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!"

Babette Beatty In 1964
Babette Beatty In 1964

The Message Of The GOP Is Hate And Division

Maybe it is me.  Maybe it is me that thinks the likes of Donald Trump or Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and some of the others represent the voting public.  I noticed and watched, again, with horror, that another shooting and killing happened in Colorado yesterday.  Couple that with some of the hysterical rhetoric of the Republican Party and wonder, or I do, just what is happening ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: We Can’t ‘Ban The Box’

I know a man who has over 20 former convicts from federal prisons who either work for him or who have retired with their dignity, pride, and self-worth restored. Better yet, I know some of them, men who have done “hard time” in prisons so wretched none of us would dare to go. So on the surface I applaud City Councilman Yusef Hakeem for seeing ways to get formerly incarcerated men ... (click for more)

Fire Breaks Out At McKee Bakery Plant 2; Damages Listed At $15,000; Propane Tanks Were Near Blaze

Fire broke out at a McKee Food plant at Collegedale on Saturday night. At 6:45 p.m. , an employee at McKee Foods called 911 call reporting a fire at McKee Foods Plant 2 located at 10260 McKee Dr. Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department responded and arrived on the scene reporting flames 15 feet high at one end of the building of Plant 2. According to fire officials, ... (click for more)

Woman Shot Saturday Night Near O'Rear Street

A woman was shot while driving on Saturday night. Just after  9 p.m.  the Chattanooga Police Department responded to reports of a person shot. Once on scene, police located a female victim near the 2500 block of O'Rear Street suffering from a life-threatening gunshot wound to the face. The victim was driving a vehicle when the vehicle was struck by gunfire. She  ... (click for more)

UTC Defeats Fordham, 50-20, in FCS First Round Game

 "UTC has one of the best defensive lines we have played against all season ... character guys and no trash talking." -- Fordham Quarterback Kevin Anderson in post game comments    Senior quarterback Jacob Huesman threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 154 yards to lead UTC to a 50-20 victory against visiting Fordham ... (click for more)

Red Bank Comeback Trips Hixson In Vandergriff Duals

The last time Red Bank's wrestling Lions faced the Hixson Wildcats in the Hixson gym, Hixson won a close match to earn a spot in the State Duals. These same two teams squared off at Hixson Saturday afternoon in the championship match of the Vandergriff Duals, but the results were different as the Lions rallied for a 34-31 win. Red Bank had won its pool at Hixson Middle ... (click for more)