Thursday, September 28, 2017


Hugh Hefner passed away yesterday at the age of 91. I used to live right behind the old Playboy Mansion in Chicago a few years after Hef permanently moved out west. It had been converted into condos by then, but every time I walked by that building I imagined what had gone down there. When I worked with Landecker he told me stories about things he saw and did there (including playing Foosball once with Elton John, Hefner and Barbie Benton), and it sparked my imagination even more.

The inscription on a brass plate above the door said: 'If You Don't Swing, Don't Ring.'

The bunny costume started up this way...

The original Playboy Club in Chicago was patterned after the city's exclusive Gaslight Club, an elegant key club for Second City powerbrokers and VIPs. When Playboy Magazine ran an article about Gaslight in 1959, reader response was overwhelming. Playboy Promotions Director Victor Lownes pitched an idea to Hef: Why not bring the magazine's bachelor pad image to life in Playboy's own urban hangout?

Hef loved the concept -- but a key element was still missing. The "Gaslight Girls" served their male patrons in Gay Nineties-style corsets and fishnet tights, and the Playboy Club needed a sexy costume of its own. Hef's first thought was to have scantily-clad "Playmates" in nighties serving drinks, but a better idea soon came strolling in the door.

Ilsa Taurins, who was dating Lownes at the time, looked at the magazine's logo and suggested, "Why not dress them as rabbits?" Even though Hef had initially rejected the idea, Taurins tinkered with a costume design and had her mother sew one together. A few days later she entered the half-finished Chicago Club in a satin bodice, fluffy tail and headband with ears, and a new sex symbol was born.

Famous men who married Playboy Bunnies: Bob Dylan, Jimmy Connors, Mort Sahl, Dick Martin, Larry King, Victor Lownes, Bruce Forsyth.

Famous children whose mothers were Playboy Bunnies: Jon Bon Jovi, Dean Cain, Corey Feldman, Janel Moloney, Melissa Auf der Maur.

For people under 40 years old, it's hard to explain what a cultural phenomenon, Playboy was. Hef was one of the most famous people in America. Here he is getting roasted by Dean Martin back in 1973.

I met Hef three times during my radio career. Believe it or not, he was a lousy radio guest, despite having some pretty good stories. He just didn't tell them well.

But for any man who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, he was living a dream life. It didn't matter if reality matched up with our fantasy of it.