Sharon Rogers is best known for her appearances in Playboy. She was on the cover in November 1963 and Playmate of the month in January 1964 (The Tenth Anniversary Issue). Sharon has appeared in over 20 Playboy publications to date. She moved into the ChicagoPlayboyMansion in 1962 where she lived until January 1964. She worked and trained bunnies at the Playboy Club in Chicago before moving to Hollywood where she helped hire and train bunnies for the opening of the L.A. Playboy Club. She spent a year doing pre-publicity interviews on TV and in newspapers to promote the new Club. She also worked in the New York Playboy Club before leaving the organization in 1969. She also appeared in a few TV Series and a couple of movies. Sharon went on to retire in 2009 after working for the Washington State Department of Transportation for 22 years. It was an honor to sit down with her to learn more of her fascinating life.
Can you tell us a little about your early days? Do you remember your mother having a stroke when you were 5? How did that affect you personally? What was it like at boarding schools after that?
I do remember that day. I wasn’t quite 5 yet but my mother had a stroke while we were sitting at the breakfast table. She had her back to the refrigerator and I thought she had hit her head on the refrigerator and got knocked out. She was taken to the hospital and I didn’t see her again for quite some time (months). There were 4 of us children and our father got custody after our mother’s stroke because she could no longer care for us. She was 34. My brother Jim was 16, my sister Beverly was 10 and my brother Bill was 9. We were put in foster homes while my father tried to figure out what to do next. He was a traveling salesman and didn’t have a permanent residence. He tried hiring a nanny and renting a house, but that didn’t work. It was too much responsibility for her and she quit. Jim ran away and joined the Air Force (lied about his age). He was sent to Korea during the war. Beverly and I were put in a Catholic Convent Boarding School and Bill was put in Military School.
We never did have a “home” to go to. On Holidays, we stayed in Hotels or Motels with our Father and sometimes with our Aunt who lived nearby. In the summers, we would spend three months in summer camps. We would arrive before the other campers and stay after they left. We very rarely would visit our mother in Seattle. She never recovered from the stroke and couldn’t talk or use her right arm or leg. It was hardest on Bill because he was alone in Military school. Beverly and I were in the same boarding school so we had each other. I was in three different boarding schools. The first one was in Lakewood, Washington (first through fifth grade); the second in Spokane, WA (sixth through ninth grade) and finally in Evanston, Illinois (tenth grade to graduation).
As someone who was raised by nuns do you consider yourself religious? What are your feelings on the subject?
I always questioned the nuns because many things we were taught had no logical explanation….we had to “take it on faith”. My sister is still very religious to this day, but I left the church right after I graduated from high school. I became a Bunny at the Playboy Club not long after graduating. You only had to be 18 to be a Bunny in Chicago. In my opinion, religion is a personal thing inside of you. I have never felt a need to attend a church or groups in order to be “religious”.
As someone who wanted to be a star, did you develop your love for film early on? Who were some of your influences?
Absolutely! Being in Boarding Schools and Summer Camps were all I ever saw of the “real world”. When I went to movies…to me that represented what the world was really like and I wanted to be part of it. To be in movies, was my life long dream. When I was young, my idols were Sandra Dee, Natalie Wood, Mitzi Gaynor, Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and mainly….Marilyn Monroe. When I was in high school, we all tried to look like Brigitte Bardot…her hair, make-up and the way she dressed. It was always a goal of mine to meet all of them. I did see Elizabeth Taylor from about 10 feet away (but didn’t meet her), and I was fortunate enough to meet Judy Garland…. and even talked to her for quite awhile. She actually mailed me an autographed picture of herself! I was supposed to meet Marilyn Monroe in August of 1962 which is the month she died. She was scheduled to pose for the December 1962 issue of Playboy and I was going to meet her when she came to Chicago for the photo shoot. I was totally devastated when she died…still haven’t gotten over it. I started copying the way different stars did their make-up every time I had a chance. My entire life, I believed Hollywood was the only place to be! I planned on moving there since I was about 10 years old. In preparation, I took dance lessons for many years and I went to modeling school for a year to learn how to carry myself. Being in movies was my lifelong dream. I absolutely adored Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Loved all the dancers…a list too long to write.
