The Eter­nal Bunny

Sha­rina says she has lived a very priv­i­leged life thanks to her time with Play­boy

Ottawa Magazine - - PROFILE -

“E VERYTHING I AM TO­DAY is from Play­boy,” Mary Sha­rina states with pride.

Play­boy En­ter­prises still pub­lishes the most fa­mous high-brow men’s life­style mag­a­zine in the world, and Sha­rina still fits into the bunny cos­tume she wore while deal­ing black­jack at their casino in Lon­don, Eng­land, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Play­boy, she says, in­spired the dis­ci­pline to al­ways look her best.

“You were al­ways per­form­ing, you al­ways had to look good. And to this day, I never leave this house with­out makeup, and I think it’s stood me in good stead.”

Now 67, Sha­rina speaks of her for­mer em­ployer in glow­ing terms.

“If you had the at­tributes they wanted you to have, if you fit the mould, they were amaz­ing to us.”

Nowa­days, Sha­rina is a hap­pily mar­ried wife and mother. She and her hus­band, Tom, have lived in Ot­tawa since the mid1980s. She worked as a tech­ni­cian at the Ot­tawa Pub­lic Li­brary for 20 years. She’s also a croupier (dealer) at the Rideau Car­leton Race­way Casino. Sha­rina speaks with no-non­sense di­rect­ness, un­afraid to delve into hot-but­ton is­sues — and that in­cludes ques­tion­ing the mo­tives be­hind some of the sex-abuse al­le­ga­tions cur­rently en­gulf­ing the en­ter­tain­ment world. In fact, she’s now com­plet­ing a book about her life — in­clud­ing her time with Play­boy.

“I never felt like I was go­ing to work — I felt like I was go­ing to Dis­ney­land. And I was get­ting paid for it. And I was see­ing all th­ese fa­mous peo­ple ev­ery night. I would look up, and there would be The Bea­tles or Dean Martin or Steve McQueen. It was in 1969, 1970 — Play­boy was the place in Lon­don to be. I was in­vited to par­ties. I went to a party thrown for Sammy Davis Jr. Di­ana Ross was there. I also met Ro­man Polan­ski and his wife Sharon Tate at that party three weeks be­fore she was mur­dered. I held quite a long con­ver­sa­tion with her.”

Sha­rina was born into a work­ing­class fam­ily in Eng­land. Her fa­ther was shocked to learn his daugh­ter was a Bunny. Play­boy wel­comed her par­ents into the club as spe­cial guests — and her new­found wealth en­abled her to buy them the lat­est ap­pli­ances and treat them to lav­ish din­ners. Her dad was soon very sup­port­ive of her new life. And yet that new life in­cluded drama, even dan­ger. She re­counts go­ing for an in­ter­view in Africa for a casino job there. She soon dis­cov­ered her po­ten­tial em­ployer was an armed con man — and an arms dealer — mostly in­ter­ested in her abil­ity to sat­isfy his sex­ual lust.

“I had a choice. I could have opened my legs and given in, and I didn’t,” she says. That choice meant be­ing locked in a ho­tel

For­mer Play­boy Bunny Mary Sha­rina talks with Si­mon Gard­ner about her ca­reer de­ci­sion, dan­gers of the job, and the #MeToo move­ment

“I could have opened my legs and given in, and I didn’t. Ev­ery­one has a choice.”

room un­til the multi-mil­lion­aire fig­ured out what to do with her. But still, she says, “Ev­ery­one has a choice.”

She also re­calls a cast­ing-couch ex­pe­ri­ence that will surely res­onate to­day thanks to the ex­plo­sion of #MeToo ac­cu­sa­tions al­leg­ing ex­ploita­tion and as­sault in the movie in­dus­try.

“I was of­fered a small part in a movie, The Hunt­ing Party, and dur­ing the [cast­ing] ex­pe­ri­ence, I was asked to take off my top and bra.”

The set­ting was a room in the Play­boy Club be­ing used for cast­ing ses­sions. Sha­rina re­grets ex­pos­ing her naked breasts to the group of men in the room, who she be­lieves were the pro­duc­ers of the film.

“And I look back and say I must have been a fool to just do it. I learned from that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

She ended up hav­ing no part in the vi­o­lent Western star­ring Gene Hack­man, Can­dace Ber­gen, and Oliver Reed; Play­boy wouldn’t give her the three months off re­quired to shoot. Sha­rina only re­cently tried to sit through the film her­self. “I say thank God I was not in that movie.” She says she has no tol­er­ance for real cases of abuse or ex­ploita­tion. How­ever, she sus­pects that some ac­cu­sa­tions, made long af­ter the al­leged in­ci­dent, might be mo­ti­vated by re­venge or greed. The al­leged vic­tims, she says, should have known what they were get­ting into.

“If you are in­vited to a ho­tel room, what are you to ex­pect? It’s pretty ob­vi­ous. So if you go there know­ing that, don’t be sur­prised what’s go­ing to hap­pen. And how badly do you want that part? And if you want it ter­ri­bly bad, per­haps that is the price you have to pay. But as for my own moral­ity, there is not a price high enough for me to do some­thing that I don’t want to do.”

Sha­rina sees her cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ently. “It was mi­nor. It didn’t af­fect my life, it didn’t scar me.”

I spoke to Sha­rina be­fore the rev­e­la­tions that ac­tress Asia Ar­gento ar­ranged pay­ment of hush money to a young ac­tor she had sex­ual in­ter­course with when he was legally un­der­age in Cal­i­for­nia. Ar­gento is a lead­ing voice of the #MeToo move­ment, last year ac­cus­ing Har­vey We­in­stein of as­sault­ing her. When that story broke, I thought of some­thing Sha­rina said, be­cause it struck me as so prophetic.

“You have to hear both sides of the story,” she says. “In the movie world, I think it’s such a false, plas­tic world of what you look like, and I don’t think you can have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion. I think it’s too cut­throat.”

Re­gard­ing views that Play­boy Bun­nies are ob­jec­ti­fied, she sees things dif­fer­ently: “I chose to do it. I was ex­ploit­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I got. I’ve had a very priv­i­leged life, com­ing from a hum­ble back­ground, and that’s thanks to Play­boy.”

As a Play­boy dealer, Sha­rina says she never felt as if she was go­ing to work — and her job al­lowed her and her fam­ily to im­prove their qual­ity of life

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