Bonnie Jo Halpin, our October
1962 cover girl, keeps the bubbly flowing for keyholders on a Miami
Club Bunny Hop flight. Playboy, July 1963
the beginning, the Chicago Club boasted a Playmate Bar, with illuminated
transparencies of Centerfolds, an intimate Library (where early performers
included songstress Mabel Mercer and pianist Bobby Short) and the Living
Room, featuring a combo and other entertainment. Other show venues, the
Penthouse and Playroom, opened later.
"One of the first pianist-vocalists we hired, at $250 a week," recalls
Lownes, "was a 19-year-old from Detroit, Aretha Franklin. But another
executive felt she was too shy and retiring to ever amount to anything."
Another early hire, Barbra Streisand, was released from her contract when a
bigger showbiz break loomed.
As it developed, the Playboy Club circuit served as a springboard for many
entertainers, notably black comic Dick Gregory, whose 1961 Chicago
appearance broke the color barrier for mainstream nightclubs; Pat (Karate
Kid) Morita, Gregory Hines, George Carlin, Flip Wilson, George Kirby,
Slappy White, Jackie Gayle, Danita Jo, Rob Reiner, Nipsey Russell, Irwin
Corey, Peter Allen, Steve Martin, Lainie Kazan, Ronnie Milsap, Don Adams,
Richard Pryor and Rich Little.
The Playboy Clubs had a good run, with the last one closing in 1991 -- quite
a record for a nightclub concept. And, according to Hefner, what goes around
will come around again. Says Playboy’s founder, "We’re absolutely, without
question, looking at new opportunities."
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photo by Pompeo Posar