The Playboy Club
The original Los Angeles Playboy Club was opened on New Year’s Eve of 1964 at 9000 Sunset Boulevard, where the parent company had its L.A. offices. At times, a large bunny logo was projected on the side of the building. That logo was a fixture of The Strip and it also made a statement about the changing times or the new sexual freedom of Hollywood…or something like that. I never set foot in the place but I always heard it was filled with middle-aged men who came to ogle the Bunnies and to act out the fantasy that being a member made you as hip as Hef. I also heard that the parking was abominable.
In 1972, when the ABC Entertainment Center opened in Century City, the Playboy Club was relocated to a lovely room nestled under the Shubert Theater. I was given a free membership in 1981 (courtesy of Hef himself) and I couldn’t resist going a few times, partly to see the Bunnies, partly to see what the Playboy Club experience was all about…and partly to see some of the oddest dinner show entertainment in town. I dunno who booked the room or what was on their minds but the shows all evoked what I call the Springtime for Hitler look. At times, it was like they were searching for people who actually did the kind of thing Bill Murray had parodied on Saturday Night Live.
The oddest was a lady…and given her act, it’s ironic that I don’t recall her name. But I’d never heard of her before and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of her since. Her act was all what I call “Ego Songs.” Every one was about her: “I’ve Got the Music In Me,” “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “This is My Life,” “My Way,” “I’ll Make My Own World,” etc. It was a variation on what the eminent philosopher Daffy Duck once called “pronoun trouble.” Between the songs, she talked about — surprise, surprise — herself and her career, as if any of that was of vital interest to us. Then for her closer, she pulled out all stops and performed what still stands as the single greatest example of Excessive Ego I have ever seen on a stage.
The great singer-songwriter Peter Allen once wrote a tune called, “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage.” It was about Judy Garland, who was recently deceased when he wrote it. She was also his mother-in-law. It’s a nice little tribute tune that quietly asks that people remember Ms. Garland (even though she is not named in the song) and to understand that despite her occasional public shortcomings, she was a great person. A very touching number.
Well, the woman at The Playboy Club closed with that song. Only she changed some lyrics and the emphasis of others and made it about herself. There’s a line that goes, “Stand for the ovation,” and she kept singing it over and over, commanding us to give her a standing ovation. People finally did, just so she’d shut up and end the show. If we hadn’t, we’d all still be there listening to her screaming out, “Stand for the ovation.” Then she took a tearful, humble bow, left the stage and came around to each table for praise, to offer autographs and to pass out business cards that told us where we could order her new album. Even the Bunnies in the room were muttering, “How can she parade around like that?”
The entertainment at The Playboy Club wasn’t all dreadful. I remember one peppy dance revue that included ten or fifteen minutes of great stand-up comedy by a young Hispanic guy I’d never heard of before. First time I ever saw Paul Rodriguez.
Food at The Playboy Club was a mixed blessing…edible but not worth the price. The best thing was the steak and it came with a lavishly-produced baked potato. Your Serving Bunny would roll a cart to your table loaded down with toppings — butter, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, salsa, etc. A very big deal was made out of having your baker dressed precisely the way you liked it. My Serving Bunnies were always disheartened that I just wanted a little butter and I sometimes let them add bacon bits not because I like them on a potato but because I couldn’t stand to disappoint a beautiful woman. The service was pretty decent except that Bunnies always had to keep dashing off to other tables to join in a chorus of “Happy birthday” and the presentation of a little bunny cake with a candle in it. Some nights, it seemed every single table there was someone’s birthday outing.
What I think killed The Playboy Clubs — or at least, that one — was that anybody could go to them…and did. There was nothing special about the clientele. You didn’t look around and see a younger, hipper throng. You saw a crowd that apart from the absence of children, could have been at the Sizzler. I once asked a Bunny I knew there how often Hef came around. She said, “About once a year for some special press conference or event.” Then, letting me in on a secret that could have cost her her tail, she told me, “He usually doesn’t stay for dinner but when he has to, he has his own chef come in and prepare his meal special.”
I started to really feel like an exploited tourist when I went there. The name, prices and “club” premise promised something more than a mediocre restaurant with bad entertainment and good-looking waitresses in what looked like uncomfortable costumes…but that’s all you got. My research failed to turn up the date when the Century City club closed and I think I know why that information is so elusive. It’s because when it happened, nobody cared.