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How Times Have Changed, Ex-Playboy Bunnies Say

I went to Chicago's Playboy Club for my 21st birthday. We had good family friends, Auntie Abba and Auntie Jeri, who helped teach Bunnies at the Chicago Playboy Club how to walk and serve food and drinks, including the famous "Bunny Dip" that ensured modesty.

Being a Bunny was considered good work; Hugh Hefner insisted that his customers behave. Those who didn't -- be they big-rollers, simple boors or Hollywood Stars -- got the toss.

Gloria Steinem worked at the Manhattan Playboy Club and later wrote the expose that helped make her a star in journalism. Actress Lauren Hutton was a Bunny, as was singer Deborah Harry and Kimba Wood, who trained at the London Club before heading off to Harvard Law. She is now federal Judge Wood.

But by the 1980's, Playboy Clubs were failing. What once seemed glamorous and daring had become hokey -- and degrading to women.

Yet in these times, 50 years after they were invented and 22 years after they closed, Playboy Clubs are enjoying a small revival. A Playboy Club opened in Las Vegas four years ago, and new clubs will open in Cancun and Miami this year.

Two Playboy Bunnies Then And Now

I talked to two of the estimated 25,000 women who worked as Bunnies between 1960 and 1988.

Nancy Downey Caddick was one of the first women to work at the Chicago Club. She's a clinical social worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and now lives in the Chicago area. She became a Playboy Bunny in the early '60s because she heard it was fun.

"I heard that you could make a lot of money, and I wanted it to be a sort of transition before I decided what it is I want to do with the rest of my life," she says.

Mary Chipman of South Florida worked at the New York and London Playboy Clubs. She now works for Microsoft as a computer program writer and has written books on programming. She became a Bunny in 1971. Ms. Chipman says she was on an adventure.

"I arrived in New York City with basically $6 to my name to see a friend who was writing and producing a Broadway musical -- which closed after one night. And I loved New York, and I said, 'I gotta stay here.' And, of course, I didn't have any clue as to what I would do for a living, so I walked into the Playboy Club and they hired me on the spot."

In the 60s, Ms. Downey Caddick says, the club's atmosphere was that of a private men's club, with jazz music playing and top-notch entertainers. "The atmosphere was fun," she says. "It was glamorous. It was the place to be in Chicago."

But things were different by the time Ms. Chipman arrived.

"The club had seen better days," she says. "The clientele, they weren't really the high rollers. The girls who made a lot of money had been there a long time. There was a very powerful union that protected seniority, so they only had to work a couple of nights a week in the showrooms, whereas the rest of us slaved, you know, five or six nights a week, basically hanging around and hoping for people to come in so we could make a living."

"You had the whole women's lib thing going on as well," Ms. Chipman says. "It wasn't really that cool to be a Playboy Bunny. It had been glamorous 10 years before, but it wasn't so much at that point."

Tugging The Bunny's Tail

The difference between the two Bunnies extends to their trademark outfits, which come complete with rabbit ears and a tail. Ms. Downey Caddick found the costumes amusing.

"The first one in the '60s was a merry widow corset that they fitted you in," she recalls. "They would ask your cup size, and you would tell them, and they would always go smaller. And they were tight, this costume was very tight. I have to tell you, the first time I put on the ears, I thought, 'Oh, my!'

"But the customers loved it. They loved the tails, and I particularly loved the cuffs and the cufflinks. And the bow tie."

Ms. Chipman came in at a more feminist age. She loathed every aspect of the costume. "I really did. It wasn't the sexiness of it, which was OK, it was the whole idea of the ears and the tail -- I just thought it was very degrading.

"Once you make yourself into this Bunny -- which isn't really a woman, it's kind of just this hybrid creature -- people felt entitled to take liberties with you. People would feel entitled to pull your tail or touch you.

"Of course, the management would protect you from all of this, but you know, still, that was the natural impulse," she says. "The usual social barriers of treating women with a certain amount of respect were somewhat dissolved by the costume, I felt."

Ms. Downey Caddick found the most difficult customers to be the women, not the men.

"I would have a couple of incidents where a woman would pull my tail," she says. "Another one would just continue to make all kinds of nasty statements to me as I'm trying to serve them."

Nothing Ms. Downey Caddick said seemed to please one of her female customers. "So I mentioned it to my colleagues and I said, ‘I don't know what to do.'"

"'I do,'" another coworker said. They set up a tray of sticky drinks like brandy Alexanders and grasshoppers. Ms. Downey Caddick headed toward the customer's table carrying it. Passing by, another coworker tipped the tray and it fell right in the woman's lap.

