Joan Hodges Interview
(Original Playboy Bunny)
Joan Hodges holds the distinction of being one of 6 original Playboy Bunny Girls.
She was chosen out of 1,000 girls!!
Joan trained in the Chicago Playboy Club.
She then went back to her native England and trained British girls to open the London Playboy Club.
Joan Hodges is a star of stage, screen and t.v.
We’re so fortunate to have her tell her story to us.
Q – How, Joan, did you come to the attention of the people at Playboy? Did they see you first? Did they take out an ad in the newspapers?
A – It was way back in 1965. At the time, I was actually working for Harrod’s, the store, in Knightsbridge. I came home and my dad was very very excited ‘cause he’d heard on the radio, it was actually Radio London, they had an ad on there, well it was a competition and they wanted to find 6 British girls to go over to America for 6 months, well, actually it was going to be for that long. It was gonna be for a couple of months to train as Bunny Girls in the clubs and to come back. In the time we were over there training then they were building the London club on Park Lane. So, the first go was to send a photo in, which I did. Apparently they had 1,000 photos sent in. They whittled that down to 500, and they interviewed, and they whittled that down again to about 200. I got into the last batch. Finally, o got into see Victor Lownes who was the U.K. head of Playboy and he asked me if I’d like to go to America. So, I was one of the girls. That was in 1965.
Q – Did Mr. Lownes ever tell you why he selected you?
A – I think you had to have some sort of looks about you. But, I think what swung it for me was I was sort of a Cockney if you like. I was a real Londoner. One of the girls they chose was Scottish. Another girl was from Bristol. Another girl was very, very well-spoken. So, they had those girls. I was the 4th one chosen. I came in. My dad drove a red London bus. All the rage at the time was Twiggy. She was like your little Cockney. And, in came me, Cockney. I think that was what helped swing it. I was totally different from the other three. I think that’s really what got it for me.
Q – Before you got this job, did you understand what a Playboy Bunny was?
A – No. I didn’t at all. The funniest thing is, and it’s true, when I came home from work from Harrod’s, my dad said to me, ‘I’ve heard something on the radio today and I think you’d love it. It’s the Playboy Club’. I said ‘What’s that’? My husband Chas, I was going out with him then. He was a musician even then as he is today. He was away quite a lot playing. I was getting home from work and he would be gone. My dad reckoned that somehow or another this would suit very well because I’d be off in the daytime and me and Chas could see more of each other at night. So, I said to him, ‘What is it? I’d never ever heard of it’. He said, ‘Well, I know it’s American. You’re dressing up like a rabbit. I reckon it’s one of those American ice-cream parlors’. (Laughs).
Q – Ice-cream parlors?!
A – He said that’s what I think it is. You know America-----they do things in a Big Way. He said, ‘I think that’s what you are. You’re dressed up and it’s like an ice-cream parlor’. Well, I soon found out that wasn’t right, (Laughs), when I went up to the audition. Another thing that I always helped swing it for me was after all those 500 girls Victor Lownes interviewed, I was the only one, he said who took my mum with me. She was a bit suspect. She wanted to find out a bit more what the Playboy Club was all about. She came with me. So, when I went in, and I had to go up and get changed into a Bunny Girl costume, she sat with Victor Lownes and some journalists, ‘cause there were a few newspapers covering the story of finding 6 British girls. She sat there having a cup of tea. I think that sort of amused him and he thought it was quite sweet that I’d take my mum.
Q – Didn’t Playboy have a British edition of their magazine available on stands at that time?
A – Oh, no. It was all completely brand new. The magazine was coming alongside the club which was being built on Park Lane. When we finally got over to Chicago, which was gonna be for a couple of months, the building was taking so long, the club was taking so long to finish they had to keep extending our time. So, it ended up we were there about 6 months which should have been just a couple of months.
Q – How did you like Chicago?
A – I loved it! I absolutely loved it. Very, very cold ‘cause we went out in October. Bitterly cold. I couldn’t believe how windy it was. I have some lovely memories. I remember an amazing statue. I wish I knew what it was called. I know it was depicting war. It was soldiers. It was quite significant. Whether it was a memorial for the fellas that died in war. I don’t know. It was a really good one (statue). I remember the Wrigley building. Also, we drove out and made really good friends with an American-Italian, one of the room managers, and we spent Christmas at Chicago Heights with his granddad and that was great because we’d come out of like the glamour of The Playboy Club to somebody’s home and it was great, being with a real family and nice, lovely people. We really did enjoy that, Lake Michigan and loads of really good memories about Chicago. We found a club called the Pickle Barrel. I wouldn’t know where that was, but we used to go there quite a bit for the music.
Q – Did you see any famous musicians in that club?
A – I really don’t remember. There may well have been. I just enjoyed the music. It was a good time. It really was a good time.
Q – Were you surprised at the costume you had to wear as a Playboy Bunny?
A – Oh, no. It was really well-fitted. They were actually made for you. You always got your own costume made completely for you. You kept your own costume. It was great. You felt good in it. I always felt good in it. But, the funniest thing was, in 1965 we actually left Heathrow Airport dressed in these costumes and that was quite something. From Vic Lownes headquartes in Knightsbridge we each drove and each one of us had a James Bond car to take us from Knightsbridge to Heathrow Airport. James Bond was all the rage and it was Sean Connery then. So, we were in those and it was quite funny. I remember being squashed right down in the seat because you couldn’t sit up straight, you had your ears on and the roof was low so you’d bend your ears up. We were all literally driven to Heathrow in a James Bond car which had been used in the film.
