Bernard McDonald is a New Zealand-based film and pop culture writer, and formerly founder and editor “Pavement” magazine, a youth culture magazine that ran from 1993-2006. Focusing on contemporary culture from New Zealand and abroad, “Pavement” featured rising stars in music, art, film, fashion, and design, and consistently pushed cultural & creative boundaries.
Petra Mason is a Miami-based cultural historian and creative director. She is the author of several books, including “Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom” and “Bettie Page: Queen of Curves”, and a contributor to various publications.
Linnea Eleanor Yeager, known by “Bunny”, was a pinup photographer and model based in Miami. Her most famous photos are of Bettie Page, who she worked with in 1954, producing over 1,000 pictures and making Page a household name. Yeager’s one of the first to photograph models outdoors in natural light. Her photos were ubiquitous in the 1950s and 60s, appearing in Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and more.
An iconic 1950s pinup model known for her black hair, blunt bangs and blue eyes, Bettie Page was one of the first Playboy centerfolds, setting the tastes of a generation. Page was most notably photographed by Bunny Yeager, who captured her outdoors in Miami, and Irving Klaw, who made her the first famous bondage model. She retired in 1959 after a conversion to Evangelical Christianity.
Photographer and filmmaker who operated a mail-order photo business, selling erotic pictures and film of women, sometimes in bondage, becoming one of the first fetish photographers.
Ellen von Unwerth
German photographer and director, who worked as a model for ten years before shifting her efforts to fashion, editorial, and advertising photography.
A classic picture of Bunny Yeager, Queen of the Pinup Photographers, shows the late legend propped seductively, if a little precariously, on a bar stool, one foot touching the ground, the other awkwardly operating a vintage studio camera. She’s dressed in a figure-hugging red leotard, the concertina portion of the camera is the same flaming red, and the backdrop is a soothing, sensual blue. It’s a selfie, of sorts, except the camera is in the shot, facing the wrong way, and she’s looking at a different camera, which has clearly taken the picture. But with blonde locks glowing and white teeth gleaming, she’s beautiful, and seemingly in charge of every facet of the shot.
Classic pinup photography is all about artifice, selling the sizzle, not the sausage, and Yeager reigned supreme during the heyday of her career in the 1950s and 60s. And yet, from her studio base in Miami, Florida, she crafted and amassed a stunning repertoire of pinup pictures of hundreds, if not thousands of girls, somehow making them seem real and alive, sidestepping the cheesecake nature of most glamour photographers of the time. Yeager’s girls were the girl next door. And one of those girls happened to be Bettie Page.
Arguably one of the most photographed sex symbols of the Twentieth Century, Page’s fame is irrefutable. Although she passed away in 2008 at the age of 85 following a lenghty period of relative obscurity, her work with Yeager and the fetish-based shoots she did for Irving and Paula Klaw’s Movie Star News studio in New York City in the 50s immortalised her as the naughty yet nice brunette of countless fantasies. In the last couple of decades an industry featuring books, posters, comics, artwork, memorabilia, documentaries and even clothing has been built on her appeal. Now it’s Yeager’s turn to share some of that limelight, though sadly she too has passed away, coincidentally at the same age as Page, on May 25 this year.
Linnea Eleanor “Bunny” Yeager is no stranger to books of her work. Earlier publications like Photographing the Female Figure, Bunny Yeager’s “Photo Studies,” “How to Take Figure Photos,” “The Art of Glamour Photography” and “How I Photograph Nudes,” reprinted in 1997, are expensive collectors items these days. More recently, the Pennsylvania publisher Schiffer has released a series of Yeager books on such wondrous subjects as Pinup Girls, Bikini Girls, Striptease Artists, Flirts, Femme Fatales, Bouffant Beauties and Beautiful Backsides. However, until recently, one of the few books to take a more circumspect approach to the glamour photographer’s work was “Bunny’s Honeys: Bunny Yeager, Queen of Pin-Up Photography,” published by Taschen in 1994.
Now, thanks to the dedication of journalist Petra Mason, not one but two informative, detailed and beautifully illustrated books have elevated Yeager’s output beyond the pale of mere nostalgia. Thanks to Mason’s efforts, the woman who posed Bettie Page with leopards and zebras, in boats and amusement parks, and sold a cheeky Christmas tree picture featuring the winking model to Hugh Hefner for an early centrefold of his fledgling magazine Playboy, is centre stage in the hearts and minds of those who love beautiful pictures of beautiful women from a bygone age.
