Pin-Up Photog, Bunny Yeager, Dies at 85
Miami -- Photographer Bunny Yeager, who epitomized the era of the pinup beauty, died yesterday at age 85.
Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are familiar with Yeager's 'cheesecake' genre of pin-up photography.
She became one of the country’s most famous and influential photographers. Celebrated photographers like the late Diane Arbus, called her “the world’s greatest pinup photographer,” and Berenice Abbott championed Yeager’s work.
Yeager’s photographs of Bettie Page, an actress-model who lived in an old house by the Miami River, turned both women into household names when Yeager was 25.
Yeager’s iconic shot of Page kneeling next to a Christmas tree in a Santa hat and nothing else wound up as the centerfold in Hefner’s January 1955 issue of Playboy and cemented the pop culture status of the monthly Playmate of the Month.
Yeager’s pinups were so ubiquitous in that era that she wound up shooting eight Playboy centerfolds, along with covers and pictorial spreads. She found one of her models, Carol Jean Lauritzen, in downtown Miami at a Flagler Street bus stop.
Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. caught the photo bug after taking tips from Yeager and assisting her on some shoots in the ’50s.
Yeager designed the bikinis her models wore and is credited with popularizing the two-piece swimsuit in America after its creation in France in 1946. Perhaps her most famous bikini image is the still of actress Ursula Andress coming out of the waters of Jamaica in the first James Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No.
Yeager enjoyed a smashing revival after turning 80. She published the coffee table book, Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom ($60, Rizzoli) in 2012. Her latest, of more than 30 books, Bettie Page: Queen of Curves ($38, Rizzoli), is due in September 2014.
In 2010, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh presented a show of her self-portraits. In 2013, the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale hosted a retrospective show and she opened a combination studio and gallery in Wynwood with Miami’s Center for Visual Communication.
The Gavlak Gallery on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach currently has an exhibit of her 1950s and ’60s photos and will devote a wall to Yeager’s work at Art Basel-Miami Beach 2014 in December.
She wouldn’t shoot in the ’70s and ’80s when Playboy and, especially, its raunchier competitors like Penthouse and Hustler favored gynecological closeups.
Instead, Yeager sang in Miami nightclubs and had bit parts in made-in-Miami films, Midnight Cowboy, Porky’s and Lady in Cement with Frank Sinatra.
Yeager was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, as Eleanor Linnea Yeager. She took Bunny from the Lana Turner character in the 1945 comedy, Week-End at the Waldorf.
She moved to Miami at 17 in 1946 and lived in the same Miami Shores home for more than 50 years. As a model in Miami, Yeager won more than 30 beauty titles, including one in which a smitten judge named Joe DiMaggio asked her out on a date.
“She has accomplished more to sell the attractions of Miami and its environs than almost anything you can think of, including cheesecake,” gushed The Miami News in a Feb. 4, 1951, article.
She even inspired the term “cheesecake” that has commonly come to refer to pictures of hardly dressed women. A Spanish-language magazine in the 1960s featured a shot of Yeager on its cover clutching a slice of cheesecake.
In 1953, Yeager took night classes in photography at the former Lindsey Hopkins Vocational School in downtown Miami.
She used an old Speed Graphic press camera with exploding hand-held flash and shot at the now defunct Boca Zoo, Africa USA. But the animals played second fiddle to her model friends who wore strategically cut leopard-skin bathing suits amid the cheetahs and chimps. A shot of Maria Stinger with two cheetahs wound up on the cover of the magazine, Eye.
In 1954 she made the cover of US Camera in a splashy feature titled, “The World’s Prettiest Photographer.”