Eva Ban, made polka-dot bikini famous, dies

President Kennedy leaves the ocean in Santa Monica, President Kennedy leaves the ocean in Santa Monica, Calif., during a visit in 1962. Eva Ban was the woman in the two-piece swimsuit, which was called a bikini in news accounts but was modest by today's standards. Photo Credit: MCT / Bill Beebe

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Today, the image would have gone viral in an instant: The president of the United States, dripping wet in swim trunks before a throng of excited beachgoers, trading a look and a laugh with an attractive woman in a polka-dot bikini.

But well before the Internet's relentless rationing of spontaneous fame, the 1962 photo of President John F. Kennedy at the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., made quite a splash. For a Los Angeles woman named Eva Ban, its effect lasted a lifetime.

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Ban was the woman in the two-piece swimsuit, which was called a bikini in news accounts but was modest by today's standards. When she took her children to the beach that hot August day, she hadn't counted on meeting the president -- or on appearing in a famous Los Angeles Times photo that spoke to the world of the vigorous Kennedy and his admiring American public.

A few days after the photo ran in newspapers and on TV broadcasts around the world, Ban revealed what she and Kennedy were laughing about.

It was a woman in the crowd clustering around the tanned, bare-chested, 45-year-old president. "Mabel," the woman was yelling to her friend, "I touched him!"

Ban, who was raised in Hungary and studied classical dance, died March 8 at a care facility in Oakland, Calif. She was 94 and had Alzheimer's disease, her daughter Agi Ban said.

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Alexander Ban, whom Eva married after a courtship of just weeks, died in 1998. Her previous marriage had ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter Agi, Ban's survivors include another daughter, Andrea Ashley, and her son Peter Nathen Banne.

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