Bettie Mae Page (April 22, 1923 – December 11, 2008) was an American model who gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos. Often referred to as the "Queen of Pinups", her jet-black hair, blue eyes, and trademark fringe have influenced artists for generations.
Bettie Mae Page
April 22, 1923
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||December 11, 2008 (aged 85)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Nationality||United States of America|
|Alma mater||Peabody College (part of Vanderbilt University)|
|Playboy centerfold appearance|
|Preceded by||Terry Ryan|
|Succeeded by||Jayne Mansfield|
|Measurements||Bust: 36 in (91 cm)|
Waist: 23 in (58 cm)
Hips: 35 in (89 cm)
|Height||5 ft 5.5 in (1.664 m)|
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Page lived in California in her early adult years before moving to New York City to pursue work as an actress. There, she began to find work as a pin-up model, and posed for dozens of photographers throughout the 1950s. Page was "Miss January 1955", one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine. "I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society," said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to the Associated Press in 2008.
In 1959, Page converted to evangelical Christianity and worked for Billy Graham, studying at Bible colleges in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, with the intent of becoming a missionary. The latter part of Page's life was marked by depression, violent mood swings, and several years in a state psychiatric hospital suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. After years of obscurity, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s.
Page was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the second of six children to Walter Roy Page (1896–1964) and Edna Mae Pirtle (1901–1986). At a young age, Page had to face the responsibilities of caring for her younger siblings. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old. In the 1930 Census, a few weeks before Bettie's 7th birthday, her mother Edna Pirtle Page was already listed as being divorced. After her father, whom Page would accuse of molesting her starting at age 13, was imprisoned, Page and her two sisters lived in a Protestant orphanage for a year. During this time, Page's mother worked two jobs, one as a hairdresser during the day and washing laundry at night.
As a teenager, Page and her sisters tried different makeup styles and hairdos imitating their favorite movie stars. She also learned to sew. These skills proved useful years later for her pin-up photography when Page did her own makeup and hair and made her own bikinis and costumes. During her early years, the Page family traveled around the country in search of economic stability.
A good student and debate team member at Hume-Fogg High School, she was voted "Most Likely to Succeed". On June 6, 1940, Page graduated as the salutatorian of her high school class with a scholarship. She enrolled at George Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University), with the intention of becoming a teacher. However, the next fall she began studying acting, hoping to become a movie star. At the same time, she got her first job, typing for author Alfred Leland Crabb. Page graduated from Peabody with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944.
In 1943, she married high school classmate Billy Neal in a simple courthouse ceremony shortly before he was drafted into the Army for World War II. For the next few years, she moved from San Francisco to Nashville to Miami and to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she felt a special affinity with the country, its people and its culture. In November 1947, back in the United States, she filed for divorce.
Discovery and early workEdit
In 1949, Page moved to New York City, where she hoped to find work as an actress. In the meantime, she supported herself by working as a secretary overlooking Rockefeller Center. In 1950, while walking alone along the Coney Island shore, Bettie met NYPD Officer Jerry Tibbs, who was an avid photographer, and he gave Bettie his card. He suggested she'd make a good pin-up model, and in exchange for allowing him to photograph her, he'd help make up her first pin-up portfolio, free of charge. It was Officer Tibbs who suggested to Bettie that she style her hair with bangs in front, to keep light from reflecting off her high forehead when being photographed. Bangs soon became an integral part of her distinctive look.
In late-1940s America, "camera clubs" were formed to circumvent laws restricting the production of nude photos. These camera clubs existed ostensibly to promote artistic photography, but in reality, many were merely fronts for the making of pornography. Page entered the field of "glamour photography" as a popular camera club model, working initially with photographer Cass Carr. Her lack of inhibition in posing made her a hit, and her name and image became quickly known in the erotic photography industry. In 1951, Bettie's image appeared in men's magazines such as Wink, Titter, Eyefull and Beauty Parade.
