, instead of the usual two weeks. I was a clean slate and this was my first full-time permanent job with a large corporation that had a highly organized method of management. This training had a big impact on me.
Also, Playboy was a very successful company that permeated the culture I grew up in. I carefully observed everything there was to study. It created a permanent reference point for the rest of my life and career that translated into my motto for life, "If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right, the first time". My training as a Playboy Bunny provided a springboard that launched me into the rest of my business education and career.
After my initial training I was assigned as a Showroom Bunny in the Penthouse. I loved working in the Penthouse where the entertainers performed. The first comedian to appear in Baltimore was Jackie Gayle. He used to kibitz with me from the stage. Because I was Jewish he would call me “the Yiddisha Bunny” or because I had long dark hair like the stereotypical beatnik in those days, “the Beatnik Bunny”.
For convenience I began wearing a short hair wig so I don’t have any Bunny pictures with my long hair. However, the best compliment I received at the Club came during the pre-opening party from a highly respected Judge Solomon Liss. As I passed by him, he gently took some of my long hair in his hand and said, “This is the most beautiful thing here tonight”.
My involvement in the entertainment industry at the Playboy Club became a life long passion. After I left The Playboy Club in 1965, I pursued other involvements in that industry. I met a man named Art who also had a passion for the entertainment business. We got married and opened a non-alcoholic rock club called the Bluesette and then a little later, a jazz club called the Blues Back Alley. The clubs were in operation from 1965 to about 1972 and were located in central Baltimore city at 2439 North Charles Street near Johns Hopkins University.
During those years it was THE place to hear live bands. Teenagers traveled from every corner of the area to be there. The Bluesette was more than just a music club. It was a lifestyle involvement all day, every day. Some people lived in our extra bedrooms. Art and I became surrogate parents and mentors to many of the young people that frequented the club. It was a significant part of the youth culture in Baltimore at that time. Mainly, it was a magnet for musicians and fans who appreciated rock, blues and jazz music.
There was rock music on Friday and Saturday from 8 PM -12 AM. At midnight, after the teenagers left the rock music club we reopened with an after hours jazz club/jam session called the Blues Back Alley from 2 -5 AM. These customers who were mostly adults, entered through the door in the back to avoid disturbing the residential neighbors with noise.
The house trio was composed of three of the best Baltimore jazz musicians who appeared at the Playboy Club. This included Ted Hawk, drummer; Jimmy Wells, keyboard; and Donald Bailey, acoustic bass. On Sunday evenings we offered more acoustic blues or folk music. The Bluesette even supported John Waters' earliest filmmaking endeavors by screening his films with our 16mm sound projector.
Thousands of young people were a part of the Bluesette scene during the years it was open. Some of the more well know local groups that played at the club include Greg Kihn and Grin. Greg Kihn went from folk singer to rock band fame and is now an on air radio personality in San Jose, California.
Grin lead guitarist, Nils Lofgren, plays with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and also records his own albums. In a letter sent before the 2005 reunion Nils remembered the Club fondly,
"The Bluesette was a fabulous, funky gigging chapter in the history of Grin. We always loved playing there. The audiences, owners and staff were always so kind to us. It was a place that welcomed our original music and experimentation. I'll always have wonderful memories of Grin's time there. Thanks Bluesette, you were the best."
As co-owner of these clubs I was in charge of all the administrative duties necessary to run the clubs such as maintaining food and beverage supplies, bookkeeping, bill payment, employee issues and handling facility problems. Additionally, I became a talent booking agent for the numerous rock bands that played at our club and booked them at many other venues in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Unfortunately, some good things come to an end. By the Fall of 1970, my marriage to Art failed and I moved on to other endeavors with my two lovely sons, Brian born in 1966 and Eric, born in 1968. I spent the rest of my work life looking for work that I enjoyed as much as I enjoyed being at the Bluesette and in the music business. I sold radio and print advertising.
While at the Bluesette many of our bands had been invited to perform on local TV shows. This created an interest in broadcast TV production, so I pursued this and became an Associate Producer on a local TV show at WJZ-TV called “Showcase 13”. This was a local version of “The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour” from the 50’s or the current “American Idol”. I also learned how to direct live multi-camera video production. Now, I had found the wonderful world of TV production. I loved this as much as the music industry.
Then, I worked as a writer in advertising and public relations. My next notable position was with RCA Records. I was hired as the first female sales representative for a major record label in Washington D.C. Production Assistant for video commercials was my last position before I decided to return to college. I was feeling a strong urge to complete my education. So I took my rambling years in the entertainment, music and media industries and applied it to getting a degree.
I attended Towson State University near Baltimore and majored in Mass Communications and Business Administration. After graduation I moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to seek my fortune. Although I had hoped to have a continuing career in either the music or TV production industries, it was difficult to find a good paying job.
Since LA is a very expensive place to live, and I was a single parent with two sons, I went to “Plan B”, marketing and sales. I was able to earn much better money with more job security. In 1980 I was hired by Pacific Bell as an Account Executive in their Marketing Department.
In 1986 I transferred inside Pacific Bell, and moved to San Francisco. The next few years I worked on the Bank of America account team. By then I was a technical consultant. My career came full circle in 1992 when I got my dream job and returned to video production as an Executive Producer in Pacific Bell Corporate Video Services, a department within the Public Relations Department.
This job was a high visibility position where I was responsible for producing and directing live multi-camera television broadcasts, and scripted videotapes with broadcast quality. Very often this involved top company management such as the CEO/President and VP's, as well as California state dignitaries.
I produced and directed the less complex events myself which could involve one camera or as many as 8-9 cameras in three locations. For the largest and most complex events I would hire a producer/director. My five years in this position was the best job I ever had. I was able to use all the talent and experience I had accumulated throughout my work career. It was very satisfying.
In 1996 I took an early retirement from Pacific Bell. I attended graduate school for a while but found it necessary to stop. Now I am handling some personal challenges and looking forward to developing a new career in public speaking. In retrospect, as I look back over my career, I can easily find the thread that connects my Playboy experience to everything else I've accomplished. Throughout my life I applied what I first learned as a Playboy Bunny, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.”