As part of the "Legends Project", Bettie Page has been recognized as an BDSM Icon
for the work they have done to make the BDSM/GLBT/Leather communities what they are today.
Bettie Mae Page (Apr 22, 1923 - Dec 12, 2008 at age 85) , more commonly known as Bettie Page or Betty Page, was an American fetish model and pin-up girl, active mostly in the 1950s. She is said to have been photographed more than Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford combined.
In addition to common pin-up photos, Page also posed for a number of fetish photos, which earned her a cult following even beyond fetish culture.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee to Walter Roy Page and Edna Mae Pirtle who divorced when Page was 10 years old. Following the divorce Page and her sister were forced to live at an orphanage for a year. A strong student and debate team member at Hume-Fogg High School, she reportedly missed earning the title of school valedictorian and a scholarship to Vanderbilt University by a quarter of a grade point.
On June 6, 1940, Page graduated, honored with a trust fund of $100, and enrolled at Peabody College with the intention of training to become a teacher. The next fall, Page began to learn dramatic acting, with the dream of being a movie star. She also found her first job, typing manuscripts of the author Alfred Leland Crabb. Page graduated from Peabody with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. She married Billy Neal, with whom she had attended high school, shortly before he left for active duty in World War II. Page divorced Neal in 1947.
Her modeling career
Playboy Miss January, 1955
|Name:||Bettie Mae Page|
|Born:||Apr 22, 1923|
|Height:||5' 5 1/2"|
|Place of Birth||Nashville,Tn.|
After working briefly in Haiti as a secretary at a furniture company, she moved to New York City, where she supported herself as a secretary while looking for work as an actress. While she appeared in a couple of Off-Broadway plays in 1956, Page found her fame and success in modeling, first for camera clubs, then later for commercial redistribution. She learned of this line of work through a chance encounter in 1950 with Jerry Tibbs on a deserted beach at Coney Island. Tibbs also suggested her trademark bangs (fringe).
At first Page posed for camera clubs, frequently in the nude, because the photographs were not to be published. In 1951 her image appeared on the cover of men's magazines with names like Eyeful, Wink, Titter, Black Nylons, or Beauty Parade. At the same time she posed for photographer Irving Klaw for mail-order photographs with a Pin-up, bondage or sado-masochistic theme, making her the first famous bondage model.
During one of the annual pilgrimages to the sun, sand and surf she adored, Bettie Page met Bunny Yeager in Miami, Florida in 1954. At that time Page was the top Pin-up model in New York, and Yeager a former model and aspiring photographer. Bunny signed Page for a photo session at the now closed African wildlife park "Africa U.S.A. Park" in Boca Raton, Florida. The “Jungle Bettie” photographs from this shoot are some of her most celebrated and include nude shots with a pair of cheetahs who were named Mojah and Mbili. The leopard skin patterned “Jungle Girl” outfit she wore for the shoot was made by Bettie herself.
After Bunny Yeager sent shots of Bettie Page to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, she was featured as Playmate of the Month and centerfold for Playboy magazine in its January 1955 issue. Bettie also became one of Hefner's obsessions. When Page was almost forced to file for bankruptcy, it was Hefner who bailed her out.
In an industry where the average career of a model was measured in months, Page was in demand for several years, modeling until 1957. Although she frequently posed in the nude, she never appeared in any scenes with explicit sexual content. When Howard Hughes, movie maker and billionaire, sent her a letter asking to meet her, she declined.
The reported reasons for her departure from modeling work are varied. Some authorities state she was burnt out and her marriage to Armand Walterson in 1958 was the cause, but she'd quit modeling long before the ceremony. Others mention the "Kefauver Hearings" of the "Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency", which ended Irving Klaw's bondage/S&M mail-order photography business. In any case, shortly after her marriage to Walterson, she experienced a conversion to Christianity in December 31, 1958, and severed all contact with the prior life. For many years, the last known facts of her life were her divorce from Walterson in the early 1960s, and that she was working as a secretary for a Christian organization.
The Bettie Page revival
In 1976, Eros Publishing Co. published A Nostalgic Look at Bettie Page, these were a mixture of old photos from the 1950's. Belier Press published four volumes,1978 - 1980, of Betty Page -- Private Peeks reprinting some of the pictures from the private camera club sessions, some explicit and bondage photos, which reintroduced Page to a new, but small cult following. In 1983, London Enterprises released In Praise of Bettie Page - A Nostalgic Collector's Item, reprinted camera club photos and an old cat fight.
In the early 1980s, comic book talent Dave Stevens based the female love interest of his hero Cliff Secord, alias "The Rocketeer", on Page. In 1987, Greg Theakston started a fanzine called The Betty Pages and recounted tales of her life, in particular, the camera club days. For the next seven years the magazine sparked a world-wide interest in Page. Women dyed their hair and cut it into bangs in an attempt to emulate the Dark Angel. The media caught wind of the cult and numerous articles were written about her, more often than not with the help of Theakston. Since almost all of her photos were in the public domain, dozens of people launched related products and cashed-in on the craze.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous did a piece on her, as did Entertainment Tonight. Bettie, who was living in a group home in Los Angeles was astounded when she saw the E.T. piece, having no idea that she's suddenly become famous again. Betty Pages' editor, Greg Theakston contacted her and did an extensive interview with the diva in The Betty Pages Annuals V.2. Having nothing more to say on the topic, Theakston discontinued the publication.
