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Young mom was one of original bunnies at Chicago Playboy Club

Judy Kozak one first Playboy Bunnies. Judy Kozak serves Hugh Hefner drink. | Provided photo

Judy Kozak, one of the first Playboy Bunnies. Judy Kozak serves Hugh Hefner a drink. | Provided photo

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Updated: March 16, 2013 6:22AM

Judy Kozak cooked her kids belly-filling, soul-feeding breakfasts of cornmeal mush with warm syrup and butter and then drove them to school in her bathrobe.

To the neighbors, she appeared to be just another dedicated mother, but a playful one — she sometimes wore a pin that said “Make Nice.”

But there was glamor in her past.

Mrs. Kozak was one of the original bunnies who helped launch Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Clubs in Chicago in the early 1960s. Her beauty, warmth and long, slender legs caught the attention of celebrities who visited the club, including movie star Tony Curtis, comic Jonathan Winters and TV host Tommy Smothers.

Her gams were memorable. When a photo of the bunnies inadvertently cut off Judy Kozak’s head, a club staffer said: “Those have to be Judy’s legs.”

She was so popular that after she left the bunny hutch to spend time with her family, Hefner’s brother, Keith, wrote her a letter, entreating her to come back to work.

Mrs. Kozak died Feb. 2 at her home in Lincolnwood. She was 76.

She was Marilynn Judith Jarvis while being raised in the Chatham neighborhood. Her father, William, was an accountant. Her mother, Mabel, was a legal secretary. She attended grade school at St. Joachim, at 91st and Langley, and graduated from Mercy High School in 1954.

She studied nursing at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park but put her education on hold after the birth of her first child, Laurel. Later, she earned a nursing degree from Triton College in River Grove.

In the late 1950s, her path changed after she met restaurateur Arnie Morton at a party. He had been hired to head up food and beverages for the newly opened Playboy Club.

Struck by Kozak’s outgoing personality, he arranged an interview for her with Keith Hefner, director of personnel for the clubs. Soon she donned bunny ears, a bow tie and spike heels to serve cocktails to customers who flocked to the Michigan Avenue spot.

She pulled in an astounding $200 a week in tips alone and repeatedly turned down Smothers’ requests for a date, said her son, Christopher.

But her role as a mother triumphed over her job as a bunny.

During a February blizzard in 1962, Mrs. Kozak asked to leave work early so she could make the drive home to Orland Park before her children got up for breakfast. When the floor manager told her she had to stay, she put her raincoat on over her bunny costume — and stormed out of the club.

She was told she would never work for Playboy again, her family said. But just a few months later, she received a letter from Keith Hefner, asking her to come back. She returned to the Chicago club for another year, before hanging up her bunny ears to raise her children and support her husband Anthony Kozak’s 1964 campaign for village trustee of Orland Park. He died in 2000.

In the 1980s, she spent eight years in Saudi Arabia when her husband took a job there as a civil engineer. She put her nursing skills to use, working at a burn clinic. Hot tea is popular in Saudi Arabia, and many of her patients were children who had accidentally been burned by boiling water.

Back home, the Kozaks took summer trips to Lake Lawn Lodge (now Lake Lawn Resort) in Delavan, Wis. Weekend family outings were to neighborhoods rich with culture and history: Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Pilsen, “Old Town in the ’70s, to see the hippies,” Christopher Kozak said.

Genealogy was a passion. She voraciously researched the Jarvis family tree, inspiring her trip to the ancestral family farm in Pallasgreen, County Limerick, Ireland.

The dinners she fed her family reflected her global travels. She cooked up duck a l’orange, chicken paprikash and Czech dumplings.

At night, she would play the piano and sing Irish songs, and she had a talent for storytelling.

“She had a very magnetic personality,” her son said. “She’d walk into the room and start telling stories, and people would just gravitate to her.”

She never forgot her Chicago roots.

“Mom often asked me to drive by and take pictures of her childhood bungalow on 88th Place, just to make sure it was still there,” her son said. “Despite the fact that she had some crazy experiences at the Playboy Club and lived overseas for 10 years, the thing that really made her excited was the city of Chicago.”

“All you really had to do to get her to smile was to mention places like Earl of Old Town, Russell’s Barbecue or the Shoot the Chutes at Riverview,” he said.

In addition to her children Laurel and Christopher, Mrs. Kozak is survived by her son Jason, and two grandchildren. Services are planned for spring.

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