Published by Rizzoli New York, Mason’s books “Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom,” published in 2012, and new title “Bettie Page Queen of Curves” have captured the spirit of a woman who captured the essence of beauty in the middle of last century. The Page book particularly underscores Yeager’s contribution to popular culture, reflecting and enhancing the apposite charms of the only woman who could be said to rival Marilyn Monroe for iconic, universal sex symbol status. Yeager published a book in 1963 called “How I Photograph Myself.” Like that book, her shots of Bettie Page, especially those collected in Mason’s Rizzoli book, say as much about the photographer as they do about the model. Few photographers of beautiful women, with the modern exception of fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth, herself a former model, could lay claim to a similar achievement.
Barney McDonald: How did you come to be involved with Bunny Yeager, Petra?
Petra Mason: Having been enamoured with retro-style for years, I started out dressing up 1920s and Hollywood glamour as a teenager, even collecting books on pin-up and stars of the silver screen. Moving to New York in the 90s, I gravitated towards that scene. Bettie Page was a hero of mine and I was particularly enchanted by the images of Bettie Page in Florida, shot by Bunny Yeager. Years later in Miami I looked her up and was surprised to see her studio was close by, her phone number and address listed. One can only imagine the torrent of juvenile crank callers she must have had to endure over the years, asking her about why she photographed women nude or snickering on the phone about her and Bettie Page. In August 2010, I was sitting on the same stretch of beach that Bunny used as a favourite location in the 1950s and 60s and I felt a strong sense of urgency to get the project done.
BM: What did you both hope to achieve with the Bettie book?
PM: To create a hip, beautifully designed book, the ultimate Bettie Page book, accessing images of Bettie that Bunny had previously not published. To take Bettie out of the darkness and into the sunshine, to remove her shackles and close the door on Irving Klaw’s grimy Manhattan studio and those smutty S&M shots. To celebrate Bettie in what may have been the happiest time of her fractured life. To publish Bunny’s magnificent images of Bettie for the first time in hardcover with quality reproduction, and printed on high quality paper. Digital techniques were used to keep them authentic, colour correcting without changing them in Photoshop. Many of these images were scanned for the very first time. I’m not sure Bunny ever really appreciated that. What she was really pushing to publish were her recent digital colour images of women wearing saran wrap bikinis! But our first book, “Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom,” positioned her and secured her legacy. “Bettie Page Queen of Curves” does the same for both. These are the only books to bring out the true beauty of her images and photography.
“Bettie’s the superstar
model, the queen of curves,
the cult figure we all adore.”
— Petra Mason
BM: Did she see the printed version before her passing in May?
PM: She saw the final proofs, aka “the blue lines,” just weeks before. The proofs are pretty much the entire book, just not yet bound.
A model, dancer, and actress who posed and performed under the name Marguerite Empey. She is known best for her nudism, appearing in many publications, most famously as Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in 1955 and 1956. Webber posed for many famous photographers such as Peter Gowland, Bunny Yeager and Russ Meyer.
50’s Miami-based pin-up model who strikingly resembled Marilyn Monroe. She was the first model to work with Bunny Yeager, and also posed for bondage photos with Irving Klaw.
BM: Who do you feel it’s most about: Bettie or Bunny?
PM: Bettie, but it’s a temple to both. Bunny’s foreword, photographs and voice narrate throughout. Bunny selected the back cover image of the two of them together from a choice of a few. Bunny would have prefered it if we called the book “Bunny Yeager’s Bettie Page” but the publisher wanted Bettie’s name big on the cover. Bettie’s the superstar model, the queen of curves, the cult figure we all adore.
BM: Bunny has published countless books, some featuring Bettie on the cover or within their pages. Was she Bunny’s favourite all-time model?
PM: I think Bunny was Bunny’s favourite model. Bettie was her most popular. Bettie is on the covers of those books probably because that’s what the publisher wanted. I was surprised to find Bettie as a minor entry in Bunny’s 60s book “100 Girls,” where she featured her favourite top models. Bunny actually had other models she really loved to work with, like Diane Webber, who lived in California, and Miami’s Marilyn, Maria Stinger, with whom she was close. She ended up committing suicide in her 30s. Now that’s a story to be told!