Shortly after, Page signed with a Chicago-based agent James Swanson. Three years later, she told Theakston that she'd never seen an accounting for monies collected, nor any royalties. Page eventually fired him and signed with Curtis Management Group, a company which also represented the James Dean and Marilyn Monroe estates, and began collecting payments which ensured her financial security. This was a Godsend considering she was almost penniless.
"Dark Horse Comics" published a comic based on her fictional adventures in the 1990s after Jim Silke did a large format comic featuring her likeness. Eros Comics also published several Bettie Page titles, the most popular being the tongue-in-cheek Tor Love Bettie which suggested a romance between Page and wrestler-turned-Ed Wood film actor, Tor Johnson. In Spain, humor magazine "El Jueves" runs a weekly comic, "Clara de noche", the main character of which is directly inspired by Page.
Many modern-day Bettie-inspired models such as Bernie Dexter, Dita Von Teese, and Nina Elizabeth Page (no relation) are revered for their classic beauty and resemblance to Bettie Page.
A biographical movie, The Notorious Bettie Page, was released in 2005, and showed in theaters in 2006. It is based on the story of Bettie Page from the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s, and stars Gretchen Mol as the adult Bettie.
Many of Page's short films have been reissued to DVD, as have her appearances in films such as Teaserama. Recent made-for-DVD documentaries about her include Bettie Page Uncovered and Bettie Page: The Girl in the Leopard Print Bikini.
The years out of the spotlight
This renewed attention raised the inevitable question: what had happened to Bettie Page since the late 1950s? The 1990's edition of the popular The Book of Lists included Page in a list of once-famous celebrities who had seemingly vanished from the public eye.
The Real Bettie Page: The Truth about the Queen of Pinups by Richard Foster book cover. This question was answered in part with the publication of an official biography in 1996, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-up Legend. Her biography described a woman who dealt head-on with adversity, always looking forward, never looking back. It told how she had remarried her first husband briefly, in order to satisfy requirements so she could become a missionary; neither the remarriage nor her missionary work was a success. She married a third time in 1967 to a man named Harry Lear in Florida, divorcing him in 1972. At the time of the rebirth of her celebrity, Page was living penniless in California, unaware of her renewed celebrity.
A second biography, written by Richard Foster and published in 1997, The Real Bettie Page: The Truth about the Queen of Pinups, tells a less happy tale. It details numerous accounts of violence on her part against not only her third husband and her two step-children, but also against other people, in addition to several stays in mental institutions, the last one from 1983 to 1992 at Patton State Hospital in Highland, California. It also furnished information that Page had still not received all of the money due to her since her rediscovery.
Foster's book immediately provoked attacks from her fans, including Hefner and Harlan Ellison, as well as a statement from Page that it is “full of lies”. However, Steve Brewster, founder of the Bettie Scouts of America fan club, has stated that it is not as unsympathetic as the book's reputation makes it to be. Brewster adds that he also read the chapter about her business dealings with Swanson, and stated that Page was pleased with that part of her story.
In a late-1990s interview, Page stated she would not allow any current pictures of her to be shown because of concerns about her weight. In 2003, however, she changed her mind and allowed a publicity picture to be taken of her for the August 2003 edition of Playboy; it can be found here . In 2006, the Los Angeles Times ran an article headlined “A Golden Age for a Pinup” , covering an autographing session at her current publicity company, CMG Worldwide. Once again, she declines to be photographed, saying that she would rather be remembered as she was. She was also named to the Polly Staffle Hall of Fame.
- 2004 - Bettie Page: Dark Angel
- 2006 - The Notorious Bettie Page
- In one of his numerous fictional back-page biographical sketches, Harlan Ellison claimed to be "writing a biography of Bettie Page for young adults"
- Montana Wildhack, a character from the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, may have been modeled after Bettie Page. This fictional character was a pinup queen that mysteriously disappeared at the height of her popularity. The book reveals that she was abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians, and she is being kept in a zoo with Billy Pilgrim, the novel's protagonist. Depending on how the book is interpreted, this might be part of a delusional fantasy on the part of Billy Pilgrim.
References and further reading
- Essex, Karen, and James L. Swanson. Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend. Los Angeles: General Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN 1-881649-62-8.
- Foster, Richard. The Real Bettie Page: The Truth About the Queen of the Pinups. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group/Birch Lane Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55972-432-3.
- Official Site of Bettie Page
- Who Is the Real Bettie Page?
- A Golden Age for a Pinup
- thebettiepage.com - Web guide to Bettie Page
- Betty Photos
- The Bettie Page Collection (Paintings)
- Official Site for the Bettie Page: Dark Angel film
- Dave's Bettie Page Page - a Tribute and Guide
- Cult Sirens: Bettie Page
- Bettie Page - Polly Staffle Hall of Fame
- - The Notorious Bettie Page movie (2006)
- Bettie Page at 80
- Photos and information in portuguese
- Interview with The Notorious Bettie Page director Mary Harron from Fresh Air program, April 12, 2006
- Bettie Page Interview from Outre Magazine Number Three
- Betty Page - Queen of Curves
- 'Memories of Bettie Page on the BackDrop web site'
- Dave Holle's Tribute to Bettie Page
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