Former Playboy Bunny Susan Sullivan on The Bunny Years
An excerpt from The Bunny Years in which Castle actress and former Playboy Bunny Susan Sullivan recounts her experience working in the New York Playboy Club. The Bunny Years, by Kathryn Leigh Scott, is available from Simon & Schuster.
It was summertime, and I was working in Manhattan as a showroom model for a month or so to earn money for my junior year at Hofstra University. It was then that I saw a huge, full-page ad in the New York Times announcing jobs as Bunnies in the Playboy Club. I never seriously thought I would be hired, but decided I would at least go and apply for the job. I wanted to see the club, and I figured this would be the only way I ever would.
It was really an adventure. I went on my lunch hour. I borrowed a dress from the line, a very clingy, simple, crepe sheath dress. And I wore all of this padding because, to me, the image of Playboy Bunnies was bosoms. So I went in there with my large padded breasts for an interview.
â€œYou know, I’m going to be quite honest with you,â€ I said to a man in charge of the interviews. â€œI don’t think this is going to work out because actually I’m going back to school in September.â€
â€œOh, that’s fine,â€ he said. â€œYou can work on the weekends.â€
Then I said, â€œWell, I have a scholarship I have to honor. On the weekends, if I’m in a play, I’ll have to be in the play.â€
But he said, â€œThat’s not a problem. We’re very flexible, very accommodating.â€
There was another reason I knew it was never going to work but I certainly didn’t want to say to him, â€œLook, I have no bosom!â€
He said, â€œJust go down to the Bunny mother and try on a costume.â€
I said, â€œOkay.â€ I went to the Bunny Mother and told her, â€œListen, there’s not much point in my doing this because actually I have no bosom.â€
She said, â€œWe pad everybody. Nobody has much of a bosom. It’s no big deal.â€
So I thought, â€œWell, wait until she sees me!â€
I put on this costume and, sure enough, I learned about Bunny padding. In my case, the costume pushed me up from my thighs and pushed me in from . . . well, everywhere. And by the time I was through, I ended up with bosoms.
But everything’s relative, I guess. Once, there were these two guys sitting at my station, and one of them had just come out of a seminary maybe a few months short of becoming a priest. He very shyly said to me, â€œYou know, Bunny Sue, I really admire you because all these girls are walking around here showing everything they’ve got and you. . . Well, Bunny Sue, you are subtle.’â€
I just said, â€œthank you.â€
I never thought that the Bunny costume was such a terribly bizarre outfit. I’m an actress and I liked the idea of being in a costume and not being myself. I even altered my name — I became Bunny Suzanne.
Apparently, I did feel a little uncomfortable about the whole idea behind being a Bunny, though. It would manifest itself in that I would always try to tell people that I was in college. If I could slip it in, I would. I would go up to table and say things like, â€œForthwith, my Lord, here is your gin and tonic. I’m working on a Shakespearean play in school and I’m just practicing.â€ I felt the need to let them know that I was a college student and this was not my life. So a part of me clearly felt uncomfortable about being thought of as somebody who would be doing this work as a profession.
The fact that I was a Bunny was soon known on campus and that became a big thing. I was already well-established at Hofstra as an actress because I was in all of the plays. Then a big picture of me in my Bunny outfit appeared in the school newspaper. I had been dating a very popular guy and we had broken up. But I remember him seeing the picture of me as a Bunny and saying, â€œOh, my God, what’s going on here!â€
And that pleased me. I was in school, doing something of significance, yet I was also capable of doing this other thing on the side. I was â€œpretty enoughâ€ to do it. It added a bit of an edge. I never thought of myself as being terribly pretty, so getting hired to be a Bunny served as confirmation that I was a â€œsexyâ€ female.
In 1964, the Beatles came to New York and stopped in at the Playboy Club. I don’t know how I got to be the their Bunny, but I found myself serving Scotch and Coke to the Beatles. It was a table of 12 people and there was a disc jockey in their party. They were charming and very funny. Of course, I knew their songs and knew all about them, but what made it really nice is that, for them, I was somebody special.
Many of the gals working at the Club were not necessarily beautiful. They were not the prettiest and didn’t have the best bodies, but they were bright. That quality seemed to be of greater importance to the Club when they hired Bunnies. Initially a lot of the women they selected were college students. I remember meeting a lot of European girls there, and a good many very highly motivated women.
When the Women’s Movement came around and one thought about these things, I had to admit that I personally had never felt subjugated as a woman. It wasn’t in the nature of the work I did as an actress. It’s a profession where they need women. I was sort of surprised when all that consciousness-raising started to happen some years later, and then I began to question that I had once walked around in that really provocative outfit as a lure to bring men into the Club. â€œWas I being used and abused and tattooed on the Camino Real?â€ Hmmmm. Then I thought, â€œGosh, no, that wasn’t really the way it was.â€
I never felt ashamed of being a Bunny. I thought, I’m articulate, intelligent, a professional actress — here’s something counter to my normal image and it’s amusing. The experience of working as a Playboy Bunny provided good material later when I was a guest on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show.
I worked at the Club a little more than a year. Then I graduated from Hofstra University in 1964 and went to the Cleveland Playhouse.
At the time I worked at the Club, being a Bunny was not the main thrust of what was going on in my life. But now, when I look back at it, I’m glad I had the experience, because it was just that — an experience. A little round section of time. So much of your life goes by with a sameness, but the experience of being a Bunny has a sharp, electric blue kind of color. The same color as my costume.
The two-time Emmy nominee has starred in numerous series, including Falcon Crest, Dharma and Greg and most recently, Castle.