Name: Bettie Page
Born: April 22, 1923
Height: 5 feet 5 1/2 inches
Place of Birth: Nashville, Tennessee
Hair: Black (naturally)
Weight: 128-130 (during 1950's)
Measurements: 36 - 24 - 35
Favorite Drink: Rootbeer (Hires)
Musical Instuments: Guitar & Piano
Other Professions: Teacher, Secretary
Smoke or Drink: No
Status: Single, divorced three times.
Who is Bettie Page?
Bettie Page is the most famous and admired American pin-up model of the 1950's. She appeared in countless men's magazines (including Playboy), mail order photos, ads, paperback and album covers, and a few films and TV shows until 1957, when she withdrew from public life and seemed to vanish.
Because of her killer curves, sweet smile, sparkling eyes, and unique, black-banged hairstyle (as well as a penchant for nudity and involvement in controversial bondage photos), her legend grew over the following decades. Images of Bettie have inspired artists, designers, writers, bdsm enthusiasts, and the public at large; some have even credited her with launching the sexual revolution. While that may be an overstatement, her seamless combination of girl-next-door freshness and dangerous sensuality did influence many and has led to a thriving fandom today.
In 1992, after decades of mystery, it was finally revealed that Bettie is still alive and had just been living a private life since her "disappearance." Today she enjoys the new Bettie fandom and gives occasional interviews, but refuses to be photographed, wishing people to remember her as she was in the 1950's.
Is it Bettie or Betty?
While it reportedly says "Betty Mae Page" on her birth certificate, "Bettie" is the form that she has always used since she was a child (such as for signatures), so Bettie is therefore the preferred spelling.
However, whether due to oversight or for the sake of simplification, in her 1950's photos and films she was often billed as "Betty Page." So for Bettie or worse, today the two spellings are used more or less interchangeably.
What's been published about Bettie Page's life and career?
The following is a list of major Bettie books:
"Betty Page Confidential" by Stan Corwin Productions and Bunny Yeager (1994).
"Bettie Page: Queen of Hearts" by Jim Silke et al. (1995).
"Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend" by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson (1996) - authorized biography with foreword by Bettie herself
"Betty Page: Queen of Pin-Up" by Bunny Yeager (1996).
"The Real Bettie Page: The Truth about the Queen of the Pinups" by Richard Foster (1997).
"Betty Page: Private Peeks" vol. 1-4 by J. B. Rund, 1978-1980.
"The Betty Pages" issues 1-9 by Greg Theakston, 1987-1993.
"The Legend of Betty Page" by Elizabeth Snead. USA Today, June 5, 1991.
"In Search of Bettie Page" by Karen Essex. L.A. Weekly, Oct. 11, 1991.
"The Betty Boom" by Buck Henry. Playboy, Dec. 1992.
"The Real Betty Page" by Bunny Yeager. Interview, July 1993.
"The Real Bettie Page" by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson. Playboy, Dec. 1995.
"Playboy Interview: Bettie Page" by Kevin Cook. Playboy, Jan. 1998.
"Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" Nov. 1992 - Bettie communicates with the public for the first time since 1957.
"The E! True Hollywood Story - Bettie Page: From Pinup to Sex Queen" April 1997.
Other Bettie-related projects in various stages of development reportedly include an HBO movie (supposedly with Guinevere Turner as Bettie), a documentary, and a feature film to be directed by Martin Scorsese and star Liv Tyler (cute, but is she Bettie material?).
What was Bettie's background before modeling?
She was born in 1923 in Nashville to Edna Mae (Pirtle) and Walter Roy Page, the second of six children. Bettie's family was poor, and they travelled from city to city when she was a child. When they returned to Tennessee, her father was in and out of trouble (and jail), so her mother divorced him in the early 1930's. Bettie attended Hume-Fogg High School, graduating 2nd in her class in 1940, and then went to George Peabody College for Teachers. She married her first husband Billy Neal in 1943 (their stormy relationship ended in 1947). Bettie got her bachelor's degree in 1944, but went on to mostly secretarial jobs in San Francisco, Miami, Haiti, and finally New York.
How did Bettie get into modeling?
Prior to 1950, Bettie had done a small amount of local modeling and stage acting. But in October of that year she met Jerry Tibbs, a policeman and photography hobbyist, on a beach at Coney Island. He offered to take pictures for her portfolio at his studio. Some of the resulting shots were published on the cover of a Harlem newspaper, and they proved very popular. Bettie's career grew from there: she started posing for amateur "camera clubs" and before long was appearing in cheesecake magazines such as Eyeful and Titter for publisher Robert Harrison. In the following years she modeled in New York for Irving Klaw's Movie Star News outfit (where she did both regular and bondage/fetish photos, becoming his most popular model) and made periodic trips to Florida to pose for Bunny Yeager and other pin-up photographers, leading to many of her beach shots.
