Bettie Page's life was filled with cult myth, mystery and sadness. Her image captured the imagination of a generation with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality, during an era of strong sexual repression. She was the quintessential pin-up, tacked up on walls in military barracks and garages; five decades later, some feminists still hail her as a pioneer of women's liberation. It has been estimated that over 20,000 photographs of Bettie were taken, and new generations of fans still buy copies by the thousands. Born in Nashville, Tennessee to a part-Cherokee mother, she grew up in a family so poor "we were lucky to get an orange in our Christmas stockings." The family included three boys and three girls, and Page later said her father molested all of the girls. He eventually stole a police car for a cross-country trip, was caught and sent to prison, and for a time Bettie lived in an orphanage. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old.
In her teens, Bettie acted in high school plays and was a straight-A student. She graduated from the Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville on a Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship in 1944, and went on to study drama in New York City. Her notorious career began one day in October 1950, while on a break from her job as a secretary in a New York office. On a walk along the beach at Coney Island, an amateur photographer admired the 27-year-old's curvaceous body and asked her to pose. Nudity didn't bother her, she said, likening it to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Her modeling career took off, and she was the centerfold in the January 1955 issue of then-fledgling Playboy magazine.
In 1951, Bettie fell under the influence of Irving Klaw, a photographer. He cut her hair into the dark bangs that became her trademark, and posed her in spiked heels and little else. She also appeared as a performer in over 50 burlesque films. Her photos and films were publicly denounced by civic and religious leaders as "perversion", and Klaw was later arrested for "conspiracy to distribute obscene material" though the United States mail. Bettie was called to testify in a private session. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, her home state, even launched a congressional investigation against her. Believing that her days as a pin-up were over, Bettie retreated from public view, later saying she was hounded by federal agents. Her early marriage to her high school sweetheart had ended in divorce; she moved to Florida in 1957 and married a much younger man, but that marriage also failed, as did a third, and she suffered a nervous breakdown.
In 1959, she was lying on a sea wall in Key West when she saw a church with a white neon cross on top. She walked inside and became a born-again Christian. After attending Bible school, she wanted to serve as a missionary but was turned down. Instead, she worked full-time for evangelist Billy Graham's ministry. However, a move to Southern California in 1979 brought her more troubles. She was arrested after an altercation with her landlady. Doctors diagnosed her as suffering from acute schizophrenia, and she spent 20 months in a state mental hospital in San Bernardino, and she was subsequently placed under state supervision for eight years.
Her mysterious disappearance from the public eye only fueled the public's fascination. In fact, for two decades no one was sure where she was or even if she was still alive. She resurfaced in the 1990s after being tracked down for a documentary. She occasionally granted interviews and sold autographs, but refused to allow her picture to be taken in her old age. In a 1993 telephone interview, she told a reporter that she was "penniless and infamous." She later hired a law firm to help her recoup some of the profits being made with her likeness. She spent her final years living in Los Angeles with her brother.
After a three-week battle with pneumonia, Bettie Page suffered a fatal heart attack at age 85 on December 11, 2008.
|Harry Lear||(14 February 1967 - January 1972) (divorced)|
|Armond Walterson||(26 November 1958 - 1963) (divorced)|
|Billy Neal||(15 February 1943 - November 1947) (divorced)|
Natural brunette hair
Sparkling blue eyes
Playboy Playmate of the Month January 1955.
After she faded from public view in the 1960s, many conflicting rumors about her fate circulated. In reality, she unsuccesssfully tried to live a domestic married life, and then later entered a religious seminary, briefly working as a Christian missionary.
While she now licenses the use of her name to promote various collectables (such as figurines, t-shirts, and books of her pin-up photos), she herself does not make public appearances, stating "I want people to remember me the way I was."
The exact location of her residence was a closely guarded secret, but in the Los Angeles area.
Her photos were the inspiration for the leading lady of the Rocketeer comics, basis for the film The Rocketeer (1991).
She was given a screen test by 20th Century Fox but was never signed by the studio.
After she retreated from the public eye, Bettie was plagued by mental problems and stabbed three people. She was sentenced to a mental institution as punishment.
Was a close friend of Hugh M. Hefner who was a huge fan of hers. She appeared in the first issue of his magazine, Playboy.
Saw her popularity increase in the 1980s with the publication of a comic, The Betty Pages. She is now recognised as something of an icon.
