Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 30

Bunny Yeager was a photographer without a studio. Her U.S. CAMERA profile had brought her to the attention of a large number of editors, and some of them wanted to see her photographs. The main problem was that she didn't have anything to sell. "The World's Prettiest Photographer" feature had been a stunt to sell the feature, but it resulted in Bunny attaining a credibility with the publications. Never one to miss a chance, Yeager borrowed her photography instructor's studio, and began to shoot experiments with a couple pretty models. One of her earliest subjects was Bettie Page.
Their first session resulted in dozens of generic photos with Bettie dressed as everything from a harried shopper to a devil girl. One of the shots was of a nude Bettie in a Santa hat. The instant Hugh Hefner saw the photo he knew he had his latest centerfold.
While Bettie Page might have been Bunny's favorite model, there were plenty of runners-up. Miami seemed to be a magnet for beautiful women, and Bunny was always on the look-out for a fresh face. Where a male photographer might have a problem with approaching a potential subject, Bunny had no trouble winning their trust and getting their phone numbers.
For twenty years, Bunny photographed some of the most beautiful women in the world. Her lens focused on the likes of Lisa Winters, Jackie Walker, Carol Jean Lauritzen, and Diane Webber.
One of Bunny's best models was Bunny herself. This really "cut to the chase" when it came to business for a number of reasons. First, Bunny could shoot at just about any time of the night or day, and there she never had to wait for the model to show up.. Her costumes always fit perfectly, and the make-up was never needed to be adjusted. There was no modeling fee, or model release to worry about, either. Best of all, the subject was a tireless worker who knew exactly what the photographer wanted.
Supported by a large mirror, camera and tri-pod with an automatic timer or extended cable release, Bunny managed to capture her best side every time!
By the late 1950s, Bunny's photographs were being published in dozens of magazines across the country. Unfortunately, she could only sell to so many of them at a time. Yeager decided that another way to sell her work might be in a hard cover book format.
The title of her first effort was HOW I PHOTOGRAPH THE NUDE, and it was an instant success. That was followed up with 100 NUDES and HOW I PHOTOGRAPH MYSELF. The books sold in the millions, and spread Bunny's fame far and wide. She even appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, in 1964.
Another outlet for Yeager's talents was the series of photography books issued by Fawcett Publications through their Whitestone imprint. The books were smaller and thicker than a magazine, and had a square binding. The photo books were printed on a high grade paper with a premium print job. The issues were devoted to a single theme or photographer, and Bunny was always well represented. Her titles included BUNNY YEAGER'S PHOTO STUDIES, XXX and XXX  Each issue was stuffed with some of Bunny's best work with some of her loveliest models. The Whitestone books were a great place to study shots of hundreds beautiful women, and incredibly, non-photographer types loved them too!
Bunny talked about her relationship with Bettie Page in BUNNY YEAGER'S PHOTO STUDIES (Whitestone, 1960).
"Having worked with Bettie Page at the start of my photographic career was a tremendous advantage to me. I consider her the best all-around model that I've ever worked with. I learned much about posing from Bettie.
"She is not only the most photographic model in every way, but also the easiest to shoot. Besides a Petty Girl figure and regular facial features that can be photographed from any angle, Bettie has an animation and expression in her face which most models lack. As if that weren't enough, Bettie makes all of her posing costumes herself. She is an example of a girl who has devoted her whole life to being a good glamour model."
Bunny arranged for an early arrival at the park so that they wouldn't have to contend with gawking tourists while they worked. The manager met them as they arrived, and later drove them by jeep into the deepest part of the jungle landscape.
Bunny recalls "The owner was very kind, and drove us around in his open-top jeep. It was scary because the giraffes would stick their heads into the car through the hole in the roof! I'd never been around wild animals like that. I'd been use to dogs and cats.
"Later we found out the Ostriches are also very dangerous because of their feet and legs. We'd brought bags of food to feed the animals, and there she was, among the ostriches. They didn't bother her at all and everything was just fine."
"It was like an adventure in Africa. Bettie and I were very excited about Shooting at Africa U.S.A." Bunny Yeager remembers. One of the most memorable aspects of the shoot was the session with the cheetahs. In an effort to made the show look more authentically primitive, the chains were removed from around the cats' necks.
"We had to be very careful." Bunny Remembers "They were the only animals at the park that were kept behind bars for the safety of the other animals and the tourists. If the cats had taken off, it would have been very difficult to catch them."
Bettie's jungle-girl outfit was the result of some teamwork with Bunny. Yeager was concerned that the park management might be sensitive to girls posing in skimpy bikinis and such. The leopards skin costume was designed for maximum coverage, while managing to retain a sexy look.
"I drew a little sketch of what I wanted," Bunny remembers, "and I gave that to Bettie to sew together. I knew that if I designed it to look like a one-piece bathing suit nobody would complain. Usually, I'd sew the costumes for the models, but Bettie was and excellent seamstress and she could fit herself better than I could, so I let her construct it. The piece came out exactly as I'd envisioned it."
Because most of the Africa U.S.A. shoot features a very covered Bettie, Bunny decided to spice the series up with some additional photos. "We came up with a smaller costume that featured a leopard-skin loin-cloth. We did another shoot a few days later on a small island south of Miami. We hired a boat and shot around a small deserted island That session featured the shot of Bettie hanging from the tree with a knife in her mouth!"
Bunny and Bettie never photographed at Africa, U.S.A. again. Bunny wanted to return with another model, and continue to explore the photographic possibilities of the location. For reasons lost to time, this never happened, and the result is a series of photos that have no rival. As Yeager observes "It was perfect the first time. I couldn't have done it better, so why try?"
Bunny Yeager had conquered Beauty Contests, Cheesecake modeling, Pin-Up photography, and she still wasn't satisfied. Her next target was motion pictures, and she didn't miss that target either. Over the years, she's been involved in the production of dozens of TV shows and movies.
Her appearances include The Tonight Show, Dogs of War, Absence of Malice, The Mean Season, Harry and Son, and many others. She even got to rub-down Frank Sinatra in Lady In Cement.
"I've been a movie fan all of my life," Bunny observes, " and my work in the motion picture world has been very rewarding. I'm still involved with movie making, and I guess I always will be."
Ask anybody who knows Bunny Yeager and they will tell you that she's one of the busiest people they know. He energy is undiminished by time, and  she is still dedicated to her work. Her days are filled with publishing, and writing the bulk of her newspaper FLORIDA STAGE AND SCREEN NEWS, a monthly guide to the television and movie industry in Florida. She is also on the board of the Metro-Dade Film, Print, and Broadcast Advisory Board.
Best of all, Bunny is still photographing beautiful ladies bouncing on the beach or sizzling like Venus caught in the surf. The return of cheesecake is due in no small part to the talents of this fabulous woman, and the industry continues to benefit from her presence

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