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'Shoulder Season' Explores The Bunny Experience At Wisconsin's Playboy Club

Cover of 'Shoulder Season' by Christina Clancy.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has been a tourist destination for more than a century, but for two decades, it was perhaps best known for one specific resort: the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Although the club has been closed since the 1980s, its legacy remains a potent part of local lore and the city’s history.

Christina Clancy’s latest novel, Shoulder Season, digs into this history and gives a personal look at what it was like for the women who worked there. The book is told through the perspective of Sherri, a young woman from nearby East Troy, who’s confronted by the preconceptions and expectations of Playboy bunnies. Sherri is, in part, based on the women who Clancy interviewed about their experiences working at Lake Geneva’s Playboy Club.

Despite Playboy's reputation, the club in Lake Geneva was essentially a family resort. Bunnies were expected to maintain a look consistent with the Playboy aesthetic, but they worked as waitresses and hotel staff — serving drinks or teaching kids how to play backgammon in the game room.

Clancy says that many of the women worked there because of the money and the allure of celebrity, which wasn't typical of small-town Wisconsin jobs. "There really weren't a lot of other options for women where they could make the kind of money that the bunnies could have, and because the resort was right down the street from Alpine Valley Music Amphitheater, it was a really fun place. There were celebrities and rock musicians and stars there," she explains.

In the book, Sherri is faced with a lot of conflicting expectations from the people she works with, people from her hometown, hotel guests and strangers who don't understand what her job entails.

Clancy says there's still a stigma that continues to haunt former bunnies. She explains, "They would say that they feel stigmatized still to this day. You know, people would ask me when I would tell them that I was working on a book about the Playboy resort, they’d say, 'Well, weren’t they prostitutes or exotic dancers?' And my experience was that it wasn’t that at all."

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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