Morris bunny remembers Playboy Club days
BY JEANNE MILLSAP Correspondent July 10, 2013 3:30PM
Playboy bunny Lisa Nelson (Bunny LaDonne) of Morris, pictured in 1980 with her arm around Hugh Hefner (center right). | Supplied photo
Updated: August 12, 2013 6:13AM
When Lisa Nelson of Morris uses the term “bff,” it means a lot more than “best friends forever.”
A former Playboy bunny in Lake Geneva, Wis., and Los Angeles during the glory days of the Playboy Clubs, Nelson means “bunny friends forever” when she uses the acronym.
Nelson recently returned from a bunny reunion at the Playboy mansion in California, where she and fellow bunnies were honored for their service at the clubs. They went on an exclusive tour of the mansion, got to walk down memory lane with Hugh Hefner, hung out at the pool and the grotto, and were honorees at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.
“It was awesome,” Nelson said of the reunion. “I forgot how hard it was to always be camera-ready. There were cameras flashing everywhere. They say, ‘Once a bunny, always a bunny.’ I already miss my bunny friends.”
Hefner’s Playboy stars included those who posed for the magazine — Playmates — and those who worked in the many nightclubs — bunnies.
The Playboy Clubs were an international chain that began in 1960. Most had closed by 1990, with the exception of several that are still popular in Mexico and India. At one time, the Chicago Playboy Club was the busiest nightclub in the world.
Nelson grew up in Morris and decided to try out for “bunnydom” when she was in college studying fashion merchandising in Milwaukee. Out of the some 6,000 young women who tried out, she was one of only 13 chosen. Two weeks later, she moved into the bunny dorm at the Lake Geneva club, where she served for a year, then went on to the Los Angeles club, where she was a bunny for another five years until it closed.
She was “Bunny LaDonne,” taken from her middle name since there already was a “Bunny Lisa.”
“It was the best job ever,” she said. “It changed my life. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. We’re part of history. If you’re going to be a waitress, you might as well be a bunny.”
Nelson still has her costume and bunny tail from those days. Parts of the job weren’t so much fun, though, she said. The worst part was her aching feet.
“We had to wear 3-inch heels,” she said. “I usually bought them two sizes too big and put footpads in them. That was the worst part. My feet are so bad now.”
Once she got the walking part down pat and learned to serve the drinks with the classic “bunny dip,” Nelson said it was a glamorous job. Rod Stewart, Tom Hanks and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities she served, she said.
The reunion was also everything she thought it would be, and the mansion had hardly changed with the exception of more security than she knew in the 1980s.