Skip to main content
First person

In 1969, donning a skimpy Bunny suit was the quickest way to my own liberation, Mary Sharina writes

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

I didn't know Hugh Hefner personally, but I worked for him. I spent five years as a Playboy Bunny in London. They were the best years of my life. And when he died last fall, I listened to his detractors vilify his flamboyant playboy image. There is no doubt that he has carved his small, controversial niche in the history books, but he was also a forerunner in the journey toward female liberation. I consider my experience a prime example.

In 1969, I was 18 and knee deep in a postwar, working-class upbringing in the Medway towns, just outside London, England. I was headed for the norm – boyfriend, marriage, motherhood – what was expected for a female in the late 1960s; no one talked of careers for women.

A chance encounter at a party changed my life. Toni, an attractive 20-ish female, introduced herself and, during the course of the conversation, revealed that she was a Playboy Bunny and earned £50 ($88) a week. (My Dad's salary at the time was the princely sum of £10 ($18) a week.) She had my attention.

The following day, armed with a telephone number, I headed for our council estates lone telephone box. I had no idea what I was venturing into. My mother was appalled "No daughter of mine … ."

But I got myself an interview, where I don't think I spoke more than half a dozen words to the Bunny Mother, but I did have to remove my clothes to don a Bunny costume. Forget the privacy of a changing cubicle, this was no holds barred communal undressing in front of the seamstress. Modesty was not an option. How I smiled seemed to be hugely important, too. "You can start next week," I was told.

Over the next six weeks, I learned all about being a Playboy Bunny. Training was held on the fourth-floor Penthouse casino of the London Playboy Club. A dapper dinner-jacketed gentleman strolled down the middle of the Playroom where all the future Bunnies had been assembled. He indicated that one side was to become croupier Bunnies, one side cocktail Bunnies. My training as a croupier, or dealer, started that day. London and Europe in the 1960s was a bastion for male croupiers, there were no female croupiers. Along came Playboy and everything changed.

The strict regimental training was brutal and quickly whittled out the less stalwart of our group. There were few of us left standing after the rigours of the course. Not only did we have to be super dexterous; picking up and stacking hundreds of roulette chips under the beady eyes of our trainer wielding a stopwatch, we also had to be able to calculate intricate bets, learning picture bets by rote as well as the 35, 17 and 8 times tables.

Not to mention, at the same time, I had to balance on spiky stiletto heels for eight hours. I would be earning my £50 ($88).

Having passed the training, my next hurdle was to tell my dad where I would be spending all night, six nights a week. He was still in the dark. I didn't even have the key to our house yet and my curfew was 10:30 p.m. still. It was not an easy sell.

Playboy club management realized that most of their Bunnies had disapproving parents, so they invited parents for a tour, a reassuring talk and a complimentary dinner. Once wined and dined – it was the first time my parents had dined on haute cuisine – my dad was a convert.

With my salary, I opened my first bank account. I had never had so much money. The first thing I did was to install a telephone in the downstairs hallway of our modest council house where I still lived. A washing machine, a vacuum cleaner and a colour TV were next and my Mum's bare-bones life became a lot less arduous with these labour-saving luxuries. It felt amazing to have the cash to help my parents.

In the early days, I commuted from home. It was an hour's train ride and I had a three-mile walk to the station. From the moment I jumped on the train, I had an hour to transform myself. Taking my hairpieces from my Bunny bag and removing the now cold heated rollers, I styled and set them aside. As the train's motion allowed, I glued my false eyelashes and applied my make-up; all of this to the bemused reaction of my fellow passengers. Transformed, I took the bus to Park Lane where the excitement of the night awaited me. Once through the doors, I never felt as if I was going to work. It felt like an adventure, an evening out. I never knew who I was going to meet. In fact, there are few celebrities of the 1960s and 70s that I didn't see or meet, including Hugh Hefner. I felt very lucky; I often wanted to pinch myself to see if it was all real. Over time, I became an excellent croupier and was scheduled for only the high roller tables. I had a reputation for cleaning everyone out.

My real education began the moment I became a part of the Playboy Empire. I was not forced to apply to become a Bunny. I regret nothing. It gave me my financial freedom, enough money to help my family and plenty of opportunities to travel. My skill as a croupier would eventually take me around the world. I felt empowered, not demeaned and I look back over the years feeling privileged and proud to have been a part of something so iconic. How many women can say the same?

Did anything bad happen to me? It wouldn't be normal if everything was rosy. But those moments didn't scar me for life. Hugh Hefner changed my life for the better. I say to his critics: Don't judge until you read or hear the whole story.

Mary Sharina, a.k.a. Bunny Zoe, lives in Ottawa.