Babette March is 72 years old this year. Babette is an American pop-culture icon even if her name means next to nothing to you. She was the first cover model on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
The cover story was a “Skin Diver’s Guide to the Caribbean,” shot in Cozumel, an island off the northern coast of Mexico. March was 23 then and on the cover, although her name was not. She earned 100 dollars a day. The story ran all of five pages. It would be another 33 years before Sports Illustrated fully appreciated what it had.
March’s 15 minutes of fame led to a productive existence. She subsequently became a farmer, chef and an artist. She lives with her husband in an abandoned church in Halfway, Oregon.
That issue is dated January 20, 1964. Some things haven’t changed since then and this is one of them. There is a dead spot on the sports calendar after the professional football championships, which has been partially filled by the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. It publishes for the 50th time this week.
Kate Upton graces the cover for a second consecutive year. She goes for the three-peat in 2014 which would tie her with Christie Brinkley (1979-81) and Elle MacPherson (1986-88) for most consecutive. MacPherson is the Pittsburgh Steelers of the SI Swimsuit Issue, having been featured on a record five covers.
In 1978 a particularly racy photo of Cheryl Tiegs prompted the cancellation of some 340 subscriptions. That is considered an unofficial record. Sports Illustrated always over played the outrage card, publishing a liberal number of letters to the editor expressing such each year.
Up until 1997 the swimsuit models shared the magazine with actual sports stories. Since then the issue has been all about the skin and is considered a special edition. It represents a reported 10 percent of Sports Illustrated’s magazine sales. And if you don’t want it, SI subscribers can add a week at the end of the contract.
But the issue is no longer very controversial. The relationship between sports and sex appeal has grown considerably closer over the years and come to be more universally accepted. There are knockoff publications galore. For the past four years, ESPN has produced its annual “Body Issue,” featuring athletes, male and female, not models. Soccer star and Rochester native Abby Wambach appeared in 2012.
Yes, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is out. You don’t have to hide it anymore.