'Chocolate Bunny' Francesca bares it all for her new book
BECOMING a Playboy Bunny at age 22 in the early 1960s, Francesca Emerson said New York's most infamous club was a platform for independence "not as a woman or as a black woman, but as a person of substance who could be anything she desired."
Mrs Emerson, who splits her time living between Goonellabah and Selma, Alabama, USA, is one of few to experience the Hollywood world working as a Bunny at Hugh Hefner's exclusive Playboy Club nightclub.
Last month, on her 79th birthday, she released her book, The Chocolate Bunny baring it all.
"We were living in extraordinary times," Mrs Emerson said.
"I came in at a time of a renaissance where things were bubbling over and I was in the midst of a whole new lifestyle and a whole new canvas opened up to me.
"Things were just starting to break - you're talking about woman and feminism, the sexual revolution, the pill, abortion."
Mrs Emerson, who grew up in Harlem, New York City, worked as a Playboy Bunny, but was not a Playmate for Playboy magazine.
"Playmates were the ones who posed naked, who were the centrefold for the magazine which was a totally different thing," she said.
Before becoming a Bunny, Mrs Emerson worked at a department store in New York City called Bloomingdale's.
Her boyfriend at the time encouraged her to apply to be a Bunny.
"I had no idea what a Playboy Bunny was," she said.
Hired by Hugh Hefner's brother, Keith, she started her role at the exclusive men's club at Number 5, East 59th St.
"You walked around in three-inch heals, a very tight, skinny custom-made outfit so no one else could be in the outfit but you," she said.
"It was hard work.
"You were always on a schedule that you couldn't go five pounds above your weight, so they weighed you once a month to make sure that you stayed within what they thought a Playboy Bunny was supposed to be."
The club, which opened in December 1962, had Bunnies serve food and drinks - everything for $1.50 each - to some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities with the club hosting the best musicians and comedians of the time.
Mrs Emerson said she remembers Bill Cosby the most.
Mrs Emerson, who was married with two children while working at the club, said she didn't go out a lot but had many of her fellow Bunnies attend the Playboy Mansion and clubs.
"In those days, making a $100 in cash was unbelievable," she said.
"Some of us were making more money than our fathers and our brothers together, so we became independent women who were able to take care of ourselves.
"Most of us were able to put ourselves through college or start a business, buy a home."
Mrs Emerson became a Bunny in 1963, a month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"I feel that I owe a lot to Hugh Hefner because he hired minorities - you could go into that club and you could see every nationality, whether you were a Bunny or a bus boy or in the coat room," Mrs Emerson said.
"Only one Playboy Club in the south was segregated by law, otherwise in all of the clubs black and whites mingled."
On New Year's Eve 1964, Mrs Emerson worked the opening of Los Angeles' first club.
Mrs Emerson was fired at age 28 after she was no longer the "Bunny image", a comment she said was inevitable among Bunnies closing in on their 30s.
"This was not a career, this was a place to get somewhere," she said.
In 1969, she was hired to work on the Playboy After Dark American television show hosted by Hugh Hefner, went on to work at iconic Motown Records and then was employed as an assistant film editor for Universal Studios in 1973.
"I was the first black woman to be initiated into the Editors' Guild 776 and one of my first ever films that I worked on was called The China Syndrome," She said.
That film was released in 1979, starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon.
Since retirement, Mrs Emerson has worked on creative projects, welding, sculpting and is now releasing her book as a legacy to her children.
Mrs Emerson first visited Australia in 1991 and "fell in love with it the first time I came."
She also reconnected with long-term friend and now husband, renowned 'psychedelic' lightshow artist, Roger Foley-Fogg, sharing a yurt in Goonellabah.
While speaking to The Northern Star, Mrs Emerson was in New Orleans with one of her fellow Bunnies she had met in New York City and who trained her for The Playboy Club 50 years ago.
"I established terrific friendships through that club that have carried me through the years - of woman who have empowered me and inspired me and who have gone on to do wonderful things," she said.