What about the hair?
During one of Bettie's photo sessions with Jerry Tibbs, he suggested she cut her hair in bangs because of her high, prominent forehead. She followed his advice, resulting in the famous hairdo she always wore from then on. Bettie was meticulous about her hair for photo shoots -- she curled it at night and then brushed it extensively before sessions, often causing a delay.
Where did Bettie get her outfits?
Bettie had learned to sew as a youngster, so she actually made her skimpy bikinis and many other costumes herself. She says, "I never kept up with the fashions. I believed in wearing what I thought looked good on me." Some of the lingerie was from Frederick's of Hollywood, and much of the fetish wear (such as extreme high heels, leather, and a metal cone-bra) was provided by the Klaw studios and may have come from the confidential customers who ordered the photos.
What films did Bettie make?
In addition to appearing in about 50 "loops" (short films made by the Klaw studios), she danced in three feature-length burlesque films: Striporama (1953), Varietease (1954), and Teaserama (1955). Bettie once did a screen test in Hollywood, but never got a role in "legitimate" movies because she refused the casting couch, rejecting overtures from studio executives and Howard Hughes. In New York, she studied acting under Herbert Berghof and appeared in several off-Broadway plays and a number of TV shows, such as "The U.S. Steel Hour" and "The Jackie Gleason Show."
When did Bettie appear in Playboy?
She appeared in the January 1955 issue as Playmate of the Month, nude except for a Santa hat. She did not pose for Playboy per se -- the fledgling magazine bought an existing shot from photographer Bunny Yeager. Bettie's pictures made a number of subsequent appearances in Playboy, and Hugh Hefner has said that Bettie is one of his favorite Playmates of all time. "She had a saucy innocence that is both contemporary and provocative, and also nostalgic," he says.
What is "Jungle Bettie"?
In 1954 Bettie did a photo session with Bunny Yeager at the Africa USA wildlife park in Boca Raton, Florida. She wore a leopard-patterned "jungle girl" outfit of her own making and posed barefoot in trees, with various animals, and as the captive of a cannibal native. She also posed nude with a pair of cheetahs. The photos from this session are some of her most celebrated.
What is the "Dark Angel"?
This is one of the appellations used to refer to Bettie, in this case for her bdsm persona in Irving Klaw's Movie Star News photos and loops. Whether dominant or dominated, she was always adorable. Other nicknames for Bettie include the Queen of Pin-Ups, the Tease from Tennessee, and the Queen of Curves.
Was Bettie really into bondage?
In order to fulfill customer requests, Irving Klaw required that Bettie do at least some bondage or fetish for all of her shoots (Klaw and Bettie were not bdsm enthusiasts themselves). For the setups, the tying of ropes was done by his sister Paula, a trusted friend of Bettie's. Bettie has said that she enjoyed all of the modeling she did, including the bondage scenes (as well as spanking, wrestling, whipping, dressing up in a leather pony costume, etc.), and did not feel exploited. So while the Dark Angel was not a real-life bondage queen, she did have fun posing for the pictures.
What was the Kefauver inquiry about?
Even though Irving Klaw's mail-order bondage photos were not pornographic in that they involved no nudity ("He never showed a boob ever," said an associate), a Senate obscenity investigation was launched by Estes Kefauver in 1955, creating scandal. Bettie was unwillingly brought in as a witness, but did not testify. Although the government never really had a case against Klaw, the pressure ultimately forced him to forfeit his business and destroy many of his negatives. Fortunately, Paula Klaw secretly saved some of the photos, especially of Bettie.
Who are Bettie's heroes and influences?
Her favorite actress is Bette Davis (especially in "Dark Victory"). As youths, Bettie and her sisters used to play a game in which they imitated the poses of movie stars in the newspaper, contributing to her creative posing ability later. Her favorite model was friend and Klaw co-worker June King.
Bettie is flattered (and somewhat mystified) by having influenced others, but feels that her "lookalikes" and celebrity impersonators (such as Demi Moore) often bear little resemblance to her. She does, however, enjoy the energetic performances of Bettie-like Lucy Lawless on TV's "Xena: Warrior Princess." Of Madonna, Bettie thinks she sings well and has a good body, but is otherwise "highly overrated" and "has something to be desired with her looks in the face." Of today's models, she likes Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford.
