For me, Bettie Page & Bunny Yeager epitomize iconic American pinup photography. Not just of the 1950s… Ever. In 1954, Bettie Page was working with Irving Klaw in NYC and decided a break was in order, so she headed south to Miami for relaxation and fun in the sun. That’s when fate struck. Bettie met Bunny, and the rest is pinup history. Bettie Page never looked better than in the capable hands of Bunny Yeager (herself a former model) who arguably shot the best and most famous images of the black-banged beauty– like the epic Jungle Girl shoot (shot at the Africa USA safari Park in Boca Raton), and the game-changing image of Bettie posing nude in a Santa cap for Playboy magazine in 1955.
“When I first saw Bettie in the nude, I was pleasantly surprised; she looked great. She walked into the room on tippy-toes, like she was wearing high heels, which made her look taller and more natural at the same time. The first thing I noticed was that for some reason when she was nude, she did not seem naked. I had never seen anyone with an allover tan and she looked like the perfect doll or mannequin. Bettie was a true nudist and maintained her glorious golden olive color by sunning herself everyday. She would lie on the banks of the miami River. Maybe it was her tan, or maybe it was her attitude– she seemed completely at ease.” –Bunny Yeager, excerpt from Bettie Page, Queen of Curves
The new Rizzoli book Bettie Page Queen of Curves tells the story of Bettie Page, along with the best collection of images I’ve ever seen. A big thanks to the author, Petra Mason, for sending me a copy for my personal enjoyment! All images (c) Bunny Yeager, “Bettie Page: Queen of Curves”, Rizzoli, 2014. Below is a taste of what you’ll see inside:
All images (c) Bunny Yeager, “Bettie Page: Queen of Curves”, Rizzoli, 2014.
BUNNY YEAGER INTERVIEWS BETTIE PAGE, INTERVIEW MAGAZINE, JULY 1993 ISSUE —
Bunny: You were so popular in the ’50s, but now it seems you are even more popular. People have sold millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise bering your image, they want to fly you to Germany and Japan to sign autographs, and a movie was made of your life. They even have a Bettie Page look-alike contests.What do you think is the cause of this?
Bettie: I haven’t the foggiest notion why I am so popular, sixty years later. It’s very unusual.
Bunny: Do you think it is because you posed for so many photos– more photos, probably, than any other model of your time?
Bettie: No, I think it’s because it showed in my pictures that I enjoyed posing. Even as a little girl my sisters and I would dress up like movie stars and pose from pictures in newspapers and magazines.
Bunny: You seemed ahead of your time in so many ways– the pinup style, the sheer lingerie you wore, the girl-on-girl photo sessions, and bondage photos. Were you trying to be a trendsetter?
Bettie: No, I wasn’t trying to be anything. I was just myself.
Bunny: Why did you stop posing?
Bettie: I was thinking I should quit while I was ahead. I was thirty-four years old when I left New York and quit modeling, in 1957. I thought they had had enough pictures of me. Then I went to Florida, and just before new Year’s 1959 I was walking out on White Street in Key West, and it was like someone took me and led me to a little church with a neon cross over the top. I listened to the sermon and I could hardly wait until Sunday to go hear that preacher again. I thought God wouldn’t want me to pose anymore or have anything to do with my life as a model.
Bunny: You were an honor student in high school and could have been anything. Why did you decide to become a pinup queen?
Bettie: Oh, I did not decide on my own. I was walking on Coney Island in the summer of 1950, wearing a sweater and slacks, watching a fellow doing his exercises on the beach. When he finished he asked me if I had ever done any modeling. He said he was a photographer, as well as policeman, and gave me a card. He asked me to come down to his office, where he would make up a portfolio that I could show other photographers. I needed a job and this was a way of making some money.
Bunny: That was the first time you were asked to pose?
Bettie: That was the first time I had even thought about it. He put me on the cover of a little magazine in Harlem.
Bunny: I heard he was the one who said you should cut your bangs.
Bettie: He told me I had a very high forehead, and that I would look much better this way.
Bunny: Did he cut them for you?
Bettie: No, I went home and did it myself, and I have ben wearing them ever since.
Bunny: Tell me about the Camera Clubs you used to pose for. How many times a week did you do that?
Bettie: On weekends we went on outings to New Jersey, or to upstate New York, everybody in their cars. They’d bring lunch and we would all eat together. It was kind of a homey atmosphere.
Bunny: Did you prefer posing indoors or outdoors?
Bettie: Oh, I preferred outdoors. I was very happy cavorting in the woods or on the beach in the nude. In the studio I did not feel as comfortable.
Bunny: So did you pose for these sessions?
Bettie: Sometimes they were just pinup and lingerie sessions, but sometimes they were nudes.
Bunny: I hate to ask you, but how much did you get paid for the day?
Bettie: I received twenty-five dollars for the day.
Bunny: Do you remember how you felt when you first posed nude?
Bettie: I was not embarrassed. I remember doing it just as it I had pinup costumes on.
Bunny: When did you meet (photographer) Irving Klaw and his sister Paula?
Bettie: I don’t remember. I just remember working for them from 1951 to 1957. Men would write to Irving with special requests and send outfits they wanted us models to pose in.
Bunny: At one time in the 1950s I was doing some work for Howard Hughes. He wanted some new talent, and I would send him pictures of girls I had photographed. Did I ever take shots of you for him?
Bettie: No, you didn’t. The only contact I had with Howard Hughes was through Irving Klaw. He said he wanted to meet me, and I said I wasn’t interested in Howard Hughes, that I had a boyfriend of my own.