South of the Border
bunny shay knuth -- on leave of absence from playboy's lake geneva pleasure dome -- is now one of mexico city's comeliest coeds
"I stood looking at it and thought that never in the world would there be discovered other lands such as these," wrote Bernal Diaz del Castillo, the conquistador, after his first glimpse of Mexico in 1519. The same sentiments might well have been expressed by Shay Knuth several years ago, when she discovered the land of the Aztecs: "I was on a camping trip to Denver and Laredo with a pair of girlfriends," recalls the golden-tressed Milwaukee native, "and we decided, just on a whim, to spend a weekend in Mexico City. I was completely knocked out by the atmosphere of the town -- the unfamiliar sounds and smells and the relaxed tempo of life. I told myself, 'This is where I'd like to live and work someday.'"
Shay kept thinking of Mexico during a year of studies and secretarial duties at the University of Wisconsin, and nine months of greeting keyholders (in a variety of languages) in the VIP Room at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club-Hotel -- where she had the distinction of being the first Bunny hired. An advance on Shay's Playmate fee made an extended Mexican interlude possible; Shay took a leave of absence from the Club and set out for Mexico City last March. She made the 2100-mile journey alone, in her 1966 Mustang, her only companion a pet cat, who weathered the trip with ease but disappeared three weeks later. Miss September promptly enrolled at the University of the Americas, where she signed up for courses in Spanish, modern philosophy and government. She also found an apartment near Mexico City's "pink zone" -- a luxurious locale studded with boutiques, restaurants, night clubs and other tourist attractions -- and a trio of roommates, all coeds like herself. Most of the university's 1500 students, Shay soon discovered, are from the United States -- many of them hippies, in fact -- "but the majority aren't politically oriented, so the atmosphere around the campus is very relaxed and easygoing."
The university, however, is preparing to move in 1970 to a new location outside the city, and Shay isn't anxious to go along; she'd rather transfer to the to the Universidad Iberoamericana or study Spanish privately. She's also planning to leave her present quarters and move in with a Mexican family. "Almost everybody in the city speaks some English," says Shay, "so I really haven't had much incentive to perfect my Spanish; but if I can persuade a local family to take me in, I'll have no choice but to learn." Though her academic obligations haven't been leaving her much time for recreation, Shay has found that daily -- and nightly -- life in Mexico City is idyllic in many respects: "The city has several parks, all very spacious, with lakes, and boats that you can rent; there also seems to be an infinite number of after-hours spots." The only word for the restaurants, in Shay's opinion, is fantastic. But Shay emphasizes that Mexico isn't exactly an earthly paradise: Poverty is too widespread. "It's a nation of extremes," she says. "The poor are completely destitute and the rich are superrich. Both the aristocrats and the workers are very friendly to visitors from other countries -- but they don't have any contact with each other at all."
Shay's star will soon be leading her to a country where traditional class distinctions are in the process of dissolving; when her visa expires, she plans to cross the Atlantic and resume work as a Bunny -- this time at the London hutch. But Mexico-smitten Shay's determined to return one day to her new-found amigos.
Photography by Dwight Hooker