Before Cheryl and Christie and Tyra and Heidi graced the covers of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issues, there was Babette.
Discovered on Fort Lauderdale beach as a teenager, Babette Beatty went on to become the first cover star for the wildly popular annual publication that turned 50 this month.
The shot captured the 22-year-old German-born beauty (who went by her maiden name of Babette March) smiling as she sported a white leather bikini on a beach in Mexico. At the time, she said, it was just another modeling job.
"It's really a stroke of fate that I happened to land on that cover," says Beatty, 72, who today lives in Oregon. "It was one of those things that happens."
The same can be said about her whole modeling adventure, which began on that Broward County beach in 1959.
"I was hanging out on the beach by [what was then] the Yankee Clipper. I was wearing a tasseled bikini and I just loved it. I was asked by a lifeguard to leave the beach because of what I was wearing," she says of the provocative swimwear.
"Soon after that, a photographer saw me from Eastman Kodak. He liked the way I looked. I was very tall and very skinny," adds Beatty, who as a teen already stood 5 feet, 10 inches tall.
The photographer, who had a studio off the 17th Street Causeway, photographed her on the beach, "in a one-piece bathing suit holding a Brownie camera." Those shots were turned into lifesized cutouts for Kodak stores across the country.
"My parents were not happy," she says. "I remember getting $25 for my efforts."
Two years later, with just $500, Beatty seriously began pursuing model work in New York City. She introduced herself to agents and found herself modeling Paris collections and being featured on the pages of Elle, Vogue and Marie Claire.
In 1963, Sports Illustrated editors looking to fill a winter lull between sports seasons came up with the idea of a swimsuit edition. Through her agency, Ford Models, they booked Beatty for a swimsuit shoot in Cozumel that November.
The job paid $50 a day for the 10-day shoot, she says, but she didn't take it for the money. "To me it was another little diversion to go to Mexico, to be in the sun in November."
In her white bikini, she laughed and covered her nose as she posed on the beach near Mayan ruins, as white waves swirled around her feet.
"On the left side, there was a little cove. It was a little rough," she says. "I had gotten saltwater in my nose."
She was surprised to learn she made the cover when it was published Jan. 20, 1964. The issue, which was five pages, sold for a quarter. The cover story: "A Skin Diver's Guide to the Caribbean."
Under Beatty's athletic pose, the headline read: "Fun In The Sun On Cozumel."
"The picture wasn't even good. It was one of my lesser pictures," she says. "But it did create a stirring among young guys because the letters wouldn't stop coming — and the proposals!"
Beatty continued striking poses through the 1970s, appearing in magazines and catalogs. But in 1978, she decided to retire from the click-pose-click-pose life.
"I was getting older. Time moves on," she says. "There is a time when you have to stop and let somebody else do it."
As she recounts, the next few years brought dramatic changes. She lived on a farm in Canada, where she tended to sheep, cattle and chickens. Then she returned to South Florida in 1987 and lived in an Airstream trailer in Port of the Islands by the Everglades. A self-taught painter, she began designing clothes that she sold at local boutiques.