Bettie as art?
Bettie has been depicted by many diverse artists and has been featured as a major subject by three in particular:
* Robert Blue: produced life-size, detailed paintings based mainly on Bettie's bondage and fetish photos (died 1998).
* Olivia (De Berardinis): drew pin-up art of Bettie as a fantasy figure in imaginative situations.
* Dave Stevens: featured Bettie as a character in his "The Rocketeer" comic. Stevens has become a close friend of Bettie's since her re-emergence.
She has also served as the inspiration for numerous songs, her favorite being "Bettie Bettie" by country group BR5-49.
What Bettie comics have been produced?
Besides appearing in Dave Stevens' "The Rocketeer" since the early 80's, Bettie has shown up throughout the 90's in numerous comic books based on her various personas. In '96 and '97, official Bettie Page Comics were released; others have presented fetish, Jungle Bettie, or 3D images. There was even "Betty vs. Nosferatu."
Are there any explicit shots of Bettie in existence?
While the vast majority of her nudes are strategically posed, a handful of pictures have Bettie bottomless and showing "everything," supposedly the result of her once having too much to drink at a photographers' party. Some of these first appeared in High Society magazine and the "Private Peeks" series in the late 70's. However, actual hardcore photos of Bettie (i.e. having sex) do not exist or are fakes.
Why did Bettie leave modeling?
Multiple factors seem to have contributed to Bettie's decision to end her modeling career: the Kefauver inquiry, stalking incidents, a blackmail attempt with a faked sex photo, overexposure, a back injury, desire for a teaching career, and her advancing age. But her religious conversion in Florida a year after she left New York in 1957 appears to be the primary reason she never modeled again.
Wasn't Bettie rubbed out by the mob?
No, nor did she kill herself, marry the Shah of Iran, get assassinated by the FBI, become a nun, or change her face with plastic surgery and move overseas. Bettie's sudden retirement from modeling was a mystery to some, leading to numerous wild rumors about her fate.
Where was Bettie during her "disappearance"?
Bettie left New York in December 1957 and traveled to Miami. That month, she posed for a few amateur photos that were published in a skin diving magazine the following year. It was her final modeling experience. She married former boyfriend Armond Walterson in 1958 on Key West, but soon encountered financial and marital problems. On New Year's Eve of that year, she walked into a church service on a whim, and became devoutly religious thereafter. Over the next few years, Bettie left her husband, attended Bible colleges in L.A., Chicago, and Portland, Oregon, and had a series of secretarial jobs. She eventually returned to Tennessee and briefly remarried Billy Neal. In 1966 Bettie went back to Florida and met her third husband, Harry Lear. They married in 1967 and divorced in 1972, but she continued living in his house in Hialeah until 1978, when she moved out to California to stay with her brother Jimmie.
What was Bettie Page's alleged "dark secret"?
Over two separate incidents in California in 1979 and 1982, Bettie allegedly injured three people with a breadknife, and she spent a disputed amount of time in mental health facilities. This information (along with an unflattering mugshot on the cover) was featured in "The Real Bettie Page." Bettie disputes the accuracy of parts of the book and has described the author as a "creep" who "claims that if he hadn't dug up that information on me about my shady past, that somebody would have dug it up and put me in a worse light than he did -- well, I don't know how they could!" She says, "I hope you fans don't look down your nose at me because of the breakdown ... It is something that could happen to anyone when you have enough problems."
Where is Bettie now?
Bettie is now in good health and lives a simple, private life somewhere in California, where she enjoys movies, sewing, and gardening. Her goal is to be still active at age 100. In the last several years, she has finally received some of the financial rewards of her new-found popularity.
What does Bettie think of her fandom and cultural impact?
She is pleased that people remember and appreciate her, but is often bewildered by all the attention and denies being "to modern erotica what Charlie Chaplin was to modern cinema" or doing anything of great importance. "It just surprises me. I've never heard of any other model who 40 years later became more popular than she did when she was posing. They keep saying I'm some kind of icon and that I started the new generation's sex movement. All I did was pose in the nude. I had less sex activity those seven years in New York than I had any other time in my life."
F.A.Q. courtesy of the alt.fan.bettie-page
What is alt.fan.bettie-page?
alt.fan.bettie-page is an unmoderated Usenet newsgroup created in September 1998 for discussion of Bettie, her photos, her persona, and related topics.