Q – How long of a drive was it?
A – Not that long, about 45 minutes I reckon. It couldn’t have been much longer than that.
Q – What did your job entail at the Playboy Club?
A – From the training, literally just waiting a table, and from there, there were different rooms. There was a VIP room where the girls wore velvet. That’s when you’d really made it because it was a beautiful restaurant. The food was really lovely and it was sort of quite special. Then there was the Playmate Bar where there were pictures of all the Playmates on the wall. Fellas would come in for a drink and that would be it. And then there was the Showroom where you saw some brilliant acts. In fact I saw the comedian Mort Sahl. He was hilarious. And, he just loved us British girls. He’d really like take us off, especially me, trying to do this Cockney accent. On this Playboy costume you used to have your name tag on the side of the uniform. Ours had the Union Jack flags on hwere our name was. It was quite good because everybody loved us there. It was a good atmosphere. It was a nice atmosphere.
Q – How did the customers treat you? Was there a lot of touching and grabbing?
A – No. There was a real strict rule there. It was great and it was very adhered to as well. We were well looked after by the room directors. You were never supposed to date (Playboy Bunnies). I know some girls did, but, if they’d been found out they would have been fired. They really were strict on that. You felt well-protected. I never, ever had any bad experience there.
Q – Did you ever wait on any famous people at the Chicago Playboy Club?
A – There were loads. I know Johnny Ray came in quite a bit. Adam West came in quite a lot. There were also a lot of people that came to the actual Playmate Mansion to have dinner and for parties. Bob Hope came. There were loads. It didn’t mean anything, ‘cause you were seeing ‘em all the time. It didn’t really mean much at all.
Q – Did The Beatles ever drop into a Playboy Club?
A – I don’t know. The Beatles may have well gone to the London Club. I don’t think they went to the American Club.
Q – Let’s talk about your husband for a minute. Is he a famous musician?
A – He’s very famous in England, Chas Hodges. When I first started going out with him he was in a band called The Outlaws and he backed Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent and toured with them. He’s also worked with The Beatles. He’s friends with Paul McCartney. He worked on an album with Paul way, way back in the early to mid 70’s. I got a lovely present from Linda I still cherish. She brought out a book of photographs that she’d taken. She’s a brilliant photographer. Chas was in the studio with them and I was at home with the children. She signed it for me and said, ‘Can you give this to Joan’? I’ve still got that. I’ll treasure that. She was a lovely, lovely lady. I met her on quite a few occasions and she was Lady McCartney in every sense of the word. Chas has got quite a history. He really has. He’s just got a book out. He’s written the story of Chas And Dave ‘cause that’s who he’s been with for the last 30 years. They were at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of nights ago. They did a show there. Chas has also worked with Jack Clement who lives in Nashville. He was the man who ‘discovered’ Elvis. He worked for Sam Phillips. Sam Phillips was out of town when Elvis came in, but Jack was there. He told Elvis to come back and told Sam Phillips he’s got to listen to this boy. Jack played dobro on Chas And Dave’s album.
Q – Have you then met all The Beatles?
A – I’ve met them all except John. Chas knew John. They were actually in Germany together. They toured together. In fact, I think Chas was on the last tour they ever did in Germany. They were on as a support act. He knew them way, way back. It was Brian Epstein who came into the dressing room and said, ‘What do you think of the name Beatles’? They were trying to think of a name. Chas said, ‘Sounds alright’. They weren’t sure whether to be called The Beatles. Brian Epstein who was their manager, was in the dressing room with Chas. So, they go way, way back. Ringo opened a club in America. He asked Chas to go out and open it for him with his band. So, they did. They went out and played when it opened. The Beatles were terrific. We play them all the time. They just were leagues above any other band. It really infuriates us when people compare them to The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones were not a patch on The Beatles. Their writing skills-----they wrote the most brilliant songs, The Beatles. Also, Chas And Dave went on tour with Eric Clapton. He’s really good friends with Eric. Eric gave him a banjo. George Harrison, another lovely man. A beautiful man. So sad he went. We saw him not long before he died. They really were good people.
Q – Getting back to you…..you left Chicago and returned to London where you trained women for the opening of the London Playboy Club.
A – Yeah. We came back and we trained…..we needed 94 British girls to open the club. They wanted 100 Bunny girls to open the London club. So, we held training in the London Hilton Hotel. Lee Marvin was in there. The whole cast of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ were in there. Trini Lopez was in that cast and he was very good friends with Frank Sinatra. So, they were in there. So, we got to see a lot of them while we were interviewing all those girls. And finally, when we got the 94 we needed that’s when the club opened. I think it was June ’66 that it opened.
Q – Were you ever approached about being a Centerfold for the magazine?
A – Yeah, I was.
Q – You must have said – no.
A – I said No. I didn’t want to do it. I was engaged to Chas for a start. It didn’t interest me. I thought no, I don’t really want to do that. So, I just declined, and said no thank-you.
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