I was in high school in Evanston, Illinois which is a suburb of Chicago. I was very aware of Playboy Magazine and the opening of the first Playboy Club. To me, it would have been a dream come true to become a Bunny, but from the pictures I saw of them, I didn’t feel I was qualified. They all looked tall, with long legs, tiny waist lines and large boobs….(of which I had none). I got a job selling cosmetics in a large Department Store in Chicago (earning $53.28 per 40 hour week – after taxes). One day a man approached me and told me I should be a Bunny. He explained that the long legs, tiny waists, big boobs were ALL because of the Bunny costume! He said if I applied to be a Bunny, I would get to try on a Bunny costume….and I really liked that idea!! So, one day on my lunch hour, I went to the Club and applied. They put me in tight black stockings and three inch high heels. The costume’s legs were high cut almost to the waistline, and it fit like a tight corset. The boobs were stuffed with bunny tails. So, there I was! I couldn’t believe how the costume made me look! I was hired that day and started working that night…never to return to the Department Store. The first time I walked down the stairs into the club wearing my costume, I felt like a movie star!! My first night I made around $200 which was 4 weeks salary at the store!! I was hooked! Also my first night, I met Johnny Weissmuller! I served shrimp at a “shrimp bar” in the Playmate Bar, and later danced the “twist” at a late night twist party in one of the showrooms – where I danced with Mr. Weissmuller. I was on cloud nine for a long time. I was nervous…. but excited more than nervous.
I understand you used to help train the girls at the various clubs as well. What things must a girl have to know to be a good bunny back in the day?
There were so many things. Many girls only lasted a few weeks as a Bunny, because it was really, really hard work. The Bunnies worked long hours and rarely got a break. The costume and the three inch high heels were not comfortable at all! The costume was so tight it cut off the circulation in my legs and at the end of the night I could barely walk because my feet were so sore. Most Bunnies had horrible feet! We would get blisters that would bleed! The Club in Chicago was open from 11:00 am until 4:00 am! The first shift was from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm and the second shift was from 6:00 pm until 4:00 am. We didn’t get paid…..WE paid Playboy to work there! They took money from our checks (which were the tips the customers wrote on their bills) for costume rental, stockings ($5.00 a pair), and we paid the bartenders and the bus boys too. We also got “demerits” which cost $1.00 each (there were no “merits”). There was a long list of things we could get demerits for…such as one demerit for every minute you were late. There was also a very long list of “rules” that had to be followed. To explain everything in detail would take several pages.
I began training new Bunnies after I had been there about 6 months. There is a You Tube video that I am in.
I am the training bunny with the long hair wearing a bunny costume in the video. The video does explain some of the things the bunnies had to learn. The training took two weeks to learn it all. There were other jobs besides serving drinks too: some bunnies worked the “door” to greet members, check their key and tell them what was going on in the different rooms & showrooms; there were bunnies that checked hats and coats and sold things in the gift shop; there were camera bunnies that took Polaroid pictures; there were cigarette bunnies that sold cigarettes and lighters; and there was a bunny that played “bumper pool” with the members. I was the “bumper pool bunny” the last two years that I worked at Playboy.
When they planned on opening a Playboy Club in Hollywood, I was the first to volunteer to move there and help with the hiring and training of the new bunnies. The building of the club was delayed for a year because of various rules and City ordinances, so during that year I did all of the pre-publicity for the Club. I was interviewed for many newspapers and appeared on many TV shows. I was interviewed by Steve Allen and Regis Philbin amongst many others.
Did you enjoy your time there? Any fond memories from then that you are at liberty to share? What do you think you learned from the whole Playboy experience?
This could be a very long interview indeed if I even attempted to talk about all the fond memories. I loved living at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. It was an incredible place where celebrities would visit almost on a daily basis. I met countless numbers of celebrities and many times took them on a tour of the Mansion. After meeting and getting to know Pompeo Posar (one of the main Playboy Photographers), I knew I would feel comfortable posing nude for him. I watched him work and saw what an absolute professional he was. He viewed the world and everything in it as “art”…including the human body. He worked with his wife. She would carry an enormous bag of “flash bulbs” for him. Every shot took a new flashbulb!! He was more interested in the angle of your head or arm than the fact that you were nude. I felt very comfortable around him and highly doubt that I could have posed for any other photographer. I was asked by Hugh Hefner (Hef) to be on the Cover (November 1963) and in the centerfold (January 1964) so I agreed to pose…. as long as Pompeo was the photographer.
One memory that comes to mind is meeting Eddie Fisher. He visited the Mansion while his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) was filming “Cleopatra” in Italy. It was known all over the world that she was having an affair with Richard Burton and Eddie Fisher was a wreck! He was very upset and very sad.
