Friday, October 1, 2010

The Bunny Years

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Bunny Years (Pomegranate, 1999).

I still think there was an effortless, white-hot coolness about Playboy in the 1960s, and few things sum up the great sense of overall design about that magazine's package quite as well as the Playboy Clubs and that iconic cocktail waitress costume. Back in 1999, by which time the last memorable Playmate had long since posed*, former New York club Bunny Kathryn Leigh Scott, later a successful actress best known for her role in Dark Shadows, penned this look back at the history of the clubs.

The book, while technically unauthorized, still seems to have been done with the magazine's blessing. There's very little of an unflattering nature here, but honestly, and no disrespect to Scott, the pictures are worth thousands of words. There's an early sixties picture of patrons in a candid shot underneath a Leroy Neiman painting that's Mad Men-cool, and a too-small shot of the Walter Holmes-costumed DC-9 Big Bunny flight attendants, the only ones in the industry more amazing than TWA's, and a famous, oft-seen shot of future Bryan Ferry girlfriend Marilyn Cole that sums up all that was good - and there wasn't much - about the early seventies.

But the last page of the color photos tell you how this memoir is going to end up, with a 1980 shot of Hef, wearing an eye-shutting leisure suit and the worst haircut of our times, posing with some ill-advised cabaret-styled redesigns, and the text just confirms it. As the hangover of the 1970s continued, the comparatively innocent Playboy Clubs couldn't be more than dated throwbacks to an era that the seventies wanted to trample through and forget. Scott deftly avoids letting the book turn into a bummer by letting recollections and memoirs by dozens of the women who took turns waiting tables and wearing the collars, cuffs and ears form the bulk of the text. This way, while the decline and fall remains an inescapable part of the background, the celebration carries on to the end, and the closure of the Lansing club in 1986.

Most importantly, by letting dozens of women without axes to grind speak their peace, the book thoroughly debunks the mythology that Gloria Steinem crafted in her "expose" of the clubs. Never have preconceived notions and eleven days of "research" created a career quite in the way her article did, much to the detriment of people who turned the job into a family, for decades. I think it was a fascinating book, but, I'm biased, liking design and the sixties and cute girls the way that I do. Your mileage may vary.

*Well, okay, it was Angel Boris and it was just three years previously, but Playboy might as well have closed shop after her.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Wow! This is a nice surprise. Thanks for the great review! It's the 50th ann'y of the Playboy Bunny this year and that has brought renewed interest in the book. I'm still in touch with many of the former Bunnies I interviewed, including beautiful Marilyn Cole. Please check out my website: