The British bunny who hopped into bed with a Warren!
The British bunny who hopped into bed with a Warren! Mr Beatty wasn’t the only Lothario to fall for Sandra Bates – sixty years after the Playboy Club opened, her unabashed memoir recalls flings with Sean Connery, George Best… and Kojak
Smoothing out the black satin sheets and checking her make-up in the reflection of her mirrored headboard, 22-year-old Sandra Bates lay naked on her bed as she awaited the arrival of actor Warren Beatty, her suitor for the evening.
They had never met, but Beatty, who was then 30 and had just finished making the film Bonnie And Clyde with Faye Dunaway, had spotted the stunning redhead working at the Playboy Club in London’s Mayfair and asked a friend to pass on his number.
When she called, he suggested visiting her at the flat she rented near the club, and the order that she should be wearing no clothes was just one in a list of very specific instructions given on that night in 1967.
Sandra Bates in her bunny girl uniform at Playboy. From the book: How to be a Kept Woman
Sandra was also to leave her front door unlocked and keep her eyes closed when he entered her bedroom, as well as throughout their lovemaking.
Most important of all, she says, she was to pretend that she had no idea who he was, referring to him only as ‘The Phantom’.
All this was bizarre enough, but Beatty saved perhaps his most unexpected request for the moment their intimacy was over.
‘He sat up and put his feet on the floor. I was worried that he hadn’t enjoyed himself,’ Sandra recalls.
‘Phantom,’ I said, carrying on the act. ‘Is everything all right?’
‘Everything’s great, but can you do something for me?’ he asked.
‘Anything,’ I said.
‘Make me a cup of tea,’ he replied. ‘Two sugars.’
This mundane end to their erotically charged evening is one of the many bedroom scenes described in How To Be A Kept Woman, the autobiography penned by the self-styled ‘Lady’ Sandra Bates.
It’s 60 years this month since Hugh Hefner opened the first Playboy Club in Chicago. And times have certainly changed a lot since then.
American actor Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow on the set of the crime drama ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, 1967. Sandra Bates had a liaison with Beatty after he spotted her in the Playboy club
Just yesterday Playboy announced that it was pulling the plug on the print edition of its magazine. Aficionados will have to read it online.
And last week we learned that Playboy magazine is to ditch its Playmate of the Year concept in favour of Playmates of the Year.
In the ‘woke’ era, it is considered invidious to elevate one buxom beauty above the others and so, in the interests of diversity, all 12 monthly cover girls are to be celebrated for their ‘unique contributions to the brand’.
But Sandra Bates’s memoirs take us back to a more politically incorrect age. With its glamorous hostesses in ‘bunny suits’ of low-cut leotards with a fluffy cottontail, bow-ties and rabbit ears, the first Playboy Club proved an instant success and a slew of others followed in cities around the U.S. and the world.
Sandra with George Best, who is amongst the list of men she had flings with
At its peak, the Playboy chain claimed to have 750,000 members across 30 clubs, and none was more successful than the London outpost, which opened in 1966.
But what was it like to work there? If Sandra’s experience is anything to go by, it involved plenty of X-rated encounters. The list of famous men she had flings with includes Sean Connery, George Best, Telly Savalas and even Frank Sinatra.
Now in her 70s, she spares no detail of these brushes with the rich and famous. Connery, for example, was ‘quite a straight lover. No extras. He has a powerful but slim body and a lovely hairy chest. Of course, you’ve seen it, too, but it is quite a marvellous sight from underneath’.
As it goes online only, a (briefs) history of Playboy magazine
1953: A marketing copywriter for Esquire magazine called Hugh Hefner raises $8,000 — including donations from his brother and mother — to launch a magazine called Stag Party. But there’s another men’s title called Stag and, after it threatened to sue him, he changed the name to Playboy. The first edition, with Marilyn Monroe on the cover, sells out its entire 54,000 print run.
1954: The U.S. Post Office refuses to distribute the magazine on the grounds that it’s obscene. Hefner sues and wins — generating huge publicity.
1960: First Playboy Club opens in Chicago.
1962: The magazine introduces the first ‘Playboy Interview’ with jazz legend Miles Davis. Over the years, Martin Luther King, the radical black separatist Malcolm X, and a young Steve Jobs are interviewed.
Heavyweight writers from Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac and Roald Dahl to Margaret Atwood, Gore Vidal and Ian Fleming also contributed.
In 2005, journalist Mark Boal who was embedded with bomb-disposal experts in Iraq, wrote a piece called ‘The man in the bomb suit’ which inspired the award-winning film, The Hurt Locker. Such content made the defence of ‘I only read it for the articles’ vaguely plausible.