Another memory was when I took Sammy Davis Jr. on a tour of the Mansion. I showed him the swimming pool, steam room, underwater bar and explained how to use the tanning bed. His reaction was so funny….he said: “Seriously? Do you really think I need to use the tanning bed?”
There were always things happening at the Mansion. Shel Silverstein was there a lot and he made everyone laugh…he was so talented and so funny!! He was a joy to be around.
LeRoy Neiman also visited the Mansion a lot. He did a painting of the Cover that I was on and it hung in the Chicago Club for a long time. Later it was hung in the New Orleans Club and lastly in the London Playboy Club. On my 21st birthday, he did some sketches of me because he was there that day. So did the artist that drew “Little Annie Fannie”. He was there and drew a beautiful picture of me… that I treasure.
What is Hugh Hefner like as an individual?
“Hef” is a very soft spoken, extremely intelligent, kind and gentle soul. He has been my friend for over 50 years. He has helped me and my family many times over the years. He is 86 now so naturally he has changed some over the years (as do we all). He prefers to be at home and wearing comfortable clothes and eating the foods he prefers and likes rather than going out on the town. He is close to his family. He is a person that has a lot and likes to share is good fortune with his friends and family. I consider him one of my best friends and I treasure his friendship. I always will.
You also dated Frank Sinatra briefly I understand? Can you tell us a little about that? What do you remember most about vividly about Frank?
I went to Las Vegas hoping to find a place to work after leaving Playboy. I checked into Caesar’s Palace, which was brand new at the time (1968). Mr. Sinatra spotted me when I went to see his show… where he was headlining… at Caesar’s. He sent one of his friends to ask me if I would like to meet him. Of course, I said yes I would. I ended up becoming his friend and “hanging out” with him and his friends for about 6 weeks. We would fly in his Lear Jet from Las Vegas to his Estate in Palm Springs on his days off. It was a most exciting time for me. He was very attentive and kind to me. Day to day I didn’t know how long the relationship would last. He was always surrounded by his group of friends or “henchmen”. He liked to gamble in the Casino and especially favored the card game “Baccarat”.
He also loved to do crossword puzzles. When I was at his house in Palm Springs, he had been working on one of his crosswords when he put the newspaper down and went into another room. I picked it up to take a look at it. I noticed that he had almost completed the whole puzzle except for one word. The clue was “an Australian, wingless bird”. I knew it was a Kiwi, so I filled in the blanks on the puzzle. When he came back into the room, he noticed that someone had completed the puzzle and asked (very upset) who did it?! I confessed that it was me. I got shocked looks from all of his friends that were there. I didn’t realize that his crossword puzzles were “off limits” for anyone to touch! He was quite irritated with me….which I found interesting because to me it just wasn’t a big deal.
When we flew back to Caesar’s Palace, I was taken aside by one of his friends and informed that Mr. Sinatra had paid for my room and all the things I had charged to my room (many many things). He asked me if I had had a good time? I said yes…I had. He said good! “Now, it is time for you to go”. So that was that. I was sent on my way. I sub-sequentially drove to New York City with Tuesday Weld’s mother. I had met her in the Beauty Shop and she was driving there alone (with a little Dachshund dog). She said she would love to have a companion to drive along, so I decided to move to New York, where I ended up going back to work at the Playboy Club again.
How do you think you have changed most since those days?
Inside, I am still the same person I have always been. Of course I am older and have changed physically because of that. Hopefully I am smarter. I made my share of mistakes in my lifetime and have learned many things since those days. I have become somewhat of a “loner”. I have lived alone since 1985. I didn’t like it at first, but I have become used to being alone. I am alone but not lonely. I have many things to keep me busy and I never feel bored. I have very few friends. I can count them on one hand. My years with Playboy were most definitely the most exciting years of my life. My life is much more mundane now…. and has been for a long time.
What advice would you give the women of tomorrow in regards to their body image? And on life in general?
Accept yourself and love and appreciate the way you are. Our bodies change as we get older…that is just a fact of life. Be positive and try to enjoy each day as it comes. Each decade that we live is new and has different challenges. The world around us will never stop changing, so just try your best to “go with the flow”. We can’t go back… Try to do the things that make you feel good and make you feel happy. Life in general always has challenges or difficulties. No one gets to spend their entire life without challenges. How we accept them, react to them and deal with them is what is important. Keeping busy (to me) is the key as you grow older. I’m retired, and if I didn’t keep busy every day…I think I would lose my will to live. I need busy stuff to do every day to keep me going…on a roll….