"Of course, she was screaming and carrying on, and of course the manager, the room manager, apologized and I thought, ‘Well, she may not come back again, but if she does, maybe she'll rethink how she communicates with the Bunnies!'"

A Time To Remember -- Or Maybe Not

Both women took different approaches to their Bunny past when it came time to change careers. Ms. Chipman kept it secret.

"I don't tell them," the computer programmer says. "It doesn't do you any good, really. The industry I work in is a very young industry; most of the people I work with are so much younger, they have no idea what it was. It's a curiosity -- kind of dates you."

But as she gets older, she finds her perspective changing. Now, she says, she just doesn't care. "I had a colorful, adventurous life, and that was one part of it, and that's who I was -- who I am.

"But it doesn't do any good to put it on your resume."

"I have a different experience," Ms. Downey Caddick says. "I was applying for a position at Northwestern Memorial -- this is before I [became] a social worker -- and the position was for an office manager in respiratory therapy and I decided to put my years as a Bunny on the bottom of the resume.

"I got a call that afternoon, I got an interview the next day, and I was hired that day because they liked my looks. And this particular manager had fond memories of Playboy."

Both women hope the new generation of Bunnies cherishes the adventure. Ms. Chipman regrets how she felt about being a Bunny. "I wish I had had a more playful attitude about my Bunny experience at the time," she says now. "I think I took myself way too seriously."

"You know, life is too short," Ms. Downey Caddick says. "Have fun. I really believe that women should have those adventures before they're 30 or whatever age, but they should have those adventures -- that you could look back and be pleased.

"Who we are is a combination of all these experiences," she says. "These are great stories to tell my grandchildren and to have a feeling, at the end of life, that one has really had a view of it."

With that, Ms. Chipman says, she absolutely agrees.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(Soundbite of music)

SCOTT SIMON, host:

I went to Chicago's Playboy Club for my 21st birthday. We had good family friends, Auntie Abba(ph) and Auntie Jerri(ph), who helped teach Bunnies at the Chicago Playboy Club how to walk and serve food and drinks, including the famous Bunny Dip to ensure modesty.

Being a Bunny was considered good work. Hugh Hefner insisted that his customers behave. Those who didnt, be they big rollers, simple bores or Hollywood stars, got the toss.

Gloria Steinem worked at the Manhattan Playboy Club and later wrote the expose that helped make her a star in journalism. Lauren Hutton was a Bunny, as was Deborah Harry, the singer, and Kimba Wood, who trained at the London club before heading off to Harvard Law. She's now federal Judge Wood.

By the 1980s, Playboy Clubs were failing. What once seemed glamorous and daring had become hokey and degrading to women. And in these times, 50 years after they were invented, 22 years after they closed, Playboy Clubs are enjoying a small revival. A Playboy Club opened in Las Vegas four years ago. New clubs will open in Cancun and Miami this year.

Joined now by two of an estimated 25,000 women who worked as Playboy Bunnies between 1960 and 1988. Nancy Downey Caddick was one of the first women to work at the Chicago club. She's a clinical social worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She joins us from WDCB in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Miss Caddick, thank you very much for being with us.

Ms. NANCY CADDICK (Former Playboy Bunny): Thank you. Delighted.

SIMON: And Mary Chipman joins us now from WXEL in Boynton Beach, Florida. She worked in the New York and London Playboy Clubs and now works for Microsoft as a computer program writer, and she's written books on programming.

Miss Chipman, thank you very much for being with us.

Ms. MARY CHIPMAN (Former Playboy Bunny): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So Nancy and then Mary, why did you get a job at the Playboy Club?

Ms. CADDICK: Why? I heard it was fun, that you could make a lot of money, and I wanted it to be sort of a transition before I decided what it is I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Ms. CHIPMAN: Well, I basically was having an adventure. I arrived in New York City with basically $6 to my name, to see a friend who was writing and producing a Broadway musical, which closed after one night. And I loved New York and I said I've got to stay here. And of course I didnt have any clue as to what I would do for a living, so I walked into the Playboy Club and they hired me on the spot.

SIMON: So what was it like when each of you worked at the Playboy Club - the atmosphere, if you please?

Ms. CADDICK: At the beginning the atmosphere was really a private men's club. You had a very wonderful jazz music throughout. You had some great entertainers.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CADDICK: The atmosphere was fun. It was glamorous. It was the place to be in Chicago.

SIMON: Mary Chipman?

Ms. CHIPMAN: Things were quite different by the time I arrived. It was - the club had seen better days. The clientele, they weren't really the high rollers. The girls who made a lot of money had been there a long time. There was a very powerful union that protected seniority, so they only had to work a couple of nights a week in the showrooms, whereas the rest of us slaved, you know, five or six nights a week, basically hanging around and hoping for people to come in so that we could make a living.

