Hollywood Flashback: Kirstie Alley Played Gloria Steinem in 1985

ABC/Photofest
Kirstie Alley (left) with Gloria Steinem in a promotional appearance for ABC’s 'A Bunny’s Tale,' which aired Feb. 25, 1985.

The first actress to play the Ms. magazine founder was Alley — and she did it as a Playboy Bunny.

On the FX/Hulu miniseries Mrs. America, Rose Byrne portrays feminist activist Gloria Steinem, and the performance just might bring her an Emmy nomination. However, the first actress to play the Ms. magazine founder was Kirstie Alley — and she did it as a Playboy Bunny.

The waitress position had been created by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who founded that magazine in 1953. (At its peak in 1972, the glossy sold 7.1 million copies a month, and annual profits were $12 million, or $70 million today.) Women in skimpy rayon-satin costumes would serve food and drinks at the magazine's club-chain offshoots. Job ads offered "attractive young girls … the glamorous and exciting aura of show business."

In 1985, ABC's made-for-TV movie A Bunny's Tale told the story of Steinem, then 30, going undercover in 1963 for the now-defunct Show magazine to chronicle the bunny experience at the Playboy Club in New York.

The Hollywood Reporter praised the telefilm, saying it made "its points without belaboring issues." When she first glimpsed herself in a club mirror, Steinem said she saw "a creature with ¾-inch eyelashes, blue satin ears and an overflowing bosom."

During her 11 days of employment, the Smith College Phi Beta Kappa learned one key skill: "the bunny dip," for serving drinks (lean backward, bend at the knees, keep the low-cut costume vertical). 

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.