When Hugh Hefner died, Marcia Fishman-Petersen wanted people to know the founder of the Playboy empire was about much more than a magazine that capitalized on sex.
“When they hear the name Hugh Hefner, it triggers this lewd, lascivious male-dominated mentality, and the truth of it is there's a lot more to the man than just Playboy magazine,” she said.
Before she moved to the Mississippi Coast, Fishman-Peterson worked as a Playboy Bunny, first in the Atlantic City club, then in the Bahamas. A feminist, she kept waiting for that moment when she would be outraged by the way she was treated in one of these clubs, both casinos where she dealt cards and worked the roulette table in her bunny costume.
The moment never came. Men were not allowed to touch the bunnies or even make sexual remarks to them. Any man who did was booted from the premises.
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Fishman-Peterson had graduated from college as a communications major and also was trained as a martial artist when she decided “as a lark” around 1978 to audition at a Playboy Club “Bunny hunt.”
She got the job, donning the uniform that consisted of a strapless suit, collar and cuffs, neck tie, two sets of hose (flesh-colored support hose under black sheers), and of course bunny ears and tail.
The bunny suits were custom-made to fit like a glove. And there were demerits for any woman who gained weight and had trouble fitting in her costume. Fishman-Peterson always managed to squeeze into hers.
And then there were the high heels.
“Wearing those heels was the toughest part of the job,” she said. “The first thing I did at night when I went through those double doors to the dressing room to change was take those heels off. It was brutal.”
She saw Hefner in person only once, when he visited the Atlantic City club.
“Everyone said he was very affable,” she said. “None of the women that I worked with mentioned any kind of untoward comments. He treated everyone, to my knowledge, as employees.”
Because of her journalism education, Fishman-Peterson always admired Hefner for publishing important stories in his magazine and supporting freedom of speech.
She had long left the world of Playboy when she agreed to participate in a documentary about the link between breast and ovarian cancers and the BRCA gene. Fishman-Petersen had by then been involved for years in breast-cancer advocacy because the disease ran in her family.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time it was killing her mother, who had four sisters with the disease.
“The breasts were so much a focus of the magazine,” said Fishman-Petersen, 61, who now lives in Bradenton, Florida. “And yet here he was funding a documentary that talked about genetic testing and hereditary breast cancers in a way that nobody had ever done before.”
She concluded a Facebook post Thursday about Hefner’s passing by saying, “Mr. Hefner was about so much more than what was visible to the general public.”