I don’t think that most people today realize the extent of the success of the Playboy Club in the 1960’s and early 1970s. In 1961, The Playboy Club was the busiest night club in the world. The Chicago club alone brought in around 132,000 customers in 3 months. Famous entertainers like Bob Hope, Ray Charles, Steve Allen, Ann-Margret, and Dizzy Gillespie performed at Playboy Clubs from New York to Manila, London, Tokyo to the Bahamas.
And these weren’t sleazy strip clubs.
The Playboy Clubs were classy, cool and hip. In Diamonds Are Forever, we learn that James Bond is a member. It became a status symbol to be a “Keyholder” for 25 bucks a year.
To give you an idea of how “unsleazy” Playboy’s reputation was at the time, Hefner had a television show called Playboy’s Penthouse…. this at a time when networks would never dream of putting Ward and June Cleaver in the same bed! Indeed, these were places you could take your wife and not feel awkward – they were tasteful and swank.
Of course, the main attraction were the Bunnies. Inspired by the Chicago’s Gas Light Clubs of the 1950’s, Hefner had his hostesses wear similar outfits the Gas Light Girls (see above).
At one time there were 25,000 Bunnies and over a million Keyholders! And the revenue kept pouring in – soon, The Playboy Casinos became the primary source of income for the Playboy empire. In fact, the 45 Park Lane Playboy Casino was the most successful casino in the world.
All good things must come to an end, however. Playboy lost its gambling license, which killed a huge source of profits. Other factors included a general decline in nightclub attendance and the meteoric rise in feminism put the final nail in the coffin.
A new Playboy Club opened at The Palms in Vegas in 2006. In 2012 it closed. There’s a long, long way to go to recapture the hip reputation and global success which it once enjoyed. So, let’s relive the past a little and take a look at a few pictures from when The Playboy Club was king. I’d be interested to read comments from anyone lucky enough to have visited the club in its heyday.
I’ll start with a picture of me at age 12 at the Baltimore Playboy Club in 1971. (Not really.)
Several image sources found here at the ex-Playboy Bunny site
Music was a Playboy Club mainstay. In PLAYBOY ON STAGE: How Hugh Hefner and Playboy Changed the Face of Music, Patty Farmer focuses on Playboy and the music scene, its impact on popular entertainment (and vice versa), and the performers who took to the stages of the mythic Playboy Clubs and Jazz Festivals
Like Nina Simone performing on Hef’s first television show Playboy’s Penthouse circa 1960.
I told you it was the kind of place you could take the wife…. for breakfast.
Bong! How d’yer like your eggs in the morning?
It’s all very respectable.