Down the Rabbit Hole: Gwen Wong Wayne Looks Back on Her Playboy Odyssey
Outtake by Mario Casili from Gwen Wong’s Playmate Pictorial
Only a few jobs in the world can rival the whispers Playboy Bunnies get, both controversial and not. The second Asian American Playmate, Gwen Wong Wayne, recounts her incredible experiences working as a Bunny in the 60s and 70s, and shares her life today.
With costumes so tight it hurts, Playboy Bunnies were viewed at a pedestal so high they seem unreachable. It may be hard to imagine it today but in the 60s and 70s, the Playboy empire was sophisticated, with patrons including moguls, celebrities, and the royals.
Girls all over the world auditioned to be bunnies, and over the thousands of women who tried their luck, Gwen Wong Wayne was one of the few who got to wear the famous Bunny ears.
“The people who came to the clubs were just trying to have fun and enjoy themselves! I never once heard a lewd comment.”
Next to China Lee, Gwen became the second Asian-American to grace the magazine centerfold. With her sun-kissed skin, doe eyes, and svelte figure, it comes as no surprise why she became one of the most standout playmates of her generation.
But how did she become a playmate in the first place? In a tell-all she wrote on Playboy, she bares it all.
Her Early Life
Born in Manila in 1942, Gwen Wong spent her early childhood between the Philippines and Australia. At seven, she moved with her family to San Francisco, California, where they became American citizens.
The soon-to-be playmate moved to Nevada at one point before her family settled in Ohio. Her father, who worked at B&W Barberton, alongside her mother who was a skilled pianist and her grandmother ran the first Chinese restaurant on West Exchange Street, Cincinnati.
“For four years I balanced Bunnyhood, motherhood and my duties as a student. I would wake up at the crack of dawn for class at 7:30, go to school, then shift gears for work, finishing at the club at 2:30 in the morning.”
Wong married her first husband and gave birth to her first son before packing their bags to move to Los Angeles. It was there where she had her daughter. Raising two kids wasn’t cheap so Wong had to find ways to earn money. Having never worked a day in her life, she admits that despite the struggle, she was driven to earn a living.
It turns out, life is about to steer her in a direction she never expected. At that time, Wong’s aunt who worked as a Bunny at the Miami and New York Playboy clubs told her extravagant stories about her clients and salary. This inspired her to try her luck in the industry.
“Ever since I was young. I’ve been a foodie-I love cooking and enjoying food.”
What’s a girl gotta do to become a bunny?
In the 60s, it was quite simple. Wong sent a couple of polaroids to the office at Sunset Boulevard and met with Keith Hefner and Dick Rosenzweig. Keith promised Wong that when the LA club opened, her Bunny suit would be ready for her. Four years later when the club opened its doors, Keith kept his promise and hired Wong as a cocktail bunny.
According to Wong, she had a hard time learning the ropes of her job at first, but as she started to excel, she climbed up the ladder to become a Training Bunny where she was responsible for training new hires.
Posing for Playboy
In her early days as a Bunny, Wong was already approached about posing for the magazine. Gwen was shy, but being around elites all the time developed her confidence. In April 1967, she finally cemented her name as a Playmate, looking at her iconic shot, she exclaims “Oh My God, my hair was three feet high!”
Gwen shares that upon her stint as a Playmate, she received countless letters from American soldiers stationed in Vietnam. Until now, she still gets fan mail from Playboy readers, some of whom weren’t even alive when her photos were published.
Gwen gambles at Ceasars Palace Las Vegas.
Life as a Jet Bunny
Two years after posing for the magazine, the company bought a luxury jet named “Big Bunny.” The solid black plane with a Rabbit head logo in the tail was undeniably the most recognizable plane in its prime.
Make no mistake, the Big Bunny was more than a plane. In fact, it was a mansion in the sky complete with a dance floor, and a bedroom with a round bed.
“I was never into drinking or drugs. I felt that getting high wouldn’t solve my problems, and I wanted to be a good role model for my kids and take care of myself.”
True to Playboy style, Hugh Hefner hired Jet Bunnies to work onboard, and perhaps it was her childhood globe-trotting experiences that made her nab the job. As a Jet Bunny, Wong traveled all over the world wearing the iconic black “wet look” uniform to places she only used to dream about – London, Greece, and even Africa.
“Was it a hard job? At times it was, but also it was something that was just…almost like you have to pinch yourself to know that this is real,” she said in a Playboy interview, adding that preparing Hugh Hefner’s fried chicken from scratch was the most nerve-wracking part of the job, even more than turbulences.
Hef’s Luxury Jetline ‘The Big Bunny’ was a big Hit back in the 70s.
Life Beyond Playboy
As you might expect, Wong’s life outside Playboy was just as colorful. She recounts having been asked out by David Bowie while she was shopping at Tiffany’s.
“I didn’t really care—I was too preoccupied with my kids and my work with Playboy to pay it any mind.”
Upon quitting her job at Big Bunny to have more time for her kids, she also enrolled at a University to pursue a degree. Playboy covered some of her tuition. For years, she balanced working for the club, attending school, and motherhood. And so when she finally graduated, she felt it was time to retire her bunny ears.
Wong’s Life Today
In the last 14 years, Wong’s life took a drastic turn. After being diagnosed with amyloidosis and stage four kidney disease, she had to give up her hobbies to recuperate.
“Family is by far the most important thing to me. My children have sacrificed so much to help me. From morning to night, my son does nothing but take care of me; he is utterly devoted.” Thankfully, shortly before the article was published, she has received a donor and underwent surgery.
Despite her condition, Wong’s positivity still shines through.
“No matter what you’re going through, you have to appreciate life and everything you’ve been given. I have never stopped learning, loving, growing, and opening my eyes to the magnificent wonders of the world. And I never will.”
Special Thanks to ©Playboy for their gallery archive.