Friday, November 14, 2008
February 29, 1960 was a historic day in Chicago and in the world. Playboy magazine owner Hugh Hefner decided that Leap Year would be an appropriate time for him to open up the world's first Playboy Club on Walton Street in Chicago. The club, having hired from the local talent pool, provided the first appearance of the Playboy Bunnies. These Bunnies, with their satin corsets, bunny ears and fluffy white tails served those fortunate enough to be "Keyholders" in the style of the old gaslight clubs. As VIPs of the club, Keyholders could enter the club at anytime and indulge in an atmosphere filled with music, alcohol and of course the most beautiful women. Membership was available to anyone willing to purchase a key – $50 for residents and $25 for out-of-towners. The "key" itself was metal and topped off with a rabbit head, later replaced by a gold plastic credit card in typical 80's uninspired fashion.
The flagship Chicago location was so successful in its inaugural year that, it not only become the busiest club in the world, but it was also the first of 40 locations – each being referred to by Newsweek as a "Disneyland for adults." Clubs opened all over the U.S. in such places as Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco and New York City. The clubs went international opening in Japan, Canada, Jamaica and the Philippines. There was a Playboy casino in London and Atlantic City, NJ. The Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin had a ski slope and was one of the first to install a chair lift.
The clubs became notorious for the famous entertainment acts they would employ such as Ray Charles, Ann-Margret, Bette Midler, Mel Torme, Milton Berle, Bill Cosby and Muddy Waters.
Working as a Playboy Bunny was not only a prestigious job, but also very lucrative with earnings of over $1,000 a week. Bunnies employed at the Chicago Club often lived in the Playboy Mansion. Bunnies could also travel to and work at any one of the clubs around the globe. In the seventies Hefner purchased a DC-9 jet, nicknamed the "Big Bunny". This way he could transport his bunnies and his personal lifestyle all over the world. He even had his own "Air Bunnies". There were many women who donned the bunny costume and worked the clubs before they were famous such as Debbie Harry, Lauren Hutton, Gloria Steinem and Sherilyn Fenn.
The Chicago Playboy Club enjoyed a long and successful run, but closed in 1986. The last club in the US closed in 1988 in Lansing, Michigan, and the last international club closed in 1991. After 31 years, the Playboy Club was no more.