Bunny Yeager, the blond bombshell-turned-photographer who helped define the 1950s pin-up girl era, is now, at 82, still vibrant and busy. Recently, she held court at a book signing for her new book, “Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom: Pin-up Photography’s Golden Era,” to help celebrate Naomi Wilzig’s World Erotic Art Museum’s 7th Anniversary. Wilzig has dedicated an area of her enormous museum to pay homage to Bettie Page, one of the era’s most famous pin-up models, whom Yeager discovered. The following is an interview with Bunny Yeager.
Q: You were a model before you became a photographer. How did you get into that field?
My family had moved to Miami Beach from Pittsburgh. My mother wanted me to be a movie star but that would have meant moving to California. I had thought of becoming a model, but, in the meantime, I was working in an office. I was proud of my work. I knew how to run all the machines, and so I told my boss I wanted to become a manager. “You can’t be a manager, you’re a woman,” he told me. I was shocked. In the meantime, I’d been entering beauty contests. Eventually, my boss told me I had to choose between my job and the beauty contests, and so I did. I chose the beauty contests.
Q: What led to photography?
As a model, I posed for photographers every day. I knew how much I enjoyed it, so I thought that taking the photos would be a fun thing to do. And so I went to photography school to learn everything about the craft.
Q: What was your first magazine cover?
People think it was Bettie Page, but she was actually second. The first cover photo I ever sold was of my model friend, Maria Stinger, posting in a bathing suit with two live cheetahs. That made the cover of “Life” magazine. That was my first, and Bettie was after that.
Q: How did you discover Bettie Page?
A friend of mine told me she was going to be in town and I should talk to her about posing for me. I was delighted. I thought to myself, “Wow! A real New York model.” At the time, I didn’t realize she was a different type of model than I was. I was a high fashion model for manufacturer’s brochures and illustrations. She was a pin-up model so I was very surprised when she said she would pose nude for me, and, in fact, did our first session in the nude, wearing high heels.
Q: How did your photograph of Bettie Page, clad only in a Santa Claus hat, become one of Playboy’s most famous covers?
I had a good eye for making an interesting picture, and so when I shot that photo of Bettie, Playboy wanted to buy it as soon as they saw it. Before long, I had lots of agents wanting to represent me. Girls were coming to me, and I was trying to shoot every pretty girl I saw.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m very happy with my life. I have files old photographs, and so I have many more books to write. I’m doing a new one, which I think will be called, “Lovely Luscious Legs.” It will, of course, be all about legs.
More info: World Erotic Art Museum, Bunny Yeager