Bonnie Jo Halpin, our October 1962 cover girl, keeps the bubbly flowing for keyholders on a Miami Club Bunny Hop flight. Playboy, July 1963

At the beginning, the Chicago Club boasted a Playmate Bar, with illuminated transparencies of Centerfolds, an intimate Library (where early performers included songstress Mabel Mercer and pianist Bobby Short) and the Living Room, featuring a combo and other entertainment. Other show venues, the Penthouse and Playroom, opened later.

"One of the first pianist-vocalists we hired, at $250 a week," recalls Lownes, "was a 19-year-old from Detroit, Aretha Franklin. But another executive felt she was too shy and retiring to ever amount to anything." Another early hire, Barbra Streisand, was released from her contract when a bigger showbiz break loomed.

As it developed, the Playboy Club circuit served as a springboard for many entertainers, notably black comic Dick Gregory, whose 1961 Chicago appearance broke the color barrier for mainstream nightclubs; Pat (Karate Kid) Morita, Gregory Hines, George Carlin, Flip Wilson, George Kirby, Slappy White, Jackie Gayle, Danita Jo, Rob Reiner, Nipsey Russell, Irwin Corey, Peter Allen, Steve Martin, Lainie Kazan, Ronnie Milsap, Don Adams, Richard Pryor and Rich Little.

The Playboy Clubs had a good run, with the last one closing in 1991 -- quite a record for a nightclub concept. And, according to Hefner, what goes around will come around again. Says Playboy’s founder, "We’re absolutely, without question, looking at new opportunities."


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photo by Pompeo Posar

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