SIMON: What years were you there, Mary Chipman?

Ms. CHIPMAN: I started in '71. So you had the whole women's lib thing going on as well. You know, it wasnt really that cool to be a Playboy Bunny. It had been glamorous 10 years before, but it wasnt so much at that point.

SIMON: And Nancy Downey Caddick, you were there 10 years before, right, at the Chicago club.

Ms. CADDICK: Absolutely.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the costumes.

Ms. CADDICK: Yes. The first one - the first one in the '60s was a Merry Widow corset that they fitted you in and they would ask your cup size and you would tell them and they would always go smaller, and they were tight. This costume was very tight. I have to tell you, the first time I put on the ears, I thought: Oh my. But the customers loved it. They loved the tails. And I particularly loved the cuffs and the cufflinks and the bow tie.

SIMON: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Mary, since you came along, Mary Chipman, at a more feminist age, had the costume changed in a way that Betty Friedan would've counseled? Or...

Ms. CHIPMAN: I loathed every aspect of that costume. I really did. It wasnt the sexiness of it, which was okay. It was the whole idea of the ears and the tail. I just thought it was very degrading. And once you make yourself into this Bunny, which isn't really a women, it's kind of just this hybrid creature, people felt entitled to take liberties with you.

People would feel entitled to pull your tail or touch you. Of course the management would protect you from all of this, but, you know, still, that was the natural impulse. The usual social barriers of treating women with a certain amount of respect were somewhat dissolved by the costume, I felt.

Ms. CAADICK: What I found most difficult to handle at the club was not men, it was women. So I would have - I had a couple of incidents where a woman would pull my tail. Another one who would just continue to make all kinds of nasty statements to me as I'm trying to serve them, and nothing I did seemed to please her. And so I mentioned it to my colleagues and I said, I dont know what to do. And another one said, I do. And so what we did is I set up a tray of sticky drinks like Brandy Alexander and...

SIMON: Grasshopper.

Ms. CAADICK: Grasshoppers, yes.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. CAADICK: And so I would head toward the table and someone would be coming the other way and they would tip my tray and it landed in her lap.

SIMON: Oh.

Ms. CAADICK: And, of course, she was screaming and carrying on. And, of course, the manager, the room manager apologized. And I thought, well, she may not come back again, but if she does, maybe she'll rethink how she communicates with the Bunnies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah. We're speaking with Nancy Downey Caddick and Mary Chipman, both one-time Playboy Bunnies. The Playboy Clubs turn 50 this year.

Nancy Caddick, youre a clinical social worker and you have specialized in treatment with HIV/AIDS patients. Mary Chipman, youre a software writer and computer programmer. People sometimes surprised to learn what you used to do?

Ms. CHIPMAN: I dont tell them.

SIMON: Really? Why?

Ms. CHIPMAN: I have kept it basically, you know, a secret for years. It doesnt do you any good, really. The industry I work in is a very young industry. Most of the people I work with are so much younger. They have no idea what it was. It's a curiosity, kind of dates you.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHIPMAN: But as I've gotten older, my perspective on that has softened and I just dont care anymore, you know? I had a colorful, adventurous life, and that was one part of it, and that's who I was, who I am. But it doesnt do you any good to put it on your resume.

SIMON: Nancy Caddick?

Ms. CADDICK: I have a different experience. Now, years later, in community services and having gone to school, I was applying for a position at Northwestern Memorial - this is before I'm a social worker - and the position was for an office manager in respiratory therapy and I decided to put my years as a Bunny on the bottom of the resume. I got a call that afternoon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CADDICK: I got an interview the next day and I was hired that day because they liked my looks. And this particular manager had fond memories of Playboy.

SIMON: What might you tell women working as Bunnies now?

Ms. CHIPMAN: I wish I had had a more playful attitude about my Bunny experience at the time. I think I took myself way too seriously.

Ms. CADDICK: You know, life is too short. Have fun. I really believe that women should have those adventures before...

Ms. CHIPMAN: Absolutely.

Ms. CADDICK: ...they're 30 or whatever age. But they should have those adventures - that you can look back and be pleased. Who we are is a combination of all these experiences. These are great stories to tell my grandchildren and to have a feeling at the end of life that one has really had a view of it.

SIMON: Boy, I've enjoyed talking to both of you. Thanks so much.

Ms. CHIPMAN: Thank you, Scott.

Ms. CADDICK: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Mary Chipman and Nancy Downey Caddick. Next week, Playboy Clubs will have 50 parties in 50 cities to celebrate their 50th anniversary. And the July issue of the magazine pays tribute to the Bunnies past, and looks to the future of the clubs.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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