The Examination of a Playboy Bunny

The photographer Weegee sets up his equipment to photograph a Playboy Bunny in the 1950s (International Center of Photography/Getty Images)

Her nom de bunny was Marie Catherine Ochs, an old family name that Gloria Steinem thought sounded “much too square to be phony.” Marie went to high school and college, but “wasn’t a slave to academics,” dropping out after her first year of college to fly to Europe and work as a waitress in London and a hostess-dancer in Paris. After returning to New York to work as a secretary, she saw an ad in the newspaper looking for women who were “pretty and personable, between 21 and 24, married or single” who wanted to make between $200 and $300 a week — about the same salary as a Madison Avenue ad executive. When Steinem handed over Marie’s detailed personal history to the Sheralee, the Bunny Mother at Playboy’s New York Club, the hostess handed it back without looking at it.

“We don’t like our girls to have any background,” she told Steinem, who was going undercover as a Playboy Bunny for Show magazine, “we just want you to fit the Bunny image.” Steinem kept meticulous notes as she completed each stage of the interview, as well as the job itself, and she collected these notes in a day-to-day account that was published in May 1963 as a two-part series “A Bunny’s Tale” which was later collected in her 1985 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.

Part of Steinem’s training involved the fitting of a skin-tight uniform in two colors, the application of false eyelashes, and a physical examination with a doctor, which she recounted in detail.

At 11 a.m. I went to see the Playboy doctor. (“Failure to keep doctor’s appointment, 20 demerits”) at his office in a nearby hotel. The nurse gave me a medical history form to full out. “Do you know this includes an internal physical? I’ve been trying to get Miss Shay to warn the girls.” I said I knew, but that I didn’t understand why it was required. “It’s for your own good,” she said, and led me into a narrow examining room containing a medicine chest, a scale, and a gynecological table. I put on a hospital robe and waited. It seemed I had spent a good deal of time lately either taking off clothes, waiting, or both.

The nurse came back with the doctor, a stout, 60-ish man with the pink and white skin of a baby. “So you’re going to be a Bunny,” he said heartily. “Just came back from Miami myself. Beautiful Club down there. Beautiful Bunnies.” I start to ask him if he had the coast-to-coast Bunny franchise, but he interrupted to ask how I liked Bunnyhood. Well, it’s livelier than being a secretary, I said, and he told me to sit on the edge of the table. As he pounded my back and listened to me breathe, the thought crossed my mind that every Bunny in the New York Club had rested on the same spot: “This is the part all the girls hate,” said the doctor, and took blood from my arm for a Wassermann test. I told him testing for venereal disease seemed a little ominous. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “all the employees have to do it. You’ll know everyone in the Club is clean.” I said that their being clean didn’t really affect me and that I objected to being put through these tests. Silence. He asked me to stand to “see if your legs are straight.” Okay, I said, I have to have a Wassermann. But what about an internal examination? Is that required of waitresses in New York State? “What do you care?” he said. “It’s free and it’s for everybody’s good.” How? I asked. “Look,” he said impatiently, “we usually find that girls who object to it strenuously have some reason…” He paused significantly. I paused, too. I could either go through with it or I could march out in protest. But in protest of what?

Back in the reception room, the nurse gave me a note to show Miss Shay that I had, according to preliminary tests at least, passed. As I put on my coat, she phoned a laboratory to pick up “a blood sample and a smear.” I asked why those tests and no urine sample? Wasn’t that the most common laboratory test of all? “It’s for your own protection,” she said, firmly, “and anyway, the Club pays.”

Down in the lobby, I stopped in a telephone booth to call the Board of Health. Was a Wassermann Test required of waitresses in New York City? “No.” What kind of physical examination was required? “None at all,” they said.

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