1952–57: Irving Klaw; film workEdit
From 1952 through 1957, she posed for photographer Irving Klaw for mail-order photographs with pin-up and BDSM themes, making her the first famous bondage model. Klaw also used Page in dozens of short, black-and-white 8mm and 16mm "specialty" films, which catered to specific requests from his clientele. These silent 'one-reel' featurettes showed women clad in lingerie and high heels, acting out fetishistic scenarios of abduction, domination, and slave-training; bondage, spanking, and elaborate leather costumes and restraints were included periodically. Page alternated between playing a stern dominatrix, and a helpless victim bound hand and foot.
Klaw also produced a line of still photos taken during these sessions. Some have become iconic images, such as his highest-selling photo of Page—shown gagged and bound in a web of ropes, from the film Leopard Bikini Bound. Although these "underground" features had the same crude style and clandestine distribution as the pornographic "stag" films of the time, Klaw's all-female films (and still photos) never featured any nudity or explicit sexual content. Commenting on the bondage photos and the reputation they afforded her, Page said retrospectively:
They keep referring to me in the magazines and newspapers and everywhere else as the "Queen of Bondage." The only bondage posing I ever did was for Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually every other Saturday he had a session for four or five hours with four or five models and a couple of extra photographers, and in order to get paid you had to do an hour of bondage. And that was the only reason I did it. I never had any inkling along that line. I don’t really disapprove of it; I think you can do your own thing as long as you’re not hurting anybody else — that’s been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl. I never looked down my nose at it. In fact, we used to laugh at some of the requests that came through the mail, even from judges and lawyers and doctors and people in high positions. Even back in the ’50s they went in for the whips and the ties and everything else.
In 1953, Page took acting classes at the Herbert Berghof Studio, which led to several roles on stage and television. She appeared on The United States Steel Hour and The Jackie Gleason Show. Her Off-Broadway productions included Time is a Thief and Sunday Costs Five Pesos. Page acted and danced in the feature-length burlesque revue film Striporama by Jerald Intrator in which she was given a brief speaking role. She then appeared in two more burlesque films by Irving Klaw (Teaserama and Varietease). These featured exotic dance routines and vignettes by Page and well-known striptease artists Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm. All three films were mildly risque, but none showed any nudity or overtly sexual content.
In 1954, during one of her annual vacations to Miami, Florida, Page met photographers Jan Caldwell, H. W. Hannau and Bunny Yeager. At that time, Page was the top pin-up model in New York. Yeager, a former model and aspiring photographer, signed Page for a photo session at the now-closed wildlife park Africa USA in Boca Raton, Florida. The Jungle Bettie photographs from this shoot are among her most celebrated. They include nude shots with a pair of cheetahs named Mojah and Mbili. The leopard skin patterned Jungle Girl outfit she wore was made, along with much of her lingerie, by Page herself. A large collection of the Yeager photos, and Klaw's, were published in the book Bettie Page Confidential (St. Martin's Press, 1994).
After Yeager sent shots of Page to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, he selected one to use as the Playmate of the Month centerfold in the January 1955 issue of the two-year-old magazine. The famous photo shows Page, wearing only a Santa hat, kneeling before a Christmas tree holding an ornament and playfully winking at the camera. In 1955, Page won the title "Miss Pinup Girl of the World". She also became known as "The Queen of Curves" and "The Dark Angel". While pin-up and glamour models frequently have careers measured in months, Page was in demand for several years, continuing to model until 1957.
Although she frequently posed nude, she never appeared in scenes with explicit sexual content. In 1957, Page gave "expert guidance" to the FBI regarding the production of "flagellation and bondage pictures" in Harlem.
1958–92: Retirement; departure from spotlightEdit
The reasons reported for Page's departure from modeling vary. Some reports mention the Kefauver Hearings of the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce (after a young man apparently died during a session of bondage which was rumored to be inspired by bondage images featuring Page). However, the most likely reason for Page ending her modeling career and severing all contact with her prior life was her conversion to born-again Christianity while living in Key West, Florida, in 1959.
