From Real to Reel: Still Photographers at the Movies – Bunny Yeager

Bunny Teager

This is the 6th installment in this series.

Linnea Eleanor Yeager was born  in Wilkensburg, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburg. When Linnea was 17, she and her family moved to Miami. That was in 1946. A longtime movie fan, she somewhere during this period adopted the nickname of Bunny which she procured from Lana Turner’s character, Bunny Smith, in MGM’s Weekend at the Waldorf (1945). She developed an early interest in photography and began photographing friends. After graduating from Edison High School in Miami, Yeager registered as a student at the Coronet Modeling School and Agency.  Bunny won a few beauty contests including a ‘Sports Queen’ contest where she was crowned by a pre-Marilyn Monroe Joe DiMaggio. She began to receive modeling jobs and they kept on coming. At five foot ten, with a voluptuous figure, Bunny was perfect for modeling. She also had another not so secret weapon. She made her own bikinis. In those days, bikinis were rare. Models were still wearing one-piece swimsuits. Over the years, Yeager would make bikinis for herself and her models. Though Bunny continued to model, her interest was mainly for working behind the camera. In 1953, she signed up for some photography classes. For one of her class assignments she took a couple of friends to Boca Rotan’s Africa U.S.A. park, the same park one year or so later she would take Bettie Page and shoot some of their best-known photographs. When still an amateur, Yeager sold her first photo, a picture of local model, Maria Stinger, also known as Miami’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, to Eye magazine.

Bunnty Stinger

Maria Stinger at Africa U.S.A in Boca Raton. Bunny Yeager’s first sale.

Bettie Page was already a popular model in New York’s seedy world of ‘camera clubs,’ men’s magazines, and for her work with Irving and Paula Klaw. On vacation in Florida, Bettie contacted a few photographers including Bunny Yeager. By this time, Yeager had some professional work to her credit, both in front and behind the camera, but was still new in the business.  The women worked well together. They did a wide variety of early morning shoots on Florida’s pristine beaches. The sunlight graced and exposed Page and Yeager’s other models for the natural beauties they were. Yeager designed many of the bikinis Bettie Page wore. During this period, Bunny asked if Bettie would mind working with animals. No problem, she responded. Bunny set up a photo session at Africa U.S.A. in Boca Raton. Bettie posed with a wide variety of animals: zebras, monkeys, ostriches, and cheetahs. Those photos became extremely popular, for Yeager her biggest sellers. Bettie’s skimpy outfit in the photos mirrored the wild animals’ fur. Yeager had another idea; a Christmas photo. She photographed Bettie kneeing next to a small Christmas tree wearing nothing but a Santa Claus hat and a smile. Playboy magazine, still in its infancy, and still accepting photographs from unknown photographers published the photo and used it as the centerfold for the January 1955 issue. Bunny received $100. Bunny has claimed to have taken at least 1,000 pictures of Page.

Bettie Page on the  each in Florida and Bettie and Bunny at Africa U.S.A. in Boca Raton 

The 1950’s and 1960’s were Bunny’s best years both as a photographer and as a model. She did a lot of her own modeling in front of the camera by using her camera’s timer. She did five photographic layouts for Playboy and even appeared in the magazine herself. Her photographs appeared in other girlie magazines of the day including Cavalier, Nugget, Escapade, Sunbathing, and the National Police Gazette, in addition to hundreds of pin-up calendars that men had hanging in locker rooms and elsewhere. Her work also appeared in more mainstream magazines like Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Esquire, and Women’s Wear Daily. Other work included working as a still photographer in Jamaica during the filming of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. That famous white bikini shot of Ursula coming out of the water. Yep, that was photographed by Yeager.

Andress

Ursula Andress on the set of Dr. No. Photograph by Bunny Yeager

In the 1970’s, times changed. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, and others wanted more graphic pictures, something Yeager was not willing to do. Her girl next door innocent, yet sexy look was out of style for magazines like the hardcore Hustler. It wasn’t until the 2000’s when Yeager’s photography began to regain its due fame. In 2010, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh presented Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-up. The show was a collection of twenty-eight self-portraits. They were both artful and sensual and became an influence on modern-day photographers like Cindy Sherman. Other exhibits followed. Over the years there have been a series of books published on her work. One of the last before her death was Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom Pinup Photography’s Golden Era by Petra Mason. Bunny died in 2014 at the age of 85.

Books by Bunny Yeager

 

Bunny Yeager on Film

In the 2005 film, The Notorious Bettie Page, Bunny is portrayed by Sarah Paulson. It’s a small role as brief as her real-life collaboration with the model. The movie itself seems all too innocent; Page’s acting career, modeling, bondage photos and eventually her path back to religion. The film ignores Bettie’s later years of depression, a nervous breakdown, and her lack of compensation for the photos and movies she did. Gretchen Mol does an excellent job as Page; as expected Bunny’s career and accomplishments are ignored.

That said, Bunny had a diverse career in the movies mostly behind the scenes. In 1968, she appeared in a small role as a Swedish masseuse in the Frank Sinatra P.I. film, Lady in Cement. She also appeared in the Paul Newman film, Harry and Son (1984) and in an episode of the TV series B.L. Stryker (1989) in which she once again played a masseuse.

Bunny also appeared in a few low budget exploitation films mostly playing herself in films like Bunny Yeager’s Nude Camera (1963), Bunny Yeager’s  Nude Las Vegas (1964), Nudes of Tiger Beach (1965), all directed by exploitation maven Barry Mahon. Yeager also appeared in a series of documentaries, the most prominent included 100 Girls by Bunny Yeager (1999), Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010), and Bettie Page Reveals All (2012).

Bunny was also behind the scenes as a still photographer, most prominently as previously mentioned in Dr. No (1962). Other films were in the pre-porn exploitation film world of works like Nude on the Moon (1961) and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962) both directed by the prolific Queen of Sexploitation, Doris Wishman.

You can read earlier installments in the From Real to Real: Still Photographers in the Movies by clicking right here.

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