By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Soon after, Yeager met Bettie Page and took what many critics regard as the most iconic images of the era's famous pin-up model. Yeager returned to the wildlife park with Page and posed her with a pair of cheetahs, and later photographed her wearing only a Santa hat while decorating a Christmas tree.
"I sent those pictures to Playboy magazine, which had just come out," Yeager recalls. "Hugh Hefner called me and bought those pictures. It became the start of a long relationship, and we have remained friends ever since. We still write each other letters and exchange Christmas cards every year."
Her holiday-themed Page pics were published as the centerfold for Playboy's January 1954 issue, and the photographer went on to lens another eight spreads for the magazine.
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Yeager herself graced the pages of Playboy in its May 1955 issue for a seven-page pictorial titled "Double Exposure," depicting Yeager snapping pictures of herself and shooting a model.
"I never posed nude, though," Yeager says. "I only took pictures of myself in skimpy bikinis and revealing outfits I sewed myself."
Her work was soon appearing regularly in Life, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and men's magazines such as Gent, Nugget, Cavalier, and Fling.
She also began appearing in movies, earning a role in the Frank Sinatra flick Lady in Cement and bit parts in The Dogs of War, The Mean Season, and Absence of Malice.
By now a celebrity, she also began publishing more than two dozen books, most of them about her craft and the pin-up genre. One tome, How I Photograph Myself, earned her a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1966. Its cover depicts Yeager posing in front of a boxy, old-fangled camera while snapping its shutter with a tug of a cord tied to her toe.
"The idea was like those old rubber balls one had to squeeze to take a self-portrait before cameras had automatic features built in," Yeager says.
Yeager never stopped taking self-portraits during that era. "I always took pictures of myself when I looked my best. I wanted to have these pictures as a pictorial diary and to remind me that I was also a great model," she says.
Many of those photos are now seeing the light of day for the first time and earning her rave critical reviews.
"I always looked at my work as an art form and not a job," Yeager says. "I knew starting out I had as good a chance as anybody to succeed and become famous. I knew my work was excellent and as good, if not better, than the other photographers working at the time.
"I think it's nice to be appreciated at last," she says. "Now people think they know me as a photographer, but they forget I was once a model myself."