Thus were strict employee regulations set. The Bunnies were to be friendly but were not to fraternize with the customers. They were banned from giving out their phone numbers and from using their last names—and the amount of time they spent with individual patrons was closely monitored.
“You’d be fired if you ever dated a customer,” remembers Gwin. “Even if you met someone outside who happened to be a keyholder, you had to let them know. They would make a note of it so they wouldn’t think you were dating someone on the sly.”
Hefner put his brother, Keith, in charge of recruiting and training the Bunnies. To demonstrate that they were serious, Lownes and Keith Hefner let it be known internally that undercover investigators would visit the clubs to test the Bunnies’ integrity. “Playboy hired its own private detectives to come into the club and try to seduce and proposition the Bunnies,” Lownes told me when I interviewed him for my book Playboy Swings. “We wanted to spot a problem and correct it if we had to, before anyone else did.”
Bunny Lisa Aromi, who worked at the New York club in the 1960s and 1970s, remembers only a single Bunny getting snared in management’s trap. “We could always spot the detectives,” she says. “For one thing, they were extremely good-looking, which we all thought wasn’t very fair.” The strict rules were a success: The clubs stayed open without interference from either the real police or the morality police.
But by 1975 the culture had changed. Disco was approaching its apex; Studio 54 would open in New York just two years later. Women were taking to the dance floor wearing outfits far more revealing than a Bunny suit. More important, second-wave feminism was gaining strength. The clubs’ rules were increasingly seen as old-fashioned.
“Those were the days when women’s liberation was really hitting its peak,” says Couvall. “A lot of the Bunnies were complaining. They wanted to be able to go into the clubs during their off-hours and enjoy themselves.”
“They were protecting us, but we were all adults,” says Lyons.
Lownes recognized the problem and came up with a solution—one that would bring the club regulations into the 1970s while grabbing a lot of attention for the company.
“Playboy always liked to get involved in social issues,” says Couvall. “So I get a call one day from Vic Lownes to come into the office, and he says, ‘What if we staged a strike or a walkout?’ We would get good publicity from it, and it would tie into the women’s lib movement as well.”
The concept had come from management, but Lyons says she and her co-workers were eager for change. And they knew a media event would lead to improvements at the clubs. The Bunnies notified the press about their planned picket line, and, as Couvall says, “the rest is history.”