On New Year's Eve 1958, during one of her regular visits to Key West, Florida, Page attended a service at what is now the Key West Temple Baptist Church. She found herself drawn to the multiracial environment and started to attend on a regular basis. She would, in time, attend three bible colleges, including the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon and, briefly, a Christian retreat known as "Bibletown", part of the Boca Raton Community Church, Boca Raton, Florida.
During the 1960s, she attempted to become a Christian missionary in Africa, but was rejected for having had a divorce. Over the next few years, she worked for various Christian organizations before settling in Nashville in 1963, and re-enrolled at Peabody College to pursue a master's degree in education, but eventually dropped out. She worked full-time for Rev. Billy Graham.
She briefly remarried Billy Neal, her first husband, who helped her to gain entry into missionary work; however, the two divorced again shortly thereafter. She returned to Florida in 1967, and married again, to Harry Lear, but this marriage ended in divorce in 1972.
She moved to Southern California in 1979. There she had a nervous breakdown and had an altercation with her landlady. The doctors who examined her diagnosed her with acute schizophrenia, and she spent 20 months in Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. After a fight with another landlord, she was arrested for assault, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and placed under state supervision for eight years. She was released in 1992.
Revival of public interestEdit
In the 1970s, artists Eric Stanton, Robert Blue and Olivia De Berardinis were among the first to start painting Bettie images. In 1979, artist Robert Blue had a show titled Steps Into Space, at a gallery on Melrose Place in Los Angeles, where he showed his collection of Bettie Page paintings. At that time in New York, De Berardinis had begun painting Bettie for Italian jean manufacturer Fiorucci. De Berardinis has continued to paint Bettie, and compiled a collection of this artwork in a book titled Bettie Page by Olivia (2006), with a foreword by Hugh Hefner.
In 1976, Eros Publishing Co. published A Nostalgic Look at Bettie Page, a mixture of photos from the 1950s. Between 1978 and 1980, Belier Press published four volumes of Betty Page: Private Peeks, reprinting pictures from the private-camera-club sessions, 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, reprinting camera-club photos and an old cat fight photo shoot.
A larger cult following was built around Page during the 1980s, of which she was unaware. This renewed attention was focused on her pinup and lingerie modeling rather than those depicting sexual fetishes or bondage. This attention also prompted speculation of what happened to her after the 1950s. The 1990s edition of Book of Lists included Page in a list of once-famous celebrities who had vanished from the public eye.
By the mid-1980s, De Berardinis noted that women began to frequent her gallery openings sporting Bettie bangs, fetish clothing, and tattoos of Page. She described “black bangs, seamed stockings and snub-nosed 6-inch stilettos. These are Bettie Page signatures.... Although the fantasy world of fetish/bondage existed in some form since the beginning time, Bettie is the iconic figurehead of it all. No star of this genre existed before her. Monroe had predecessors, Bettie did not.” 
In 1987, Greg Theakston started a fanzine called The Betty Pages and recounted tales of her life, particularly the camera-club days. Additionally, numerous articles about the missing pop-cultural figure began appearing in the mainstream media. Since almost all of her photos were in the public domain, some entities launched Page-related products.
In a 1993 telephone interview with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Page told host Robin Leach that she had been unaware of the resurgence of her popularity, stating that she was "penniless and infamous". Entertainment Tonight produced a segment on her. Page was living in a group home in Los Angeles. Theakston contacted her and extensively interviewed her for The Betty Page Annuals V.2.
Her brother Jack finally brought her back into public life:
My son had noticed all the books and calendars and plates being sold with her face on them,...I called her up and said, "Bettie, there is a chance for you to make money off this".
