Confessions of a Playboy Bunny – Part 2
In 1964 when Sharon Bernstein Peyton was 18 years old she worked as a Showroom Bunny at the brand new Baltimore Playboy Club. Join Ultra Swank as we continue our journey into a more stylish, sexy and sophisticated world as we venture behind the curtain with her to mingle with go getters and high rollers.
Working as a Bunny must have made you mature faster and experience things you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Do you think you would have been the same person today if you never worked at the club?
The Playboy Club was an intense and sophisticated environment, a different world, where I was exposed to many new things. It probably did cause me to mature faster. I learned to apply the, “Fake it till you make it” method. I acted sophisticated like I knew what I was doing until I gained more expertise. This question is very important to me because I believe that this experience had a very meaningful and lasting impact on my life. I don’t believe I would be the same person if I had not been a Playboy Bunny.
There were three significant benefits to being a Playboy Bunny.
The first is that as a Playboy Bunny in the 1960’s, I was a member of a small group of women who were considered, “sex symbols” and received special attention. Even now, 47 years later, people are still interested to know that I was a Bunny. This elevated my sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. For me this training and experience was a kind of finishing school. It gave me a sense of poise that hasn’t diminished in all these years.
The second important benefit was that, not only was this big business, this was show business. Working as a Bunny established my lifetime interest in the entertainment industry. Within a year of leaving Playboy I was married and the co-owner of my own night club business, the Bluesette, where I managed a rock music club, jazz club and booked music talent. Over the years, I also added a passion for mass media, and worked in radio and TV broadcasting, public relations, advertising, and the record industry.
Finally, the main reason why this job had so much impact on me was the fact that this was my first, full-time permanent job after attending college for one year. I was a clean slate. This was a very successful corporation that permeated the culture I grew up in. I carefully observed everything there was to study. I was most impressed and influenced by the fact that the Playboy Club was completely focused on providing superior customer service.
Everything was highly organized to accomplish that goal. Every detail was anticipated down to the last toothpick. I emphasize toothpick because we had custom made black plastic toothpicks that were used for the drink garnishes. When and how they were used was specified, in detail, for each type of drink.
My training as a Playboy Bunny had a permanent effect on my life. It provided a springboard that launched me into the rest of my business education and career. It provided me with learning lessons that calibrated everything that followed. Once they trained me to provide superior customer service, I would never be satisfied in my professional life to provide any customer or client anything less than that. In my personal life, it also set my expectations for how I should be treated as a customer. I expected to receive superior customer service, also.
In retrospect, as I look back over my career, I can easily find the thread that connects my Playboy experience to everything else I’ve accomplished. Throughout my career I applied what I learned as a Playboy Bunny. This translated into my motto for life, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right, the first time”.
Working in a place were many “go getters” and “high rollers” mingled back in those days, you must have some fascinating stories to tell. Did you ever get to interact with celebrities or famous people?
The only national celebrity that I met, who was not associated with Playboy at the time, was Al Martino, the singer. This occurred one day when I was working the lunch shift in the Playmate Bar with another Bunny who had met Al Martino during her previous job as a stewardess. He stopped by to visit her. Since most of the lunch business had tapered off, and we weren’t busy, he hung out with both of us for a while. He was very nice and charming, and interested in magic. Somehow while we were chatting, he managed to remove my cuff and cufflink from my wrist without me realizing it. I thought it was funny.
Before the club officially opened to customers, we had a special event inside the new Club. This was an “invitation only” party for Baltimore’s local dignitaries and celebrities. My significant memory from that night was an encounter with a well-known and highly respected Baltimore jurist, Judge Solomon Liss. I was wearing my very long, dark brown hair naturally flowing down my back. I began to walk near him when the crowd slowed me down, and I was paused next to him. He reached out and collected some of my hair in his hand and said to me, “This is the most beautiful thing here tonight”. I was very flattered because I was proud of my hair.
In addition to working inside the Club, there were outside opportunities for Bunnies to meet local dignitaries or celebrities by participating in promotional and public relations events. As an unpaid promotion I participated in two softball games. The first one was with the City Hall Press Corp/Journalists, who were local celebrities.
The second game was with the City Sheriffs who weren’t known to me as celebrities. However, their ad hoc leader was Jack Pollack, who I recognized as a local influential and notorious political boss. As you might imagine, these weren’t intended to be serious ball games. The Bunnies were no match for a team of adult men, so we changed the rules and won. Since I was rather athletic as a kid, I was pretty good at softball. During our first game, I got a triple with bases loaded and got my name in the newspaper as Bunny Sherrie.
