Obit of the Day: “The World’s Greatest Pinup Photographer” Was a Woman
Linnea Yeager moved to Miami, Florida with her family when she was 17 and reinvented herself. She changed her name to “Bunny” in honor of the Lana Turner character in the film Week-End at the Waldorf” and began modeling. She quickly became one of the most sought after faces in Miami, winning over 30 different beauty pageants. (One story has it that she inspired the term “cheesecake” in reference to sexual images of women when she posed with a slice of the dessert in a Spanish-language magazine.)
She took up photography in her 20s in order to keep her own portfolio. Enrolling in a high school photography class, her final project was a photograph of a model friend wearing a leopard-print bikini. After the class she sold it to a men’s magazine, her first professional venture.
Things changed in 1954 for Ms. Yeager and pinup photography when she met a 31-year-old New York transplant named Bettie Page. Over the ensuing years, Ms. Yeager would photograph Ms. Page over 1000 times, often in bikinis designed by Ms. Yeager herself. (Ms. Yeager is credited with popularizing the two-piece suit in the 1950’s.)
One of the iconic shots taken by Yeager, which launched her national career, was the January 1955 Playboy centerfold which showed Ms. Page kneeling next to a Christmas tree wearing nothing but a Santa hat. Ms. Yeager assumed that the fledgling men’s magazine would be interested in the amateur female photographer angle - and she knew they paid $100, more than any other outlet.
Ms. Yeager would continue to do shoots for Playboy with a total of 8 centerfolds and well as covers and other pictorials. Her wide popularity allowed her greater opportunities in the field. In 1962, she garnered national attention for taking the iconic photos of Ursula Andress in her bikini for her role in the James Bond film Doctor No./p>
Ms. Yeager’s career came to an end in the 1970’s when men’s magazines began to fold and the ones that replaced them demanded more nudity. She refused saying, “I’m not doing it to titillate anybody’s interest. I want to show off how beautiful my subjects are, whether it’s a cheetah or a live girl or two of them together.”
She experienced a renaissance when interest in Ms. Page resurfaced in the early 21st century. Ms. Yeager was even featured in the HBO film The Notorious Bettie Page, played by Sarah Paulson with Gretchen Mol as Ms. Page.
In 2010 Ms. Yeager was honored with her first photography exhibition nearly sixty years after she her career began. The Andy Warhol Museum hosted Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pinup which featured Ms. Yeager’s extensive collection of self-portraits.
Bunny Yeager died in May 25, 2014 at the age of 85.
Sources: Miami Herald, NY Times, and LA Times
(Images: Top left, Bettie Page in a Yeager-designed bikini, 1954 courtesy vintagegal.tumblr com; top right, Ursula Andress, 1962, courtesy of europost.info; bottom, undated self-portrait of Bunny Yeager courtesy of visual.org which has a full photo gallery of Ms. Yeager’s wor), which features NSFW images)
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