In 1993, Jack persuaded Page to pursue royalties through Chicago attorney James L. Swanson. James L. Swanson and Karen Essex wrote a coffee table book, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend
|“||...it was her appearance on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, an American TV show that ran from 1984 to 1995, that led to her acquiring an agent, Everett Fields, the grandson of WC (Fields). One of his partners, Swanson, took over her management and co-authored her biography, but the relationship deteriorated into lawsuits. It was primarily Stevens and JB Rund, the publisher of Private Peeks, who worked to get her better representation, which helped her collect royalties on the images of her used in popular culture.||”|
In 1993, Page signed with Mark Roesler and his Curtis Management Group, Incorporated, later CMG Worldwide. CMG Worldwide has also represented the James Dean and Marilyn Monroe estates. Page occasionally autographed pinups at her agents' CMG Worldwide penthouse offices on Sunset Boulevard Page began collecting payments via CMG Worldwide.
After Jim Silke made a large-format comic featuring Page's likeness, Dark Horse Comics on the 1990s published a comic book based on her fictional adventures. Eros Comics published several Bettie Page titles, including the tongue-in-cheek Tor Love Bettie which comically suggested a romance between Page and wrestler-turned-Ed Wood film actor, Tor Johnson.
The question of what Page did in the obscure years after modeling was answered in part with the publication of an official biography in 1996, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-up Legend. That year, Page granted a TV interview to entertainment reporter Tim Estiloz for the NBC morning magazine program Real Life. At Page's request, her face was not shown. The interview was broadcast only once.
Another biography, The Real Bettie Page: The Truth about the Queen of Pinups (1997) was written by Richard Foster. The book stated that a Los Angeles County Sheriff's police report said Page suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and, at age 56, had stabbed her elderly landlords on the afternoon of April 19, 1979 in an unprovoked attack, during a fit of insanity.
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. However, in 1997, Page changed her mind and agreed to a television interview for the aforementioned E! True Hollywood Story on the condition that the location of the interview and her face not be revealed (she was shown with her face and dress electronically blacked out). Page allowed a publicity picture to be taken of her for the August 2003 edition of Playboy. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times ran an article headlined “A Golden Age for a Pinup”, covering an autographing session at CMG Worldwide. Once again, Page declined to be photographed.
In a 1998 interview with Playboy, she commented on her career:
I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It's just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.
In her last years, she hired a law firm to help her recoup some of the profits being made with her likeness. According to MTV: "Katy Perry's rocker bangs and throwback skimpy jumpers. Madonna's Sex book and fascination with bondage gear. Rihanna's obsession with all things leather, lace and second-skin binding. Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. The SuicideGirls Web site. The Pussycat Dolls. The entire career of Marilyn Manson's ex-wife Dita Von Teese." would not have been possible without Page.
In 2011, Page's estate made the Forbes annual list of top-earning dead celebrities, earning $6 million and tied with the estates of George Harrison and Andy Warhol, at 13th on the list. In 2014, Forbes estimated that Page's estate earned $10 million in 2013.
According to long-time friend and business agent Mark Roesler, Page was hospitalized in critical condition on December 6, 2008. Roesler was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Page had suffered a heart attack and by Los Angeles television station KNBC as claiming Page was suffering from pneumonia. Her family eventually agreed to discontinue life support, and she died on December 11, 2008.
In 2004, Cult Epics produced the biographical film Bettie Page: Dark Angel. This low-budget straight-to-disc biopic centers on the 1953–1957 Irving Klaw period, faithfully recreating six lost fetish films she did for Klaw. Model Paige Richards plays the title role.
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) follows her life from the mid-1930s through the late-1950s. It stars actress Gretchen Mol as the adult Page. Bonus footage added to the DVD release includes rare color film from the 1950s of Page playfully undressing and striking various nude poses for the camera.
In 2012, Bettie Page Reveals All was filmed and premiered, then released nationwide the following year. It was an authorized biographical documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Mark Mori. The documentary included narration from Bettie Page herself, culled from over 6 hours of interviews prior to her 2008 death. The film also included commentary from individuals such as Dita Von Teese, Hugh M. Hefner, Rebecca Romijn, Tempest Storm, Bunny Yeager, Paula Klaw, Mamie Van Doren and Naomi Campbell.