Your admiration for Marilyn Monroe led you to discover the work of John Gilmore. Why do you think the world has such an enduring love for her? What did you like most about his book Inside Marilyn Monroe? How would you describe one of the greatest authors of our time?
Wow…what questions!! I could write a book to answer all 3 of those questions.
I fell in love with Marilyn Monroe when I was 10 years old…when I saw Monkey Business. Back then, I could only go to movies on times I was not at the Boarding School. I don’t remember how or when I saw Monkey Business but I do remember the theater. Something about her (unexplainable) just hit me. I felt a bond with her and she immediately became my favorite person in the world, the one I wanted to be like, and the person I wanted to meet more than anyone in the world. It was like an instant obsession. I decided that day that I wanted to be an actress (or movie star). I wanted to be like her. After that day, I made sure I saw every movie she was in. I loved her more every time I saw her. After I read things about her life….I realized that we were both “orphans” and ‘so to speak’ my connection to her became stronger. As soon as I was able to buy books, I started to read every morsel about Marilyn Monroe that I could find. I have probably read at least 25 books about her. Many I felt were not based on fact…and many I felt were based on “fantasies” different men had about her. I didn’t believe everything I read. Some books were biased and some were written by men… whom I could tell… just didn’t like her at all…
Why do I think the World has such an enduring love for her? For the same reason I have. Her vulnerability and her innocence shined through her façade as an actress. She had a quality that was loved by men and also by women. Everyone wanted to “take care of her” and make her feel better…We all felt her pain…
Then…a little more than a year ago, I was on Amazon.com. When I did a “Marilyn Monroe” search I found John Gilmore’s book Inside Marilyn Monroe. I read further and discovered that the book was written by someone who actually knew her! I hadn’t read the book, so I ordered it immediately! I couldn’t wait to get it!
Strange as it may seem, my sons saw me reading the book and both said “why are you reading a book about Marilyn Monroe…don’t you already know everything there is to know about her?” They knew how much I had read over the years… ever since they were born. Well, to my utter surprise, I actually did find out things about her that I never knew before (especially her childhood). I also found out things about what she was like as an adult that I never knew.
I looked to see if the Author was on Wikipedia so I could find out more about him. To my surprise, I also discovered that he had a personal Website! I read everything on his website and then discovered that he had a “contact” link! I felt like I had to tell him how moving his book was to me!
Never did I expect to hear back from him…but…the very next day; I got an email back from him! I was astounded! I replied, and John Gilmore and I have been friends ever since. That was on 8/2/2012…so we have been friends now ever since then (7 months). He knew the true Marilyn. He witnessed her weaknesses, her vulnerability and her flaws. I so envy that he knew her.
After I read that book by John Gilmore, I wanted to read all of his books…which I have done. He is not only an amazing author, but he has been close and personal with many stars that we only see in films and read about in fan magazines. He is a “no holds barred” author who does not sugar-coat the truth. His honesty has more than likely caused animosity with some of his readers…but I appreciate and love… honesty. He has had the most amazing life and has known the most amazing people. He is most definitely “one of a kind”. I have a deep respect for him and consider it an honor to be his friend. I am very fortunate indeed just to know him. I just wish he would have written more books! He has a new one coming out soon (On the Run with Bonnie & Clyde) and hopefully a couple more after that. He is a genius…and so is his son, Carson.
Are there any little known facts about yourself that you’d not mind sharing with our readers?
I used Amphetamines for 8 years (Dexedrine) and when I couldn’t get anymore, I had a mental breakdown (from withdrawal), and ended up in the Montana State Mental Hospital for six months (Warm Springs). A horrible experience indeed… I have had some extremely rough times in my life and somehow lived through them all. I just keep on trying. I went back to school when I was 27 and then again when I was 40. I think it is great that women have places to turn to now when they are abused. I didn’t have that opportunity. You are never too old to improve and work on yourself.
What do you love most about life these days?
I am in the “Twilight” of my years. I am retired. I love being free to do whatever I want to do every day. I am blessed that I worked for the government for 22 years so that I have a solid retirement…something many do not have. I live on a serene and peaceful lake, and enjoy my children and grandchildren and my freedom. Planning for your future is one thing I would advocate for everyone. Plan…so you don’t have to work until you die.
Is there anything you would like to say before you go?
Being an author puts you in control of each day of your life. To me it is the best occupation. I am currently trying to write my own “memoirs” and only hope I complete writing them. Life is what you make of it. Also, I might add….please be kind. Treat people the way you would want to be treated…always…