Funny what surfaces when digging through old dusty files. Recently some Playboy Bunnies tumbled out of a long forgotten banker box.
Over forty years ago, I hatched the idea for a story that combined interesting cars and beautiful women. Granted, while we’re not talking the great American novel, I did believe the odds of getting published were good.
Based on my proximity to McAfee, New Jersey, my idea called for writing a piece on Playboy Bunnies at the Great Gorge Playboy Resort who drove Corvettes. I pitched the idea to Corvette News. Their response? Absolutely! I was halfway home. Now, I only needed permission and cooperation from Playboy to provide access to the women who fit the story, if they existed, and to conduct interviews and photograph the women on the scenic Playboy resort grounds. How hard could that be?
To my pleasant surprise, Playboy embraced the idea. Game on for “Great Cars, Great Girls, Great Gorge.”
Playboy Bunnies in the rearview mirror
Armed with a note pad, a pair of Nikons and boundless enthusiasm, I assumed the guise of the professional me as I approached the awaiting dream gig. I remember how rural it all felt as I navigated the two lane roads leading to what would be Hugh Hefner’s huge and subsequently failed bet that New Jersey would legalize gambling in the 1970s. My journey cut though farmland, cow pastures and woodlands until the Playboy Resort rose like a Mayan temple above the forest canopy. An approving wave at the security booth confirmed that all systems were go.
I still remember the Playboy PR staff. Jack Prather, Public Relations Director and his assistant, Mary Lander, put it together seamlessly. They introduced me to the three young women who would bring my idea to life. Kelly, Marie and Cathy, stunning in their royal blue VIP Room Bunny uniforms, would join me out in front of the resort to pose with one of their Corvettes. We would then reconvene at a scenic location off the golf course after they removed their Bunny suits and changed into casual clothes.
With bow tie, Bunny ears, cotton tail, 3-inch heels and a bustier-like body suit with a high thigh cut that made legs look like they went on forever, the Bunny suit transformed its occupant into a Playboy Club celebrity. Born from the creative vision of actress Ilse Taurins, the girlfriend of a Playboy executive in 1959, the Bunny suit, by 1960, achieved iconic status.
While feminists would view the wardrobe as clear evidence of subjugation and objectification, the women filling the suits, for the most part, viewed it as a strenuous and respectable way to make a very good living with the flexibility to attend college, raise children or pursue personal interests.
Kelly, Marie and Cathy clearly fit into the latter unsubjugated mind set. It should also be noted that Kelly, Marie and Cathy were not their real names. All bunnies took on a pseudonym as a security measure.
Kelly with a sunburst smile, cascades of chestnut curls and a Classic White 1973 Corvette with a 1970 LT1 small block loved fast cars and fast horses. She also had a 1967 E-Type under restoration and owned a Thoroughbred, a Quarter Horse and a Saddlebred that she intended to breed. Raised minutes from Great Gorge, she still lived on the family farm. Trained as a cosmetologist she had yearned for more social interaction. One Valentine’s Day six years prior, she went to Great Gorge for an interview. She had been a Bunny ever since.
Cathy, though a beautiful blue-eyed blonde, possessed real car guy instincts. Since buying her 1977 white on white Corvette three years earlier, she had clocked over 35,000 miles a year. “I had wanted a Corvette since I was 10 years old, “ Cathy said. She had to convince her dad as to the “wisdom” of buying the Corvette. Apparently she succeeded. Her sister got one too. “A nice day I am gone,” said Cathy, “Down through the south, up through New England, wherever my whims take me.” She expressed great pleasure at being a Bunny because of the financial and personal freedom it afforded her.
Marie with an infectious smile and engaging openness brought a natural athleticism to whatever she did. An accomplished skier and golfer, Marie brought her same signature spark and confidence to her time behind the wheel of her 1975 Silver Corvette. With no lack of serpentine back roads around Great Gorge and her love of the outdoors, Marie would have the T-tops off and a firm hand on the 4-speed every chance she got.
All three had achieved a level of respect and recognition at the resort as signified by their years of service and status as VIP Room Bunnies though each entered with different expectations
Marie’s introduction to Playboy started when she was sixteen and worked as kitchen help at the resort. Like Kelly she went to school for cosmetology but found it lacking in diversity and a wider population with which to interact. She returned to Great Gorge and put on the ears.
Cathy received her degree in Retail Management. While working for a men’s clothing chain, on a dare from her boss she packed her bikini and with much trepidation went for a Bunny interview. Cathy said, “while I now really enjoy being a Bunny, my first impression was quite different.” Cathy’s interview brought her to the New York Playboy Club. Watching the bunnies bustling passed, Cathy gulped self-consciously when she eyeballed the Bunny suit and how much of the Bunny was outside of the suit.
Bunny interviewing and supervision clearly qualified as woman’s work performed by the Playboy Club Bunny Mother. At that time at Great Gorge, Bunny Mother and former Bunny Sandra Schiffer ruled the hutch and made the decisions. Years later Ms. Schiffer’s daughter would follow in her mother’s Bunny tracks as a Playboy Bunny. At the interview a Bunny Mother selected from a large number of applicants with an eye to proportions and confidence that those chosen would maintain the Bunny image of the doe-eyed, adrenaline generating girl-next-door with lady-like discretion and the iron will of a Buckingham Palace Guard.
So natural and relaxed in front of a lens, for Kelly, Marie and Cathy whether together or alone, clearly the camera was their friend. All three had commented that whether working at the resort or making a personal appearance for Playboy, the first question they got would always be “what issue were you in?
“Many people assume that as a Bunny you must also be in the magazine,” said Cathy. Every so often a photographer would come to the club, inquiring of any women interested in test shot.
“I couldn’t do it,” said Kelly. “For those that do, fine, it’s just not me.
Said Cathy, “My father would put me six feet under. No question. I couldn’t stand the thought of walking into a service station and seeing that picture on the wall.”
Now in casual clothes, Kelly, Cathy and Marie posed with their respective cars displaying a natural poise that relegated the Corvette to that of fashion accessory. The day moved on till our work was done. I thanked them for their time, effort and grace.
Each would now prepare for work where bathed in the subdued candle light of the elegant Playboy VIP Room the young women would move among the patrons performing a graceful balance of focusing male attention with a charm and poise that would provoke no wife.
Weeks passed after I submitted “Great Cars, Great Girls, Great Gorge.” I received payment and a note. The staff loved the story. With the accompanying photography it had laid out very well, but. But? But, Corvette News had just changed editors and the story did not conform with the new editor’s personal values. The story would not run.
Burton, Great story! and pix! I didn’t even know that the resort still existed. Sorry it didn’t make the Corvette News but it’s their loss.
Thank you. Actually Great Gorge closed in 1982 and the last Playboy club of the original group in the U.S. closed in 1988.
Great article, Burton, especially the photos (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)!
I do realize your interest in the post was based on the writing.
Wow!!! Great article! Brought back memories of mt first Corvette, a 72′! But sadly, no Playboy Bunnies riding with me!! Take care Burton! Gynn
Playboy Bunnies came later, I am sure:)
Very neat, Burton! Glad that this story could see the light of day. Makes you wonder where those ladies are today…
Thank you. You are right. It would be great to meet up again, 40-years later.
Burt, once again a great article! Reminds me of road trips out I80 from 4th st, RP, to Great Gorge for winter sports. As a 17 yr old senior in HS, I remember the always beckoning but off limits Playboy club. Seems like another lifetime ago! Yes, it would be interesting to know what became of the Bunnies and the Vettes!
Indeed, memories experienced in the way-back machine. To be sure, many more adventures await us as we forge ahead in this lifetime.