In popular cultureEdit
Fashion and visual artEdit
- For its Polynesian-inspired Spring-Summer 2011 ready-to-wear collection, French fashion house Christian Dior styled the hair of its models with Bettie Page as inspiration.
- In Seattle, Washington, a homeowner became the subject of a short-lived controversy when he had an artist friend paint a large mural of Page on the side of his home. The mural is visible from Interstate 5, just south of the 65th Street exit. In 2016, the mural was vandalized, leading to a restoration and the addition of drag star Divine.
In fiction and literatureEdit
- The BD-3000 luxury droid in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) was inspired by Bettie Page.
- In Quentin Tarantino's 2007 film Death Proof, Rosario Dawson pays homage to Page with her trademark haircut.
- In Suda51's video game Lollipop Chainsaw, a pre-order downloadable outfit took inspiration from Bettie Page as a pinup girl outfit, and included her signature haircut with bangs.
- In one of his numerous fictional back-page biographical sketches, Harlan Ellison claimed to be "writing a biography of Bettie Page for young adults".
- In Orange is the New Black, character Alex Vause is described by correctional officer Joel Luschek as the Bettie Page of Litchfield.
- Beyoncé pays homage to Bettie Page in her music videos for "Video Phone" and "Why Don't You Love Me".
- Alternative country band BR5-49 recorded an ode to Page named "Bettie, Bettie" on their 1996 debut EP Live From Robert's. In interviews, Page stated that this was her favorite of the songs written about her.
- German punk band Bettie Ford recorded a song called 'Bettie Page' for their 2004 album Leage of Fools.
- Swedish concept band DC-Pöbeln (a.k.a. Dagcenterpöbeln) from Örebro put Bettie Page on the cover of their only record Bettan/Dödgrävaren (1985).
- The Jazz Butcher included the song "Just Like Betty Page" on the album, A Scandal in Bohemia (1984), using Page for a simile in the chorus "You have me/As far as I can see/roped and trussed just like dear Betty Page."
- Post-punk group Public Image Ltd released a song called "Bettie Page" on their album What the World Needs Now... in 2015.
- The Hungarian rockabilly band Mystery Gang Rockabilly Trio has a song about Bettie Page called My Baby Wants to Look Like Bettie Page.
- American guitarist and former Fleetwood Mac member Rick Vito celebrated Betty on his 2003 album Band Box Boogie, with the song "Where Did You Go Betty Page?"
- Neo-swing band Royal Crown Revue released a song titled Port-Au-Prince (travels with Betty Page) in 1998.
- Striporama (1953)
- Varietease (1954)
- Teaserama (1955)
- Irving Klaw Bondage Classics, Volume I (London Enterprises, 1984)
- Irving Klaw Bondage Classics, Volume II (London Enterprises, 1984)
- 100 Girls by Bunny Yeager (Cult Epics, 2005), a documentary with behind-the-scenes footage on Yeager's photo sessions with Page and other pin-up models
- Bettie Page: Bondage Queen (Cult Epics, 2005)
- Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen (Cult Epics, 2005), a compilation of her burlesque dancing performances from Striporama, Varietease, and Teaserama, plus The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page (13 black-and-white dancing and cat-fight shorts)
- Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 4 (Something Weird Video, 2007)
- Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 20 (Something Weird Video, 2008), Page appears in a set of Irving Klaw bondage reels in a collection of vintage fetish shorts
- Official website facts page Archived December 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed December 17, 2011.
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Bettie Page, a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in the nude, in bondage and in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men’s magazines and private stashes across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the sexual revolution of the rebellious ’60s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 85.
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Bettie Page, the 1950s secretary-turned-model whose controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution, died Thursday. She was 85.
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Bettie Page, the brunet pinup queen with a shoulder-length pageboy hairdo and kitschy bangs whose saucy photos helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, has died. She was 85.
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The beatification process began in 1980, when artist Dave Stevens created a Bettie character in his graphic novel The Rocketeer.
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