Hugh M. Hefner is surrounded by a dozen of the Playboy Clubs' Bunny Girls -- ample explanation for the clubs' popularity. Playboy, August 1960

"All in all, it was an incredible year. In August of 1959, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the magazine, which was now selling a million copies a month -- a couple hundred thousand more than Esquire -- we staged our first Jazz Festival at the Chicago Stadium. I had just started hosting my first TV show, Playboy’s Penthouse, which began airing in Chicago in January 1960, and had purchased the Chicago Mansion in December of 1959. The combination of all those things with the opening of the Club in February 1960 was comparable only to the beginnings of the magazine.

"The other thing that we couldn’t have imagined, of course, was the fact that the Bunnies would become so world-famous. Originally, we were going to call them Playmates and dress them in nighties, and that didn’t seem to make much sense. The Bunny costume was a novelty, and it’s almost impossible now to describe the excitement it caused. It was still a time of innocence, with a lot of the conservatism of the Fifties, and I think the Bunnies became, really, the first sex symbols of the Sixties."

They are still icons. Just ask former New York Bunny and author Kathryn Leigh Scott, whose book The Bunny Years details the Playboy experiences and subsequent successes of many former Bunnies, including actresses, businesswomen and a department head at the National Institutes of Health. Scott’s book had barely reached the shelves before it was made into a hit TV documentary, aired by A & E in America as a sweeps-week special and by the BBC in Great Britain to an audience of 8.5 million. Now available in trade paperback -- and in a recently released Chinese-language edition -- The Bunny Years is also being adapted as a feature film for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, with the prestigious Harry J. and Mary Jane (Snow Falling on Cedars, One True Thing) Ufland signed on as producers.


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Bunnies with Hef
photo by Don Bronstein

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