Have you read the recent book “50 Years of the Playboy Bunny”? Was it an accurate portrayal of the clubs as they were then?
Coincidentally, I recently received this book as a present from my youngest son. He knows I have an ongoing interest in anything about the Playboy Clubs. It’s a good overview of the history of the Bunnies. The book is very pretty and slick, just like the magazine and the clubs. I think it captures the essence of the clubs as well as possible in print.
The book is not an equitable cross section of all their clubs. Not all the clubs were created equal. I believe the Baltimore Playboy Club was less glamorous than the clubs in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. Rather, it is a collection of their best highlights. They gathered their best pictures, of their prettiest, most famous Bunnies, from their most prestigious clubs, and put them altogether in one book.
My biggest concern about the book is that all the nude photos would give a reader the impression that most Bunnies were nude models for Playboy Magazine. Many people mistakenly believe that Playboy Bunnies were nude models in the magazine. As far as I know that was mostly not the case. I only worked with two Bunnies who were centerfolds.
The Playboy Clubs were well known for hosting the performances of famous musicians and comedians. Are there any that came through your club that stand out in your mind?
I actually didn’t have an opportunity to meet any well-know celebrity entertainers. Since I worked in the Penthouse where the focus was on the cabaret show, I might have had the opportunity to meet them. However, Baltimore was a franchised club, in a less significant city, where they didn’t book nationally known talent while I worked there.
However, because I did work in the Penthouse, I met the emerging entertainers who played the Playboy circuit. None of them were major celebrities when I saw them perform, but some of them became more famous later.
There were a few entertainers that I remembered most over the years. One of the biggest name entertainers at Playboy was Jackie Gayle. He performed during the opening month at the Baltimore Club. I remember him best because I got special attention from Jackie. Sometimes when he was performing on stage, and he could see me in the room, he would acknowledge me to the audience. He had two nicknames for me. Probably because he was Jewish, and he knew I was Jewish, he would make a joke to the audience about calling me, “The Yiddisha Bunny”.
On other occasions, because I had very long dark brown hair flowing down my back, he would make a joke about calling me, “The Beatnik Bunny”. Little did he know that it was actually true. Right before I became a Bunny, I was a Bohemian art student dressed in black turtle neck shirts and sandals. Years later I would see him on late night talk shows and a few movies.
There were two other comedians who performed at Playboy as rising stars and later gained a national audience. Charlie Callas appeared on many television shows including Johnny Carson and acted in a TV show called, “Switch” with Robert Wagner. Noriyuki “Pat” Morita became well-known for playing the roles of Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi on Happy Days and “Mr. Miyagi” in The Karate Kid movie series.
Finally, I want to mention that the musicians who played in the Playboy Club were the best musicians in Baltimore. The Ted Hawk Trio played in the Penthouse and Jimmy Wells and Donald Bailey performed in the Living Room. A few years later when I owned my own jazz club, the Blues Back Alley, we hired some of them to be our house band, Ted Hawk on drums, Jimmy Wells on vibraphone and Donald Bailey on stand-up bass. Ted Hawk later performed both nationally and internationally.
Playboy detractors say that Playboy was too pre-occupied with sex. Were the detractors missing the point?
The detractors are the point. They are the source of the problem to begin with, a culture that is repressed, dishonest and hypocritical. There is a long list of hypocritical, self-righteous religious leaders and other conservative politicians and dignitaries who have been caught doing something “immoral or unethical” after preaching against this behavior. Also, these conservative moralists continually divert the attention of the naive public away from the problems that really threaten our nation.
According to Hugh Hefner’s biography, he grew up in a painfully repressed family, devoid of any obvious displays of affection. As he matured he realized that he wanted a different life for himself, where love and sexuality could be expressed more openly, honestly and candidly. Playboy Magazine and his other business interests became his platform to share his open-minded beliefs.
Playboy helped lead the way for the more sexually liberated baby-boomers that followed. For a while in the late 1960’s and 1970’s it seemed that “sex, drugs and rock and roll music” was the point. Now, in retrospect it seems that some of our behavior may have been somewhat excessive. However, sex is one of the most important drives that human beings have. If we didn’t have this drive, then the human race would cease to exist.
