The Rise and Fall of the Big Bunny: What Happened to Hugh Hefner's Private Jet

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The DC-9 was essentially the Playboy Mansion at 35,000 feet: "Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Caan — there were always celebrities on board," says a former Jet Bunny.

It was, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most recognizable private jetliner in the sky. For one thing, it was painted black, not a common color scheme outside of stealth fighters. For another, stenciled onto its tailfin was the silhouette of a white rabbit in a bowtie.

The Big Bunny, Hefner’s personal DC-9, wasn’t so much an aircraft as it was the Playboy Mansion at 35,000 feet. It had a living room with leather sofas, a full galley where flight attendants — “Jet Bunnies” — whipped up lobster and roast beef dinners and a discotheque for dance parties. Of course, Hef spent most of his time in his salon at the back, lounging in pajamas on an oval bed covered in silk sheets and Tasmanian opossum fur bedspreads.

“There wasn’t anything else like it,” remembers Katharina Leventhal, who as a 21-year-old became one of the first Jet Bunnies (and wore a black leatherette miniskirt and knee-high boots) after Hefner bought and renovated the plane in 1969 for $5 million (spending another million on renovations). Leventhal, now 69, says the job had great benefits, like traveling the world and mingling at high-altitude with some of Hef’s travel buddies. “Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Connie Stevens, Raquel Welch, James Caan — there were always celebrities on board.”

Alas, what goes up typically comes down, and Hefner sold the plane to Venezuela Airlines in 1975, who later sold it to Aeromexico. Stripped of its luxury appointments, it served as a commercial aircraft until 2004, when Aeromexico put it in storage. But in 2008, it returned to service; the fuselage was donated to a park in Queretaro, Mexico, where the onetime symbol of aviatic hedonism found new purpose as a children’s educational tool.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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