1965: Jennifer Jackson becomes the first African-American Playmate of the Month in the March issue. In October 1971, Darine Stern became the first African-American model featured alone on a cover.
1971: Hefner buys a West Los Angeles estate and creates Playboy Mansion West which becomes his home.
1972: The British model Marilyn Cole is the first full-frontal nude Playmate. She later marries Victor Lownes, Hefner’s right-hand man, who launched the Playboy Clubs in London and in Europe
1988: Hefner’s daughter, Christie, becomes chairman of Playboy Enterprises Inc. Hefner remains editor-in-chief.
1999: Pamela Anderson appears on the cover of the February issue, one of 14 shoots she did for the magazine. British stars who graced its pages include Naomi Campbell, Daisy Lowe and Katie Price.
2009: By now, a company valued at $1 billion in 2000 is worth just $84 million, as tastes change and criticism grows of the objectification of women.
2015: Playboy announces it will no longer run pictures of completely naked women.
2017: Playboy announces that it is reverting to running pictures of completely naked women. Hefner dies at the age of 91.
2020: Playmate of the Year becomes Playmates of the Year, and from the spring edition onwards, the magazine will cease to be available in print and will be online only.
Sandra Bates is certainly not a ‘Lady’ by birth. In fact, her GI father had already returned to the U.S. when she was born in December 1945. #
Her mother, Alma, only 20 at the time, subsequently married briefly and had two sons, but she clearly resented the restrictions her offspring placed upon her freedom.
Sandra has happy memories of her childhood in a council flat in North London, but when she was 12 her mother dispatched her and her two half-brothers to a children’s home in Wales.
Sandra remembers her mother visiting them there, arriving in a Jaguar and wearing a leopard fur coat, courtesy of one of her many male friends.
Her daughter’s ambition was always to become an actress. But although Sandra won early recognition as a beauty queen — crowned Miss Wales in 1962 — her dreams of making it in showbusiness were, she says, hampered by her ample bosom.
‘Casting directors didn’t seem to be able to get past my large breasts, which were 38 inches with a C cup,’ she says.
Fortunately, such assets were no barrier to becoming a bunny girl. At 20, Sandra was working on the jewellery counter at the London department store Fenwick when she heard that Hugh Hefner, publisher of Playboy magazine, was opening the latest in his chain of spin-off casinos and nightclubs on Park Lane.
Bunnies at the ‘Hutch on the Park’, as it became known, could earn £35 a week at a time when the average young person in London was making £10.
But Sandra maintains that the real draw was the chance to mingle with celebrities who might help ‘set me on the road to fame’.
After sailing through the selection process, which involved being interviewed in swimwear and then a cocktail dress, she donned her bunny ears and tail and squeezed into the made-to-measure basque which was part of the uniform.
‘To say our breasts were lifted and separated by those costumes is a considerable understatement,’ she recalls. ‘I don’t know how no one was blinded.’
While some bunnies were croupiers and others waitresses, Sandra worked in the Playboy gift shop, and it was there that she says she caught Sean Connery’s eye soon after the club opened in 1966.
Then still playing James Bond, he was married at the time to Australian actress Diane Cilento, but Sandra claims he wasted no time in asking for her phone number.
‘It was against the rules for a Playboy Bunny to give her number to anyone,’ she explains. ‘However, it was against my religion not to give my number to Sean Connery when he asked for it.
‘We’re not really allowed,’ I said when he leaned over the counter and whispered his request in my ear. ‘I’m not really allowed either,’ he replied, raising his left eyebrow. ‘But that’s what makes it fun.’
They met at noon the next day, and went back to Sandra’s London flat for the first of several liaisons in the coming months.
Since there were no mobile phones in those days, she sometimes called him at home, only for his wife to answer and ask ‘if I was looking after Sean well’. Sandra adds: ‘The Sixties were such fun. Everyone shared partners and no one seemed to mind very much at all.’
‘Sir Sean, as he is now, is an outstanding actor in every way, apart from that sexual charisma he exuded on screen,’ she writes. ‘That wasn’t acting — that was all him.’
Sandra’s trysts with legendary Lothario Warren Beatty — then in a relationship with Julie Christie — followed soon afterwards. She rates him as a ‘very, very good lover. Some men are better than others, and he had such an imagination’.
But it was Telly Savalas, star of the long-running TV detective show Kojak, who appears to have captivated her most at first sight.
She recalls that they met when she was drinking with a friend at The Colony Club, one of Playboy’s competitors, but at first she was distracted by the presence of another big star of that era.
‘Roger Moore was also there that night, and he had recently finished his TV series The Saint.
