Sixty years after landing the first SI Swimsuit Issue cover in 1964, Babette Beatty is still receiving regular fan mail from her many admirers.
The German model (then known as Babette March) had only been in the industry for six months when she caught the eye of photographer J. Frederick Smith in New York City in the early ’60s. At the age of 22, Beatty became the first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl, after posing for Smith in Cozumel, Mexico.
Beatty’s reflections on the 1964 cover
“There was absolutely nothing there when we landed,” Beatty, now 82, recalls of the remote island location in the Caribbean Sea. “[We traveled] on a private plane, and we spent about 10 days down there shooting. I was pretty new at what I was doing, and so was the other model [Elvira Berndorff]. It was nice, and we didn’t know that there was a cover involved because there had never been a cover.”
Represented by Eileen Ford at the time, Beatty also worked with notable brands such as JCPenney and Sears and landed European covers of Elle and Marie Claire. She says the thought never even occurred to her that she might be on the cover of the first edition of the SI Swimsuit Issue.
“The cover was always an important thing to be on when you’re modeling, so it was a nice surprise to be on it,” Beatty says.
In the candid photograph in question, Beatty was captured in a white two-piece swimsuit with one hand up to her face, her short brown locks damp from the water, as waves rushed in behind her. “They wanted something very natural in those days,” she says of the now-revered image.
While reflecting on her time on location, Beatty says the experience overall was a “fabulous trip,” which she describes as “innocent” and “fun.” She remarks on the easygoing nature of the photoshoot in a remote area located near a Mexican Air Force base that was incredibly idyllic.
Life after SI Swimsuit
On her way back to New York after her SI Swimsuit photoshoot in Mexico, Beatty landed in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was shot.
“That was huge,” she recalls of the monumental moment. “I can still remember what I was wearing. It was crazy, and the hysteria that erupted on the plane was just unbelievable.”
Another milestone Beatty recalls at the time was being invited to be the queen of the spring ball for the cadets at West Point. While she turned down the offer, she says that when she returned from posing for the SI Swimsuit Issue in Mexico, the fan mail—including several marriage proposals—started and never stopped.
“I’m still getting fan mail about [the] cover,” Beatty shares. “Every week, I get about two or three letters to autograph pictures.”
Beatty retired from modeling in the late 1970s and moved to a farm in northern Canada shortly thereafter. Today, she and her husband live on a ranch in eastern Oregon, where she spends her days painting and enjoying time with her four dogs.
Although Beatty has been out of the modeling industry for decades, she was pleased to see 82-year-old Martha Stewart grace the cover of the 2023 SI Swimsuit Issue last May.
“She was beautiful. I’m glad it was her, and I’m really glad it wasn’t me,” Beatty jokes. “She did a good job. She looks great.”