Is one of six children.
Graduated from Peabody College with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Played the guitar and piano.
In the 1950s, the United States Congress called her to testify to explain the photos in which she appeared. While she never appeared before the committee (she was excused), the negatives of dozens of her photos were destroyed by court order. The negatives that survived were illegal to print for many years.
While she was posing, she was studying drama at a theater workshop. She worked hard to lose her southern accent because it was keeping her from getting more mainstream work.
Had a great dislike for profanity.
Indirectly caused a bit of an uproar when a Seattle homeowner had a mural of Bettie painted on the side of his home, facing Interstate 5. [url]http://seattlest.com/2006/08/14/where_i5_becomes_peekaboo_street.php [/url].
Became a born-again Christian in the 1960s and served as a Baptist missionary to Angola.
Following her death, she was interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetary in Los Angeles, California.
I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer. I wasn't trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time. I didn't think of myself as liberated, and I don't believe that I did anything important. I was just myself. I didn't know any other way to be, or any other way to live.
I never was the girl next door.
It makes me feel wonderful that people still care for me . . . that I have so many fans among young people, who write to me and tell me I have been an inspiration.
[Jerry Tibbs was] the one who got me wearing bangs. For years I had my hair parted down the middle in a ponytail, tucked down around the sides. But he said to me, "Bettie, you've got a very high forehead. I think you'd look good if you cut some bangs to cover it". Well, I went and cut the bangs, and I've been wearing them ever since. They say it's my trademark.
I never kept up with the fashions. I believed in wearing what I thought looked good on me.
I was never one who was squeamish about nudity. I don't believe in being promiscuous about it, but several times I thought of going to a nudist colony.
No, I don't think my fans want to see me old and fat. I've got to get another 20-25 lbs. off somehow--remember me as I looked when I was younger. I get sad when I see my favorite movie stars when they're old. Who wants to see Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau now as the The Odd Couple (1968)? Jack Lemmon is a fan of mine.
No, I stopped coloring my hair in October 1978. I was no longer working as a secretary, I was no longer working out in public. I didn't color my hair, it is grey now. In fact I'm worried I'm losing it. Big gobs come out. Used to be it took me two hours to dry my big gob of hair.
I'm very sorry that when I turned my life over to the Lord Jesus in January 1959, I threw out all my netstockings, bikinis--some from Frederick's of Hollywood.
The only person I did bondage for was Irving Klaw and his sister Paula Klaw.. Usually they would shoot four or five models every Saturday. He wouldn't pay for the regular pictures unless we did some bondage. So I did bondage shots to get paid for the other photos.
I love to swim in the nude and roam around the house in the nude. You're just as free as a bird!
I don't know what they mean by an icon. I never thought of myself as being that. It seems strange to me. I was just modeling, thinking of as many different poses as possible. I made more money modeling than being a secretary. I had a lot of free time. You could go back to work after an absence of a few months. I couldn't do that as a secretary.
Being in the nude isn't a disgrace unless you're being promiscuous about it. After all, when God created Adam and Eve, they were stark naked. And in the Garden of Eden, God was probably naked as a jaybird too!
[3/11/06, interview in Los Angeles Times, about her mother] All I ever wanted was a mother who paid attention to me. She didn't want girls. She thought we were trouble. She didn't help with homework or teach me to sew or cook. She didn't go to the school plays I was in or go to my high school graduation. When I started menstruating at 13, I thought I was dying because she never taught me anything about that.
[on 3/11/06, in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, about her mother's younger lover making a pass at her] My mother nearly murdered me over that, then made me live with my father. So I couldn't review my exam notes, which were at home. Because of that I got beat out of graduating valedictorian by a quarter of a grade point and lost my dream of getting a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University. It was the worst disappointment of my life.
[3/11/06; interview in the Los Angeles Times, about her second husband] Six weeks into the marriage, on New Year's Eve 1959, I wanted to go dancing with him at a nightclub. He said he'd rather get drunk with his brothers.
[3/11/06, interview in Los Angeles Times] Young women say I helped them come out of their shells, and 13 rock groups have written songs about me. One song has these lyrics all the way through, "I love Bettie Page. I love Bettie Page. I love Bettie Page".
[3/11/06, interview in Los Angeles Times, about being called "The Notorious Bettie Page"] Notorious? That's not flattering at all. They should have used another word.
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