‘I was just thinking of ways to turn him into The Sinner when my friend dug me in the ribs and pointed out Telly, who was playing roulette nearby. I looked casually about until I caught his eye. Then I smiled and lowered my eyelashes. A bottle of champagne was at our table within minutes, then he went to the bar and motioned to me to join him there.
‘I don’t think a woman can say she has lived until she has been beckoned by Telly Savalas. There is something mischievous about that man. He just looks naughty.’
Although he and his wife, Marilyn, had rented their own flat while in London, Savalas was such a high-rolling gambler that the Colony offered him free use of their own luxury flat just a few doors away from the club. And there Sandra says she was installed by Savalas for the next six months, taking delivery of the lavish gifts he bought her whenever he was away working or with his wife.
Almost every day she received white lilies, but on one occasion he sent her a bracelet from Cartier. On another she opened a dark green box from Harrods to discover that it contained a full-length sable coat.
Frank Sinatra was also one of Sandra’s flings she reveals in the new book about her experiences
She wore it to The Colony Club that night. And when she intimated that she had little on underneath, Savalas led her into a phone booth in a downstairs corridor. ‘I opened my coat and Telly let out a whistle.
‘Thank you for the fur,’ I said.
‘To hell with the fur,’ he replied. We made love quickly and I skipped back up the stairs of The Colony Club and popped home to get a dress.
‘It was always unusual places with Telly. For example, he had a thing about making love on the bathroom floor,’ she recalled.
Her love life aside, by now it was becoming clear that, although she was meeting countless celebrities, the acting roles Sandra had hoped for were not materialising.
‘My career was heading in the direction of becoming a mistress,’ she says. ‘It snuck up on me without my realising. Not that I was unhappy about this — I love being a mistress. You get taken out to dinner. You get company and companionship. You get jewellery and furs. I recommend being kept.’
Never were the rewards greater than when she began seeing divorced retail tycoon Sir Charles Clore, who was 41 years her senior and owned Selfridges among many other well-known names on the British High Street.
They met in 1969 at the nightclub Tramp, and within 24 hours Sandra had decided that ‘I felt a love for this man different to any love that I had felt before. I decided that I wanted to make him happy.’
Fortunately for her, what made Clore happy appeared to be sending her two cases of champagne a week and paying her a regular allowance, not to mention giving her a six-carat diamond ring and funding a house in Mayfair, ‘as if it were nothing more than a square on a Monopoly board’.
In return, she agreed to leave the Playboy club because Clore, who was knighted in 1971, felt it unbecoming to be associated with a bunny girl. But if he hoped to imbue Sandra with some new sense of respectability, he was to be disappointed.
There was a near miss when a friend who happened to be dating the singer Engelbert Humperdinck invited her to Las Vegas to see one of his concerts. Afterwards, they met the singer backstage.
‘Engelbert suggested that the three of us should go back to his suite for some fun,’ she writes. ‘I’ve heard good things about you bunnies,’ he said.
‘He was an extraordinarily imposing man with sexy, dark hair and extremely attractive lips,’ Sandra remembers.
‘I could see the appeal, but my friend didn’t need me getting involved. I left the two lovebirds to it, but I often wonder what it would have been like to add ‘The Hump’ to my list of celebrity lovers.’
Temptation proved harder to resist when, at the beginning of the Seventies, Frank Sinatra asked for some bunnies to attend a party he was giving in London.
As a favour to her former employer, Sandra went along as the bunnies’ chaperone, only to end up in bed with Sinatra in his penthouse apartment that night.
‘In the morning, he was asleep with his hands behind his head,’ she says. ‘Maybe he was paranoid about his wig falling off.’
Although she remained close to Sir Charles Clore until his death in 1979, Sandra married twice: first to wealthy London businessman Tony Levy in 1972, with whom she had a daughter, Jessica, in 1975, and another, Charlotte, two years later.
She wed again to a man named James Bates, a builder Tony had employed to renovate their house, but with whom — should we really be surprised? — she had an affair.
Sandra gave birth to another daughter, Camilla, with her second husband, but she admits she saw less and less of her children after becoming manager of Blondes, a new Mayfair nightclub owned by soccer legend George Best.
Surprise, surprise, Best became another notch on her bedpost.
‘It was inevitable that George and I would get together,’ she says. ‘He was irresistibly handsome and as flirtatious as me.’
Perhaps not surprisingly, her second marriage ended in 1988, and she took up with her current ‘gentleman friend’, art investor Frank Gregory. They live separately — she in St John’s Wood, North London, and he in Essex.
Now 74, Sandra insists she wouldn’t change a thing about her louche past.
‘You can’t jump into bed with just anybody these days. It’s not the Sixties, and I don’t know how I got away with it then. But I’m very glad I did.’
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