Queen of the Centerfold

Bunny Yeager was a Miami model -- and an innovative pioneer who conquered the male-dominated world of cheesecake photography in the Fifties

The warring of the past and future appears to be disrupting Yeager's present, creating confusion where there should be continuity for a successful artist -- even one who doesn't necessarily grasp the power of nostalgia when it comes to enhancing public appreciation of her work. Last month Yeager was under pressure both to put out her newspaper and to put together a collection of photographs for Playboy, which was planning a retrospective of her work this year. She managed to produce the paper, but missed the Playboy deadline. As a result the retrospective was postponed, says Beth Mullins, an assistant photo editor for Playboy. "We work four months in advance, and Bunny is still putting together stuff for us, so we're looking at a publication date of March of next year."

Mullins says she and other editors are enthusiastic about the project, which grew out of a Betty Page pictorial in last December's Playboy. Entitled "The Betty Boom," the spread featured several Yeager shots of Page and a tribute to the cult goddess written by Buck Henry. "The response was so positive that we decided that we should do something specifically on Yeager and include, not just the Page photos, but all the work she's done for Playboy."

Despite the missed deadline, Yeager is fully committed to the project, Mullins says. "Oh, sometimes I have a hard time reaching her," she adds. "But Bunny's very fond of the magazine, and she's eager to work with us."

Yeager is no doubt eager to do many things, but time is so limited, far too limited for long contemplation of a groundbreaking career, or of halcyon days on the beach, or of a pinup dream with bangs and a warm smile. She must instead concentrate on moving forward, in a light she understands. And on some inarticulate level, she seems to understand that no woman at any age should ever fear that light, which any woman can at least try to manipulate -- reflect, refract, splinter, and reconstruct into a perfect image of herself. And this, finally, leads to the problem Bunny Yeager has with Betty Page, cloistered as she is, in California, a state just as sunshiny as her own.

"She will never come out," Yeager says of her old acquaintance. "In the last conversation I had with her, she said she wanted to forget the past and not be reminded of it all the time." Of course Yeager admits she, too, has expressed that sentiment: "Yeah, sure. But I'm not hiding.

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