by Drew Martin
I have a girl-friend who is obsessed with Bettie Page (1923 - 2008) so I have seen a lot of the "Queen of Pinup" but I knew little about her including a rough start with a father who sexually abused her and her sisters, and a mother who rejected her. I also did not know about her demise after she stopped modeling in her early thirties, such as her obsessed guilt for her nude pictures that drove her deeper into a repressed Christianity, failed relationships, and ten years in a Florida mental hospital where she was heavily medicated and given shock therapy.
When Page was finally tracked down she was living on Social Security and a bit confused about her cult status that took off in her absence, at first with men who were, of course, interested in her remarkable figure and photogenic personality, then by young women who loved her sexual power and playfulness.
While Page was really one of the main influences on cracking open the sexual revolution of the 60s, the irony is that it is the repression of the 50s that finally led to her retreat. She was pulled into the national witch-hunt against pornography and was personally condemned when a teenager killed himself while looking at one of her bondage photos. Most of Page's work were bikini shots, some nudes, and bondage photos that were requests from paying customers: middle-aged men who were mainly lawyers, doctors, and politicians.
The majority of Pages images came from the camera club shoots (pictured second from bottom), Irving Klaw's studio - where the fetish images were taken, and Bunny Yeager (pictured top with Page at Little Africa in Florida).
The mugshot here (pictured second from top) was taken after an ex-husband called the cops on her. Page, a paranoid schizophrenic, had returned to his home, commanded him and his young boys to stare at a picture of Jesus on the wall, and held a knife to them with the threat that she would "cut out their guts" if they took their eyes off Jesus.
One of the people in her life who helped rescue her from poverty in her later years was Hugh Hefner. Page was Playboy's Miss January in 1955. Hefner made sure that she was legally represented in the commercial world where her images and likeness lined other people's pockets. Interestingly, her trademark bangs came from the suggestion of a Brooklyn policeman who saw her walking on the Coney Island boardwalk. You don't have to look too far to see Page's influence: Katy Perry, as an example, copies the look and wardrobe details.
One of Page's boyfriends, Richard Arbib, was considered the top designer of the day (one of his car designs is pictured middle) but some of the most lasting influences of design from the 50s were Page's outfits. Most of the swimsuits (pictured second from bottom), bikinis, lingerie, and other wild and revealing outfits including her skimpy leopard print dress (pictured top) were Page's creations, which designers stole and reproduced.
(Pictured bottom right, is Page in her heart lingerie design, and a Victoria's Secret model, left, in an outfit designed by Chantall Thomass for a Bettie Page-inspired collection)
The movie Bettie Page Reveals All is a straightforward chronological documentary. It is not particularly well made but it is all-inclusive and is filled with amazing shots of Page, and most interestingly, much of the narration comes from an audio interview with a hoarse, elderly Page. The contrast of the young fleshy images and the retired drawling voice has an effect that adds to this tale of youth and beauty, and aged celebrity culture.
Click here to watch the trailer for Bettie Page Reveals All.