Lenny Bruce was also a champion similar to Hugh Hefner who I admire. He was persecuted and prosecuted for his efforts to confront people about being honest, tolerant and not hypocrites. He was attributed with saying that he would prefer that his children be exposed to sexual subject matter rather than be exposed to all the violence in our society. I tend to agree with that.
This repression is still surprisingly rampant. It has been 50 years since I was a teenager, and I have seen very little progress since then in sex education for teenagers. Preaching abstinence is a seriously misguided policy based on denial that fails to protect our young people from permanently destroying their lives. The stakes are much higher now. It isn’t just about an unwanted pregnancy. Now, having unprotected sex can be fatal because of Aids and Hepatitis C.
The bottom line answer is contained in two sound bites, “Grow Up” and “Lighten Up”. I give credit for these words to Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, and his co-author David Eisenbach Ph.D., historian of American political history. While I was struggling for a good answer to this question, I saw them on a C-SPAN book interview.
Their new book is, “One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History”. As you might expect they talked about how sexually uptight the American public can be.
Were you ever asked to pose for Playboy magazine? If not, was it something you would have done if asked? Why or why not?
No, they never asked me to pose for Playboy magazine. Most Bunnies, including myself, never posed for the magazine. In recent years I have realized that many people confuse Bunnies with Playboy magazine centerfolds or models. Our ambitions were much more mundane. We aspired to go to college and professional school, build a business or just get married and raise a family.
I did work with two Bunnies who were centerfolds, China Lee, Miss August 1964 and Sally Duberson, Miss January 1965. Since posing for the centerfold wasn’t full time work, a number of models became Bunnies. I believe that in 1964, Playboy only paid $1,000 for posing for the centerfold and another $2,000 if the model agreed to participate in one year of promotional appearances.
I did think about being a centerfold because years ago the nudity was more limited and tasteful to me. These days they are compelled to compete with Hustler and Penthouse by exposing too much. I remember weighing the pros and cons. The money wasn’t that impressive. If I had been interested in pursuing a modeling or acting career, perhaps there could have been some advantage to being a Playboy model.
However, I was more interested in pursuing a career in the business world. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a nagging feeling that being a centerfold could backfire. As it turned out, I did complete my college education and stay in the business world. I decided not to include Playboy Bunny on my resume. Also, I knew that my mother would not approve of me being a centerfold. She would have been horrified.
I sometimes wish that I had posed for nude pictures when I still had the good looks to do it. Years ago, because I was very photogenic, friends who were photographers would ask me to model. So I have many nice professional photos, but no nudes to help me remember what used to be, rather than what is.
Finally, did you get to meet the legend in the silk pajamas, Hugh Hefner?
I did meet Hugh Hefner once but he was wearing a suit. Shortly before the new Baltimore Playboy Club opened in July 1964, Playboy Corporate held a cocktail party to celebrate. Many executives from Playboy, including “Hef”, had traveled to Baltimore to attend the party.
This event was rather challenging for me. I had never attended such a sophisticated event. At one point during the party I remember finding myself standing alone with Hugh Hefner, trying to carry on a conversation. He seemed very nice and down to earth, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to maintain a conversation with him. Talking to him was like “pulling teeth”, but I gave it my best shot.
Although I was rather young, I usually didn’t have trouble carrying on a conversation with anyone. However this was unusually awkward for me. My impression, at the time, was that he was actually rather quiet and shy around strangers. Maybe he was just tired. I know it seems hard to believe that the most famous swinging single of the last few generations could be shy.
I have great respect for his genius, talent and achievements. I recently viewed a documentary about him, “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel”. I was very impressed to learn more details of his numerous accomplishments. He led an effort to promote freedom, honesty and eliminate hypocrisy that helped to alter American culture and sexual politics beginning in the 1950’s. For better or worse, he also helped to initiate the sexual revolution. He championed many worthy progressive causes such as racial integration and legal abortions.
Above: Playboy Bunnies Play Softball with City Hall Press Corp — Photo courtesy of Sharon Bernstein Peyton
Above: Bunnies Perform at Ft. Howard Veterans Hospital — Photo courtesy of Sharon Bernstein Peyton
Above: Bunnies Perform at Ft. Howard Veterans Hospital — Photo courtesy of Sharon Bernstein Peyton
Above: Bunny Sharon modeling in 1969 — Photo courtesy of Sharon Bernstein Peyton
Above: Living Room – Bunnies Dance on Piano Bar — Photo courtesy of Holly Royce
Above: Playmate Bar – Bumper Pool Bunny — Photo courtesy of Holly Royce