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Gloria Steinem, Deborah Harry, Ellen DeGeneres, More Celebrity Playboy Bunnies

As NBC’s new Playboy Club series begins, the Daily Beast surveys celebrities who toiled as Bunnies

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Gloria Steinem

In 1963, three years after the first Playboy Club opened in Chicago, 29-year-old Gloria Steinem went undercover in New York’s club and wrote an exposé of the experience for Show magazine. The article, which was included in Steinem’s collection Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions led to better working conditions at Playboy Clubs—including ending the requirement that all Bunnies receive an internal exam for venereal disease—as well as a 1985 TV movie, A Bunny’s Tale, starring Kirstie Alley as Steinem. Now 77, Steinem recently called for a boycott of NBC’s new Playboy Club series. “Clearly The Playboy Club is not going to be accurate,” she told Reuters last month. “It was the tackiest place on earth. It was not glamorous at all."

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Deborah Harry

Long before she was blonde—and the lead singer of Blondie—Deborah Harry worked as a Bunny in New York’s Playboy Club. In an interview for former Bunny Kathryn Leigh Scott’s book The Bunny Years, Harry recalled her years at the club, from 1968 to 1973: “Being a Bunny involved a rare combination for a woman in the workplace,” she said. “It was an unusual perception of women that they could be beautiful, feminine and very sexy, and at the same ambitious and intelligent. At Playboy, those women had a place where they could use those attributes to make money—and also be valued as employees. Bunnies were the Playboy Club.”

Sherilyn Fenn

As a struggling 19-year-old actress in Hollywood, Sherilyn Fenn worked for two months in 1984 as a Door Bunny at the Los Angeles Playboy Club. Six years later, Fenn got her breakthrough role as Audrey Horne on Twin Peaks. The part earned Fenn an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and also led her back to Playboy—she posed for the magazine’s December 1990 cover and did a pictorial inside.

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Kimba Wood

When federal judge Kimba Wood—who sentenced junk bond king Michael Milken—was nominated by Bill Clinton to be attorney general, among the facts that came out in her confirmation hearing was that in 1966 she trained for five days as a Bunny at London’s Playboy Club. "It was a way to earn money," a friend recalled of Wood's side job while a student at the London School of Economics. "She was doing it for a joke and then decided it was stupid." But it wasn’t her time as a Bunny that derailed Wood’s nomination. During the hearings, she also revealed that she had employed an illegal alien to look after her child, a scandal that became known as “Nannygate.”

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Jacklyn Zeman

“The Bunny thing was so easy,” says Jacklyn Zeman, who has starred as Bobbie Spencer on General Hospital since 1977. “You showed up, did it, left. A no-brainer work-wise, and a perfect job if you were going to school. And it was a lot of fun.” Zeman worked at the New York club in her early twenties, but had to promise her father she wouldn’t pose for the centerfold of the magazine. “I told him, ‘OK, I can make that promise.’” But years later, when she was a successful soap-opera actress, Zeman did pose for Playboy—wearing a (mostly) modest green scarf.

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Carol Cleveland

“I think compared to everything else that was going on, it was very tame,” Carol Cleveland told the BBC recently about her time in London’s Playboy Club in 1966. The aspiring actress took a job as a Bunny to help her career—and it worked. She was cast in a Sammy Davis, Jr.-Peter Lawford movie as a waitress who works in a club like Playboy’s. Cleveland later went on to great acclaim as the “seventh Python”—the only regular female performer on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, she also appeared in four of their movies.

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Lauren Hutton

She became one of the most successful models of the 1970s, but as a Bunny in New York’s Playboy Club, Lauren Hutton had a rocky career. “I quickly became the Demerit Bunny,” she recalled in Kathryn Leigh Scott’s The Bunny Years. “My ears were crooked, my tail not on straight, whatever. Every time I had 97-98 demerits and almost got fired, I’d somehow win the bartenders’ Bunny of the Week contest. That would give me enough good points to lower the demerits and I wouldn’t be fired.” Still, as Hutton told Esquire in 2004 of her time as a Bunny, “It was a good experience because it taught me pussy power. I told Henry Kissinger, ‘No high pussy for you!’”

Wally Fong / AP Photo

Susan Sullivan

It’s hard to picture Greg’s uptight mother on Dharma & Greg as a Playboy Bunny, but back when actress Susan Sullivan was a student at Hofstra, she went to work at the New York Playboy Club to earn extra money. “Apparently, I did feel a little uncomfortable about the whole idea behind being a Bunny, though,” Sullivan admitted years later. “I would go up to a table and say things like, ‘Forthwith, my Lord, here is your gin and tonic. I’m working on a Shakespeare play in school and I’m just practicing.’” The practice paid off. Sullivan is now a two-time Emmy nominee and currently stars as Richard Castle’s mother on Castle.

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Dorothy Stratten

After working as a Bunny in the Los Angeles Playboy Club in the late ‘70s, Dorothy Stratten went on to become Playmate of the Month in August 1979 and Playmate of the Year in 1980. But Hugh Hefner saw even greater things for Stratten, imagining her to be a second coming of Marilyn Monroe. She was cast in some small TV roles and then landed a part in Peter Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed. After her estranged husband/manager, Paul Snider, discovered she was having an affair with Bogdanovich, he shot and killed her (and later himself). Stratten’s tragic story later became the basis for the Bob Fosse film Star 80, starring Mariel Hemingway.

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Ellen DeGeneres

Though she’s most comfortable in baggy pants, loose shirts, and sneakers, Ellen DeGeneres donned black tie and Bunny ears to deal cards at the Playboy Club at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas last May. The talk show host got certified (and fingerprinted) to become a blackjack dealer and raise money for two of her favorite charities, Gentle Barn and Farm Sanctuary. Though as the video of her time at the club shows, Ellen has a long way to go as a dealer—she required assistance from a calculator and an abacus, which is always sexy.