In the mid-20th century, lounges and nightclubs served up large doses of fantasy to American adults weary of the recent realities of World War II. Primarily, this was done in two ways: One way appealed to exoticism and escape from modern society while the other reveled in modernity and urban sophistication.
If one wanted exoticism, few did it better than the tiki lounges of Trader Vic’s. If one wanted urban high-life, none did it better than The Playboy Clubs.
Despite their impact and near ubiquity, changing times saw the classic Playboy Clubs vanish from the urban landscape to remain only in the minds of Playboy aficionados, lounge-o-philes, and mid-century mavens. For these folks comes “50 Years of The Playboy Bunny” by former Playboy editor Josh Robertson.
The title is something of a misnomer as the book is more about the development of The Playboy Clubs than about the Bunnies themselves. Of course, the Bunnies were the star attractions of the clubs, so the title isn’t unfounded. Even so, “50 Years of The Playboy Bunny” is mainly a narrative timeline of The Playboy Clubs with chapter-length departures on what makes a Bunny.
Considering the clubs’ iconic status and success, it’s odd that the book makes no comment on the world that gave rise to The Playboy Clubs nor on their impact. As it is, the text is straight-forward with few asides for historical context. While a light approach is certainly appropriate considering the subject, it may disappoint those mid-century mavens who appreciate a little more detail.
Still, Chronicle Books were wise to err on the side of brevity as a book of this type pleases best by showing rather than telling. And “50 Years of The Playboy Bunny” more than succeeds in this. Aside from the expected images of Bunnies both in and out of costume, readers will also be treated to a glimpse inside the clubs with candid “on the scene” photos, club interior and exterior shots, and examples of Playboy Club ephemera such as matchbooks, casino chips, and covers from the club magazine, ViP.
Overall, “50 Years of The Playboy Bunny” is a welcome and succinct look at an institution that should never have gone away. Don’t wait for the paperback version to be released. Get the hardback as this is sure to be a permanent addition to any lounge-o-phile’s library.
Chronicle Books, 2010