Roy Exum: Babette, Who Started It All

Monday, February 17, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

You never heard of Babette Beatty and that’s just as well, but 50 years ago the kid caused quite a stir. She had gone to the beach one afternoon in Fort Lauderdale, where she was living with her folks at the time, and a life guard had sent her packing, telling her that the white bathing suit she was wearing was a little risqué, especially with the tassels.

So as the 15-year-old German girl walked dejectedly back across the street, a guy who was running an Eastman Kodak store-front offered her $25 to take a few snapshots. Babette was 5-foot-10, model-like thin yet pretty just the same, so she posed and he snapped away with his new Brownie. That was in 1959, mind you, and about a year later, she got a call wondering if she would like to do some fashion shoots.

Another year later – barely 16 -- she was on the runways in New York, a fashion model whose pictures soon were in Vogue, Elle and other slick magazines of the day. "There were about five or six photographers who seemed to like me, and that's how things started for me really,” she told CNN not long ago, and in November of 1963 she got a call from noted photographer J. Frederick Smith who asked her to go to Cozumel.

“We did a lot of pictures together so I said, ‘Why Not?’ The pay was $50 a day and all I had to do was keep my bathing suit from filling up with sand. It was a great trip -- so much fun," she remembered. "There weren't any people there, not like now. You have to remember Cancun (on the mainland) didn't really exist then, the only people there were the Mexican Air Force. And they seemed to enjoy the shoot!

"Each day, we'd have breakfast and then the photographer would tell us where to go. He was just constantly snapping pictures. I was put in my bathing suit, and that was it. We even did our own hair and make-up.”

Well, almost. On January 20, 1964, the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine had a picture of Babette Beatty on the cover with the headline, “A skin diver’s guide to the Caribbean.” And while nobody could have ever predicted what would result, she became the first-ever “most famous” bathing suit model 50 years ago.

The 50th anniversary edition of “the only sports magazine no mothers want their sons to see” hits the news stands tomorrow. So what’s the big deal? In 2012 the SI Swimsuit Edition included $40 million in advertising alone, which doesn’t include the cost of $5.95 per copy, or the 34.5 million video views online. The Swimsuit Edition is as American as baseball and hot dogs with extra mustard, and devoured just as quickly.

This week’s line-up of models is unprecedented, with a trio of Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge and Chrissy Teigen on the cover who can also be seen giggling on the Jimmy Kimmel Show tonight. They’ve even got Barbie – the plastic Mattel doll – making an “unapologetic” cameo. But back when Babette Beatty started it all, life was tame.

"It's something I did lifetimes ago," she told the LA Times. "I think I've lived six or seven lifetimes. Each one leads to another. "I loved what I did," she said. "But I really am happy where I am now."

Babette said that after the shoot, the entourage flew back home through Dallas. "When we landed, we were grounded and it was announced that President John F. Kennedy Had been shot dead," Beatty told CNN. "The whole plane was just crushed. People were screaming and crying, it was awful. I'll never forget that. The dream trip had ended on such a terribly sad note."

But once she made her way to New York, things were quiet until the Sports Illustrated edition came out. "I didn't realize guys all over the world were going to go crazy over this," she still laughs, telling about the Mexican Air Force officer who followed her to New York, ready to propose. "I wouldn't see him," she shook her head, admitting she got many "weird proposals" over the years.

Today she and her husband of many years – a renowned sculptor artist named Dale Beatty – live in a small town in Oregon with their dogs on a glorious countryside. Yet, to this very day, people will track her down and continue to ask the very attractive woman to sign a magazine cover. "There are marriage proposals too," she laughed, "and I'm 72, I tell you!"

royexum@aol.com

Babette Beatty In 1964
Babette Beatty In 1964

Supporting Joanne Favors - And Response

I am asking you to join me in voting for Rep. Joanne Favors as the state representative of the 28th Legislative District.  Rep. Favors epitomizes the dedication, desire, experience and the ability required to do what is needed for her constituents and others in the city, county and state of Tennessee.  We must always keep in mind that our votes really count, especially ... (click for more)

Plant Native Plants Along The Interstate

Would the Highway Department take an active role in planting along our interstate highways native plants that attract pollinators?  The monarch butterfly in particular would benefit from this.   Mowing could be reduced to once a year to eliminate trees from growing.  This would cut fuel cost.  This could start before, in and around, and after our welcome ... (click for more)

2 Wrecks Temporarily Close I-75 Northbound At Exit 11 On Wednesday Morning

Due to two wrecks that occurred early Wednesday morning, I- 75 northbound at exit 11 has been temporarily closed while emergency crews continue to work both accidents.  Traffic was being rerouted to Old Lee Highway to avoid the accident scene.   It is unclear at this time how long this portion of the freeway will be closed, authorities said at 6 a.m.. (click for more)

Teen Shot Multiple Times On 4th Avenue; 2nd Youth Shot Twice On Pinewood Avenue; Woman Shot Twice On 25th Street

A teen was shot multiple times on 4th Avenue on Monday night. The victim was 19-year-old JaMarcus Davis. A second teen, 18-year-old Jaylain Ballard, was shot twice early Tuesday morning on Pinewood Avenue. Marion Heard, 45, was shot twice early Tuesday morning on 25th Street. In the first incident, Chattanooga Police responded at 7:20 p.m. to the area of the 2600 block ... (click for more)

UTC Coach Jim Foster Recalls His Memories Of Pat Summitt

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s head basketball coach Jim Foster took time out Tuesday afternoon to meet with local media to answer questions about his relationship with the late Pat Summitt, the former head coach and most recently the Head Coach Emeritus of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols.   The two Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coaches met each ... (click for more)

Unbeaten Fairyland Clinches Red Division Swim Title

Members of the Calhoun swim team were set and ready to compete on the pool deck at the Fairyland Club Monday night, but they never got wet as the meet was postponed by lighting, thunder and the overall threat of stormy weather. They made the long trip back about 24 hours later and the second time around wasn’t nearly as productive as 21 less swimmers made the trip to the top ... (click for more)