Born Linnea Eleanor Yeager in 1930, Bunny Yeager was one of the most photographed pin-up models of the early 20th century until she moved behind the camera to create a new pin-up world: lush, colorful & playful. She virtually discovered Bettie Page, photographing her more than any other shutterbug, and Lisa Winters, a former secretary for Hugh Hefner (Yeager, herself, was in a 7-page Playboy pictorial in 1955), while taking the iconic shots of Ursula Andrews for the Bond film Dr. No. With a new book and retrospective due this year, TREATS! pays homage to the model-turned-pin-up photographer—she still lives in Miami—who once claimed of her ability to photograph sex-bombs: “I knew my body and women’s bodies better than men did.” by Sarah Hassan
There is nothing like a long pair of legs on a good-looking woman to boost the morale of a man in dark times. From Betty Grable clad in a white bathing suit hugging her in all the right places as she throws a playful over-the-shoulder smile, to the smoldering Jane Russell lounging in a haystack, revolver at the ready, as her blouse strap falls oh-so-slightly, many a glamour gal was the object of a fighting soldiers’ affection during World War II, when pin-ups were pasted on the walls of bunkers and on the sides of bomber planes. Winking, grinning, smiling, and showing off, pin-up girls were beautifully silent reminders of what men had waiting for them back home. Hollywood starlets, such as the aforementioned Grable and Russell, to Dorothy L’amour and Rita Hayworth, were some of the more iconic and famous faces keeping the ranks company. Undeniably sexy, incredibly cheeky yet somehow still innocent, the women who posed for pin-up photographers—and a number of illustrators—were the perfect mix of sweet and savory, showing ‘just the right amount’ while keeping an air of mystery to their more tantalizing bits. What was certainly a boys club, those who wielded a camera, ink and paintbrush became creators of fantasy and delight during hard times from the 1940s and into the 50s.
This September, Rizzoli books is paying homage to one of the most famous shutterbugs—and a woman no less—Bunny Yeager, with Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom: Pin-Up Photography’s Golden Era. The book, written by Petra Mason and featuring an introduction by Dita Von Teese, promises to be a treasure trove of pin-up girl images taken from Yeager’s extensive and celebrated archive prominently featuring her collaborations with the most famous and iconic pin-up of them all: Bettie Page.
Dubbed “The Queen of the Pin-Ups” and “The Dark Angel,” Bettie Page was the one that broke the mold to rule the lens.
With her jet-black bangs, sparkling blue eyes full of mischief, other-worldly figure and red, sultry lips, the Nashville-born Bettie was the duality of the girl-next-door and the good-girl-gone-bad-equally at home posing with a riding crop or a toy clown, underneath a Christmas tree or tied-up and locked in a car trunk. With her ease in front of a camera and her ability to morph from a bondage queen to a glamour puss in a single click, Bettie quickly rose to popularity among the camera clubs in New York and international photographers. Photographs of Bettie by Irving Klaw, the black-and-white girl-on-girl bondage sessions featuring many an artistic knot and well-handed spanking, were influential in sealing Bettie’s reputation among the naughtier subscribers to Klaw’s mail-order business. But it is her work with Yeager that proved the ever-lasting trademark, as the five-foot-ten Yeager, formally the most popular model in Miami who retired from posing in front of the camera only to step behind it, captured Bettie in all her playful, come-hither glory. As someone deeply in tune to fashion—Yeager was wearing a bikini in the days of the ruling one-piece—and sympathetic to the needs of her individual models, Yeager had an unmatched eye for spontaneity and exuberant sexuality. The chance meeting of New York’s top pin-up model and the glamorous Floridian by way of Pennsylvania sparked a collaboration that would influence photographers, artists, actresses and models for years to come.
Perhaps the most famous of all their photo sessions, Yeager’s Jungle Bettie series, shot among the now-closed wildlife park, Africa USA, in Boca Raton, Florida, features images of Bettie in her hand-made leopard skin patterned one-piece posing among a pair of cheetahs and hanging from a tree with a dagger between her teeth. The Florida light looked good on Bettie, and her sessions with Yeager are among the most celebrated of her legendary career.
THE QUEEN OF THE CAMERA
More photos of Bettie by Yeager have appeared on more covers of magazines than Marilyn Monroe, a fellow model in the early days of Playboy, where Bettie appeared in an iconic Yeager image: clad in nothing but a Santa hat holding up an ornament in front of a decorated Christmas tree as she winks for the camera. In many ways, Yeager was the anti-Klaw, bringing out the sunny, funny Bettie frolicking on the white sandy beaches of Florida in homemade bikinis and grinning ear-to-ear on a sun-drenched sailboat. Mary Harron’s decision to switch from black-and-white to full Technicolor for Bettie’s first meeting of Bunny in her film, The Notorious Bettie Page, was all-too appropriate. Whereas Klaw photographed the helpless Bettie clad in stockings, garters, corsets and ball gags in black-and-white bondage scenes complete with whips, chains, crops and rope in his studio, Yeager captured Bettie in her new-found freedom with nature and all her colors, flushed with a genuine sweetness for Yeager’s understanding camera. Klaw was danger and fabrication, catering to the darker sides of male fantasy with his mail-order photographs, and Yeager was celebration of the female form without constraint, the romance of a beautiful woman as she interacted with the outdoors.
It is fitting, then, with pin-up girl fashion and aesthetic so saturating contemporary culture—one only has to watch Olympia Le Tan’s army of Betties who danced, modeled and stripped themselves of her new ready-to-wear line during this past March during fashion week in Paris—that Yeager, the Queen of the Camera, is getting her much-deserved due once again from a publisher that knows quality and artistry. We can only wait with bated breath, tongues wagging and hands outstretched, to flip through the pages and sink into the lush, colorful, playful world of Yeager and her darkroom, where women were women and men knew they were mere mortals among the dark angels.