The First Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model, 50 Years Later

By Rachel Katz

Jan 20, 2014 6:00am

Babette Beatty had no idea she would be the first model to grace the cover of the now highly anticipated Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.  The publication, which comes out only once a year, has highlighted some of the most famous models for the past 50 years.

With Sports Illustrated celebrating the 50th anniversary of their swimsuit issue this week, ABC News spoke to Beatty (her last name was formerly March), to find out what it was like to be the first cover model in the issue.

“It was 1963 and it was a photo shoot like any other, like a locations shoot. It wasn’t anything planned and I did not know I was going to be on the cover,” Beatty told ABC News. We went to Tulum, Mexico, and there were no plans behind it. I was just surprised that I didn’t know it that I was going to be on the cover.”

“We landed in Cozumel, Mexico and at the time we stayed in an abandoned, partially built hotel,” Beatty said. “We hired a fishing boat that took us around  then took us to Tulum.”

The cover photo was taken on the beach in Tulum, right near the Mayan ruins, according to Beatty.

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(AP Photo)

Beatty began her modeling career in 1961.

“I came to New York with $500 and I had to live on that, but thankfully I was taken up by photographers quickly,” Beatty said.  ” I did not have any money, so when I came to New York I just dressed myself with whatever I could find and the Army-Navy store.”

Beatty, who modeled for Ford Modeling Agency her entire career, says she  had not been contracted with the agency before she moved to New York City.

“I just walked in and I said, here I am and they took me right away,” Beatty said. “I don’t think it happens too often, even then it was unusual.”

“I never thought I wouldn’t succeed.  Not because I thought I was good-looking, I just thought I would make it,” said Beatty. “I was very skinny and  I was very tall for those days, I am 5’10, so I had the right look.”

Prior to Beatty’s debut on the cover, she had already been a successful model.

“I was well on my way, I had done collections in Paris,” Beatty said. “At the time [being on the cover] it didn’t propel my modeling career. It was just the first time they did it and they did not even know if they were going to do another issue.”

Beatty ended her modeling career in 1978, moved to Canada and eventually settled in a small town in eastern Oregon. She is a painter and has her own art gallery. She also runs a bed and breakfast with her husband and previously owned a restaurant.

After being on the cover for the first swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, she never modeled for them again.  However, in October she took a trip to New York City for the launch of the upcoming issue and was in Los Angeles this week for the 50th Anniversary of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Party, held at the Dolby Theater.

“I am still getting fan mail,” Beatty said. “There isn’t a week I’m not getting mail from fans asking me to sign the cover [of the issue].”

“The [Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue]  is a special issue and I think it’s wonderful,”  Beatty said. “All of the models are gorgeous and all of the guys wait for it.”

Beatty had no idea she’d still be hearing about that cover a half-century later.

“Well it followed me for 50 years, I can’t seem to shed it, so yeah, it’s very impressive.”

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(Babette Beatty)

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