Meet the Author of Bettie Page: Queen of Curves!

by: Tori Rodriguez, Editor

Before the 2014 passing of famous pinup photographer Bunny Yeager, she was actively involved in the development of two books full of her stunning work: first Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom and then Bettie Page: Queen of Curves (both published by UNIVERSE, a Rizzoli imprint). The latest book–for which Bunny wrote the foreward–was recently added to the collection of the Costume Institute Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. New York and Miami-based author and cultural historian Petra Mason had the distinct honor of creating both gorgeous compilations. I caught up with her to chat about Bunny, Bettie–and even beefcake. Yes, beefcake.

Author Petra Mason holding Bettie Page: Queen of Curves; photo © Terribly Girly Photography by Janette Valentine, @terriblygirlystudio on Instagram

Cover of Bettie Page: Queen of Curves, Rizzoli; photo © Bunny Yeager

TORI: Congratulations on putting together an absolutely gorgeous book with Bettie Page: Queen of Curves. What inspired you to create it, and how did you approach what could be such a daunting task–choosing the best of so many amazing photos?

PETRA: The archive was mostly slide film and only partially scanned. Bunny had been careful to protect her copyright and originals. Of the 800-plus images I finally focused in on 250 for the book by building photo stories within sets. The first book to explore the archive, Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom, naturally includes Bettie Page images, and in Bettie Page: Queen of Curves there are no repeats. Many hours were spent poring over the slides, a truly tough choice as Bettie looks good from every angle so there were virtually no out-takes.

Old school cut ‘n paste played an important role in the image flow for the layouts: Once the original images were scanned we made contact sheets, then printed them out. Picture editing was an intense process that took several months. Once the selection was made, we used the old glue and scissors method to decide the flow and tell a photo story to create movement.

The first Bettie image I saw on slide film was genuinely thrilling–an epiphany. Film is alchemy! Some cultures regard taking a photo as a form of stealing your soul, and after seeing Bettie on film I can see why: An impression of her is really there, as if by magic.

Jungle Bettie from Bettie Page: Queen of Curves, Rizzoli; photo © Bunny Yeager

TORI: What were some of the most interesting things you learned about Bettie that you didn’t know before? About Bunny?

PETRA: Bettie hated heels and preferred wearing flats or no shoes at all. She was a true nature girl. She lived very humbly, and when she was in Miami she stayed by the Miami River alone in a caravan. She loved to sew and created many of her own costumes. I have huge respect for her. Bettie was someone who is so celebrated, yet she was also fragile and tormented and taken advantage of.

Bettie was 32 in 1954. She was “on the run” from the law after New York photographer Irving Klaw ran into legal problems because of his bondage images. Bettie–his most popular model–was part of that investigation, so she decided to come to Florida to let the blue heat cool down! She spent only about 10 months shooting with Bunny in Florida. It was a relatively short period of time to create an extraordinary body of work.  

TORI: What are your thoughts about the collaboration between Bettie and Bunny?

PETRA: I like to call them “our founding beach babes.” Bunny had a very modern eye, and Bettie’s poses and facial expressions were edgy. Bettie is so clearly comfortable in her skin and is so expressive–she hams it up one moment, does a little vaudeville slapstick, gets bold, occasionally blatantly raunchy. There is nothing harmlessly “cutesy” about Bettie– you get a sense that she has a dark side. Together they made pinup history in the previously “men’s-only” pinup photography domain. Bettie loved the beach, and so did Bunny. Together they pushed the limits: off the beaten track locations, carrying their own gear, doing their own hair and make-up to create a very natural style of pinups–not Hollywood-glitzy but still flawless.

Beach Bettie from Bettie Page: Queen of Curves, Rizzoli; photo © Bunny Yeager

TORI: I love asking people when and how they first discovered Bettie… do you recall?

PETRA: It had to have been the legendary shot of Bettie and Bunny and the cheetahs at Africa USA Safari Park. She’s in a leopard print costume, one she sewed herself and wore a few times including in New York with Paula and Irving Klaw. Bunny’s wearing fraulein braids and clam diggers, and she’s got her vintage camera.

Bettie and Bunny from Bettie Page: Queen of Curves, Rizzoli; photo © Bunny Yeager

TORI: What other projects can we look for from you?

PETRA: That’s top secret, but in another time capsule. I recently looked into what the boys were up to in 1940s to pre-Disco for Beefcake: 100% Rare, All Natural, my third book published by UNIVERSE, a Rizzoli imprint.

You can keep up with Petra on social media at Petra_Mason (Instagram) and @PetraMason (Twitter) and on her website: www.petramason.com 

And be sure check out these fantastic mini movies created by Petra Mason and Rizzoli Social Media to promote the books–both have voiceovers by Bunny and show lots of beautiful previews of the photos you’ll find in the books:

~Bettie Page: Queen of Curves (NSFW version): http://youtu.be/vtSNufs8BWw

~Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom: http://youtu.be/p6LPeq7pbxs

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