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Bonnie Jo Halpin, 65, '1st Playboy bunny'

LOS ANGELES -- When key-holders walked into the Playboy Club in Chicago on opening day in 1960, the first bunny they saw was the young woman at the front door, Bonnie Jo Halpin.

Ms. Halpin, who died in her West Hollywood apartment March 31 at age 65, served as the prototype for the club's bunnies, who became icons of the sexual revolution: a beautiful, petite brunette with a bubbly personality.

"Bonnie Jo Halpin was the very first `door bunny' on opening day at the very first club, so it's quite appropriate to refer to her as the very first bunny," said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who started the Playboy clubs with Victor Lownes and restaurateur Arnie Morton. "She was a very special lady."

Ms. Halpin had appeared on the cover of the October 1962 issue of Playboy, but not in the now-legendary, satin bunny costume: It resembled a strapless, one-piece bathing suit cut high on the leg that included the famous bunny ears, cottontail, and white cuffs and collar with a black bow tie.

Three weeks before the club opened on Feb. 29, 1960, Ms. Halpin appeared in her bunny costume in an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune seeking "beautiful, charming and refined young ladies" to work as bunnies. Noted the ad: "Waitressing experience unnecessary."

Several hundred women showed up with dance leotards or swimsuits to have a Polaroid picture taken and be interviewed.

Thirty were chosen to open the multilevel club designed, as Hefner wrote in Playboy, for "urban fellows who are less concerned with hunting, fishing and climbing mountains than with good food, drink, proper dress and the pleasure of female company."

Ms. Halpin had grown up in a Catholic orphanage in the Chicago area with her two brothers and sister. Before becoming a bunny, she worked in the advertising department of Standard Oil and then as a junior fashion model.

"Playboy was always looking for the girl next door, and she had that bubbly, effervescent persona," said Kathryn Leigh Scott, author of the 1998 book "The Bunny Years," a history of the Playboy clubs as told through the women who worked as bunnies.

Added Scott, who first met Ms. Halpin when both worked as bunnies in the New York Playboy Club: "Until the day she died, she had the girlish, bubbly, wholesome appeal."

"She really was the quintessential bunny," said Hefner's brother, Keith, who became director of training for Playboy Clubs International. "We used to talk about bunny image, and she really had it all."

In 1963, the 25-year-old Ms. Halpin left the Playboy organization to "see the world," as she later told Scott.

Playboy closed its last big-city clubs in 1986. "Society," Hefner said at the time, "has moved on."

Ms. Halpin had held a variety of jobs since her bunny days, including working as a personal trainer. She was a marathon runner, a longtime volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a devoted animal rights advocate.

Ms. Halpin died in her West Hollywood apartment after being seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident while walking her dog near her home more than a month earlier, said Joyce Nizzari, a friend and former bunny who worked with Ms. Halpin in Chicago.

A Los Angeles coroner's office spokesman said the death was reported as a possible accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller Vicodin. Autopsy results are not yet available.

Ms. Halpin, who never married, leaves a sister, Delores, and a brother, Brian, both of the Chicago area.

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