1954 was a historic year for pinup photography. That was when Bettie Page traveled to Florida and met Bunny Yeager. During that year, these two legends produced over 1,000 photos. It was this collaboration that established them both—on either side of the camera—as the most successful tandem in pinup history, forever linking them in history, and influencing pinup photography to this day.
Bunny Yeager was so much more than her photographs of Bettie Page. We all know her backstory, a Pennsylvania girl who moved to Florida with her parents when she was 17. Her birth name was Linnea Eleanor Yeager. Being a film buff at a very early age, she adopted the nickname “Bunny” from Lana Turner’s character “Bunny Smith” in the film “Week-End at the Waldorf.”
She was a natural beauty, with a tall, striking figure which led her to enroll in modeling school right after she graduated high school. From there, Bunny started entering numerous beauty pageants and pretty much won everything she entered. From that notoriety, she rapidly became the most photographed model in Southern Florida and the “Queen of Miami Beach.”
While modeling and winning pageants, Bunny developed a keen business sense and the ability to pivot to any situation that she entered. The first evidence of this was when she was modeling. As an accomplished seamstress, she designed and sewed her own outfits and the outfits of her models when she began photography as her primary business. She was so prolific at this that, despite the hundreds of photos taken of her, she claimed to have never worn the same outfit twice. She heavily influenced the design and popularity of the two-piece swimsuit—then in its infancy—to the point that several companies, including German fashion company, Bruno Banani, started to develop a line of swimwear taken from Bunny’s designs.
Using money she had saved from modeling, she entered photography by going to night school in 1953 for two primary reasons. She wanted to save money by being able to copy her modeling photographs, and she understood modeling and had her own ideas of where to take it. Her technical skill was evident from the outset. Remember, she met Bettie the very next year and took all of those amazing photos of her.
Bunny developed her own recognizable style by using a “fill flash” technique in her photos. This would lighten shadows when she was shooting outdoors in bright natural sunlight and “fill” in those shadows with light. This was Bunny’s preferred method of shooting and she was one of the first to photograph women in this natural element. This technique produced the bright and vivid photographs that became her trademark in the photography world.
Her body of work is prolific—a serious understatement! She was noted to have photographed close to 1,500 models during her lifetime. Grapefruit Moon Studios secured the majority of Bunny’s estate in 2018 and have been able to verify that number.
Along with the thousands of photos from her estate, the studio also gained costumes, cameras, and various ephemera, which gave a keen insight into Bunny’s business world.
As mentioned previously, her ability to pivot as a businesswoman is legendary. Bunny photographed models almost on a daily basis well into the 1970s, including eight centerfolds for Playboy magazine. She also appeared in Playboy five times herself and was even photographed by Hugh Hefner for the pictorial, “The Queen of Playboy Centerfolds.”
But, as men’s magazines became more graphic during this time frame, Bunny pulled back from photographing for them because she viewed it as “smutty” and something she was not prepared to photograph.
While her pinup work was her “bread and butter,” Bunny was also doing “mainstream” photography for publications such as Esquire, Redbook, Pageant, Cosmopolitan, and Women’s Wear Daily. She also photographed for motion picture studios; most notable was her photo of Ursula Andress emerging from the water in the 1962 James Bond film “Dr. No,” which, to this day, is still one of the most famous bikini photos ever shot.
Her business was entirely self-run all the way up until her death. She still preferred to send out handwritten letters to clients well into the 2000s, and her cataloging skills were second to none.
Bunny was so much more than just the Bettie Page pictures that we know and love. She was a force that shaped photography forever.
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