Linnea Eleanor “Bunny” Yeager (March 13, 1929 – May 25, 2014) was an American photographer and pin-up model.
Early life and career
Linnea Eleanor Yeager was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, to Raymond Conrad and Linnea (née Sherlin) Yeager on March 13, 1929. Her family moved to Florida when she was 17. She adopted the nickname “Bunny” from Lana Turner’s character Bunny Smith in the 1945 movie Week-End at the Waldorf.[The nickname has also been attributed to her portrayal of the Easter Bunny in a high school play.
She graduated from Miami Edison High School and enrolled at the Coronet Modeling School and Agency. She won numerous local beauty pageants, including in rapid succession Queen of Miami, Florida Orchid Queen, Miss Trailer Coach of Dade County, Miss Army & Air Force, Miss Personality of Miami Beach, Queen of the Sports Carnival and Cheesecake Queen of 1951. Yeager became one of the most photographed models in Miami. Photos of Yeager appeared in over 300 newspapers and magazines.
Yeager also designed and sewed many outfits she and her models wore, at one time boasting that she never wore the same outfit twice while modelling. She designed and produced hundreds of bikinis when the two-piece swimsuit was a new fashion item and is credited with its popularity in America. Bruno Banani, the German fashion company, has developed a line of swimwear based on Yeager’s designs from the 1950s.
Yeager entered photography to save money by copying her modelling photographs, enrolling in a night class at a vocational school in 1953. Her career as a professional photographer began when a picture of Maria Stinger, taken for her first school assignment, was sold to Eye magazine for the cover of the March 1954 issue. She became a technically skilled photographer noted for, among other things, her early use of the fill flash technique to lighten dark shadows when shooting in bright sun. Yeager was among the first photographers to photograph her models outdoors with natural light. Matt Schudel wrote in The Washington Post that her images were vivid and dynamic, saying, “She favoured active poses and a direct gaze at the camera lens, in what could be interpreted alternately as playful innocence or pure lust.”
She met Bettie Page in 1954 and took most of her photographs that year. During their brief collaboration, she took over 1,000 pictures of Page. Along with photographer Irving Klaw, Yeager played a role in helping to make Page famous, particularly with her photos in Playboy magazine. American Photo magazine described Yeager’s work with Page as “a body of imagery that remains some of the most memorable — and endearing — erotica on record” in a 1993 article. The most famous images of Page by Yeager include the January 1955 Playboy centrefold, in which she kneels wearing only a Santa hat while hanging a silver ornament on a Christmas tree, and a series of photographs with a pair of live cheetahs.
Yeager was a prolific and successful pinup photographer in the 1950s and 1960s, so much so that her work was ubiquitous in that era. She continued to work extensively with Playboy shooting eight centrefolds in addition to covers and pictorial spreads. She discovered Lisa Winters, the first Playmate of the Year. Yeager also appeared in the magazine as a model five times. One appearance with the headline “Queen of the Playboy Centerfolds” was photographed by Hugh Hefner.
Her work was also published in mainstream magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Pageant, Redbook and Women’s Wear Daily. Her famous still images of Ursula Andress emerging from the water on the beach in Jamaica for the 1962 James Bond film Dr No are probably her best-known bikini photographs. She discovered many notable models. In the 1970s, as men’s magazines became more anatomically graphic, Yeager largely stopped photographing for them, saying they were somewhat “smutty” and that “They had girls showing more than they should.”In 1998 she stated, “The kind of photographs they wanted was something I wasn’t prepared to do.”
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Bunny Yeager in action