Entrance sidewalk to the St. Louis Playboy Club

Nostalgia appears to be in on at least two television networks this season as both NBC and ABC revisit the swinging 60s and 70s with shows about the Playboy Club and the stewardesses of Pan-Am.

I had to tune in to the first show of “The Playboy Club” on NBC the other night. “Pan-Am” hasn’t aired yet but I’ll probably watch it since both the airline and the hedonistic creation of Hugh Marston Hefner were part of my life back in the day.

Pan-Am ‘Stews’ in hot pants

I often flew Pan-Am.  For many years, the airline was considered the flag carrier for America and the blue-and-white jets took me to and from many parts of the globe.

In those days, flight attendants were called stewardesses and they were young women you wanted to take home for reasons other than to meet mom.  Pan Am had some of the most beautiful and exotic “stews.” Pan-Am even try to sex up the image of their stewardesses in the 70s by putting them in hot pants. It was an era that was anything but politically correct so passengers flirted with the stews and they flirted back.

I was lucky enough to know and date a few Pam-Am Stewardesses during my single days.  They were intelligent, liberated, adventurous, free-spirited women who enjoyed a life that many envied.

Pan-Am received and flew the first of Boeing’s 747s and I logged many miles on the giant double-decker airliner.  My last flight with Pan-Am was out of London on Flight 103.  Two weeks after that flight, a bomber brought down 103 — a terrorist act that was the beginning of the end for the carrier.

In 1969, my first wife gave me a Playboy Club key for my birthday.  We lived in St. Louis at the time and the key gave me access to the St. Louis Club (the second one opened after the flagship club in Chicago) as well as clubs in other areas of the country and world.

The iconic Playboy Bunny

The Playboy Club was a fantasy world, with “look but don’t touch” Bunnies, entertainment, dining rooms and a busy bar.

The bunny costume looked uncomfortable for a woman and a woman who worked as one told me once that “wearing the damn thing is worse than wearing a corset.”  But the bunnies made good money.

Friends who came to visit often wanted to visit the Playboy Clug. Adrian Cronauer (of “Good Morning Vietnam” fame) and his wife Jean came to visit in the early 70s and we took them to the St. Louis Playboy Club for dinner and then took in a comedy show featuring a then up-and-coming comedian named Gabe Kaplan, who would later star in “Welcome Back Kotter”).  We had known Adrian and Jean from our days in Roanoke.  When one of Kaplan’s jokes fell flat (and many of them did that night) he looked at Jean and said “laugh lady or I’ll call a cop.”  Jean, a probation officer in Roanoke, smiled and said “I am a cop.”  Her remark got a bigger laugh than any of Kaplan’s one-liners.

My Playboy membership lasted longer than my first marriage and the club became a regular haunt as a bachelor.  The rules said a keyholder couldn’t date bunnies but I went out with several who worked at the St. Louis club. This was the liberated 70s and relationships were quick and casual.

One asked me to take test photos of her for submission to Playboy as a potential playmate of the month.  She didn’t make it but another that I photographed did and I received a nice check form Playboy as a finder’s fee.

Playboy Club Key

I would end up visiting clubs during travels to Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Miami and London.

But the clubs, like the magazine, became as dated as the lifestyle they epitomized and most the big city clubs were gone by the late 70s and early 80s.  The last American club, in Lansing, Michigan of all places, shut its doors in 1988.  An international club hung on in Manilla until the late 90s. On a trip to Manilla in 1996, I visited the Club but it wasn’t the same.

But Hugh Hefner is nothing if not nostalgic and a new Playboy Club opened in The Palms Casino in Las Vegas in 2008.

My old Playboy Club key is packed away in a box somewhere along with a set of luggage tags signalling my membership in Pan-Am’s Clipper Club.

Like myself, the key and luggage tags are relics of a long-lost era.

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