What I Learned As a Playboy Bunny in the '70s
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
At seventeen, most girls were filling out college applications. I was nervously chewing my fingernails at an audition to become a bunny at the New York Playboy Club.
I had become the first emancipated minor in Suffolk County at age sixteen. How that happened is a story unto itself, but why I became emancipated was exactly why I was now auditioning to be a bunny. It took years of therapy to define and process the hell from which I had run away more times than I can count. Every time I was returned until, finally, the game was over. No one came to get me. I had never been more relieved, or more frightened. Now, woefully unprepared to make my way in the world—I was emancipated. And after a year of surviving in NYC on my own, here I was, nervously waiting to be called to audition.
After sleeping behind a shopping center heating vent when I could not find an unlocked car, I finally accepted an offer to crash at Mark’s cockroach-ridden Manhattan basement apartment in exchange for being his girlfriend. I got a job in a department store for minimum wage, then about $2.10 an hour. For the first time in my life, I felt safe.
One day, shortly after moving in with Mark, he came back to the apartment particularly excited.
“Yo! You home? Do your hair— now! Lemme see your nails … yo, you bitin’ your nails again?” He shook his head disgustedly.
I hated when I couldn’t please him. A deep sense of shame overtook me when he disapproved of me.
“What?” I asked, more frightened than curious.
“Yo, we’re gettin’ you dolled up. You got an audition at The Playboy Club. Starts at three. You better be ready.”
In his hand he held a torn-out ad announcing the auditions, which I took from him.
“Oh, you can’t be serious, Mark!” This was disastrous news.
“Not only am I serious, you are wastin’ time. Let’s go!” and he tossed me into the shower. Mark was not hesitant to use force when he wanted something.
My protests were failing to sway him whatsoever. I remember thinking that I just had to get out of this bad idea of his or risk the humiliation of a lifetime. It wasn’t that I cared about the rejection I would go through; that I could see coming easily.
It was that I couldn’t bear to lose status in his eyes, since he seemed to love me and finally gave me the sense that someone needed me. How could I possibly let him down by failing some ridiculous audition for girls that would all look like movie stars? I was panicked.
I remember crying, finally out of excuses about why I couldn’t go to the audition.
“Yo! You purposely tryin’ to piss me off, or what? You got a lot to do to get lookin’ good—let’s GO!” he stormed.
I wailed louder and louder that I didn’t have what it took, and that if he really cared about me, he wouldn’t make me “compete” on the basis of my looks, since the other girls were sure to be much more beautiful than me, and how could he even think of something this cruel?
Aggravated, he snapped at me, “You got nice big tits and nice legs and a nice face. They’re gonna love you, you hear me? You wanna make some good money for a change, or you wanna wait around for some other bullshit job where you make nothing, like now? Let’s go, now!”