Jaki Nett had big dreams of becoming an actress – but when she found herself in California, she hopped on a surprising new gig.
In 1967, the aspiring screen siren was interviewed to become a Playboy Bunny at the LA Playboy Club on the Sunset Strip. Nett went on to become one of the first women of color to be hired. And for nearly 12 years, she represented Hugh Hefner’s creation.
Today, the yoga instructor is sharing her story in a podcast titled “Power: Hugh Hefner,” which dives into the complicated legacy of the magazine publisher who died in 2017 at age 91. Hosted by author Amy Rose Spiegel, it features interviews with several women directly involved with Playboy and former Bunnies, including Holly Madison.
Nett spoke to Fox News about what it was like being a Bunny, meeting Hefner and why she left it all behind.
Fox News: What was it about this podcast that made you want to come forward and share your story?
Jaki Nett: Well, there’s a renewed interest in Playboy and it was such an important part of my life. I grew up under Playboy. And I know some misconceptions still exist about being a Bunny.
Fox News: Why did you travel from Mississippi to California in 1962?
Nett: I had big dreams of becoming an actress. … I was also a very sheltered child growing up in segregated Mississippi with a father who was very politically connected. We were targeted by the Klan during that time. I felt there had to be more for me. And California felt like such a big, new world. I was an innocent girl with Mississippi mud between my toes.
Fox News: What happened after you arrived in California?
Nett: I studied theater arts, but my financial situation was very bad. It was a friend of mine who said, “Jaki, you should become a Playboy Bunny.” This was around a time when we were doing a play and I was a showgirl with these glamorous costumes. So he felt I could do it easily. But I knew nothing about Playboy. He did get me an interview and I went. I was interviewed by Hugh Hefner’s private secretary and the Bunny Mother at that time. I remembered they looked at me and went, “You’re too thin.” So I figured, I’ll gain weight. I gained 10 pounds in two months. I was still too thin but eventually, I got hired. I was persistent.
Fox News: You were told you were too thin to be a Bunny?
Nett: You have to remember, a Playboy Bunny is hired because of their looks… And you had to maintain a certain weight, whatever it was that made you look good. They had very voluptuous ladies and some like me, who were very thin. When I went to my interview, I was under 100 pounds. I was really skinny. I looked very much like the girl next door, but one who had long legs… And Hugh Hefner didn’t condone segregation so I didn’t feel isolated as a Black Bunny. I felt accepted. There was no general distinction. We had Black general managers, room directors and Bunnies. I was happy to be working in this environment. It was quite exciting.
Fox News: What’s a misconception you feel people still have about Playboy Bunnies?
Nett: That we weren’t respected at work. We were very much protected. No one was allowed to touch us and believe me, everyone wanted to touch the bunny tail. I used to see the room director physically take people out. Even if the room director wasn’t around, you would go to an older Bunny and they would protect you.
If you were faced with sexual advancements by a patron, you could say, “No, you don’t say that to me, you don’t touch me.” It was a lot more conservative than what it looked. The Playboy Club was meant to be fun and exciting, but it was also an illusion. You played by the rules. We didn’t lean over tables. Also, we were a lot more clothes than we looked. You usually had on two pairs of pantyhose. I never wore two pairs, but many women did. The only thing that was exposed was your arms, your back, your upper chest and your face. The rest was covered.
Fox News: What is a Bunny Mother?
Nett: She’s the lady who looks over the other Bunnies. She does the hiring, the scheduling and the management of your time. She’s the boss. She checks your costume every time before you go and serve. … I was eventually offered to be a Bunny Mother both in LA and New York. I didn’t want to be a Bunny Mother in New York. They didn’t pay me enough to live in New York. You need a very good salary to live nicely in New York. And when it came to LA, I got married soon after that, so I didn’t accept it.
Fox News: You left the Playboy Club because you got married?
Nett: Yes, I left in 1979 and I got married. That’s the reason I left. And it was very hard for me. I grew up there. It protected me. I had a family there. So to leave that all behind, I grieved so much. If I had still lived in LA, I would have stayed as a Bunny for much longer. But my husband wanted to live in the Valley.
Fox News: Did you ever get a chance to meet Hugh Hefner?
Nett: Oh yes, of course. He was a very gentle man and always around. Hefner was a brand and he knew it. I used to go to his movie parties, which were usually on a Sunday. That’s when we would watch movies. I never saw him drunk. I never saw any smoke come out of his pipe. I never saw him speak loudly. I saw him walk around with whichever lady – or ladies – was on his arm. He wasn’t some yahoo-type guy running around and taking liberties with the ladies. That could have happened, but I personally never saw it.
At his parties, he used to have the most amazing buffets so of course I went *laughs*. But I never went upstairs at the mansion, which was his private home. I always stayed on the ground floor. You had to be invited up there. And I didn’t want that part of the Playboy experience. Whatever you think might have happened in the steam room, the game room, the grotto – happened. All of those things were made for sex. If you went to the grotto and saw someone over in the corner, either you left or joined them – whatever your desire was. I went to the mansion with my friends so we could eat good food. At the end of the screenings, there was always dessert. Whatever you wanted, you could have.
But after dessert, the second movie was usually porn, like “Deep Throat” or “Behind the Green Door.” That’s when I said, “Thank you” and went home. *Laughs*. You could do a lot of things at the mansion, like watch movies, eat good food, swim at the swimming pool, meet new people, and watch the animals like the peacocks. You could also play, and I didn’t want to play. I stayed for dessert and went home. What happened after that was just my imagination. But I didn’t want to have that part of the experience.
Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Nett: It’s been fulfilling. I’ve been married for 43 years. I got my undergraduate degree in interior design and art. I was offered a job in Las Vegas, but I didn’t want to lose my soul there. I don’t like to gamble, and I was still innocent. After that, I became interested in yoga. I started studying yoga and some of my students were Bunnies. Then I became certified. After I got married, we moved to Napa Valley and I wanted to teach on a college level. So then I got my master’s in humanistic psychology. Now, I teach internationally. … I wrote a book and I host workshops.
I credit Playboy for the life I have. It gave me the ability to express myself in a way that I still do today. It’s almost like when you put on a Halloween costume. You put on a completely different persona, and it changes you. That’s what it was like for me. It’s a part of me, and I’m not ashamed of it. I feel youthful for my age. I do yoga and part of it is genetics. But the attitude? It’s all Playboy.