Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bettie Page

This week marked the passing of Bettie Page, perhaps the most famous of 1950s pin-up models.
By the late 1940’s Page had become a popular model with New York photography clubs. These clubs gave a cover of legitimacy for the production of erotica. In 1950 Page developed a professional portfolio that lead to her appearance in glamour magazines such as Wink, Titter, Eyeful, and Beauty Parade. Page worked as a model until 1957.
In 1952 Page began doing bondage material with Irving Klaw, who distributed her photos and short films through his mail order business. In 1954 Page modeled for Bunny Yeager, herself a former pin-up. This collaboration produced a very popular series of “jungle” photos of Page posing in a leopard skin bikini and with live cheetahs. An example from the Klaw bondage material is below, as is one of the Yeager jungle photos.

In 1955, Hugh Hefner featured Page as the holiday centerfold for the two-year old Playboy magazine. Given the time of the year, we thought it appropriate to include that photo also (removed).

More Than a Pretty Face
Recent coverage of her death refers to Ms. Page as a “secretary turned model” which may be misleading. She had moved to New York in the 1940’s with the aspirations to be an actress, using a job as a secretary for income while she looked for acting jobs.
Page faced many difficulties before her fame. She was born in Tennessee to an impoverished family. Her parents divorced and her father began molesting his young daughters. Page was sent to an orphanage after her father was sent to prison for stealing a police car.
Page began acting in high school, where she was also a successful student, and received a college degree in dramatic arts. This was an unlikely outcome for a woman of her time and situation.
Lasting Impact
Many credit Page with helping to lay the foundation for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Page, perhaps more than anyone, helped move erotica from low-quality, clandestine productions to the higher-quality, more socially acceptable material which followed her career. Page also communicated her personality in her photos, seeming fun and flirtatious instead of tawdry.
Page regained a cult following in the 1980s and 90s, leading to two biopics Bettie Page: Dark Angel (2004) which focused on the Klaw years, and The Notorious Bettie Page (2005). The documentary Bettie Page Reveals All, is scheduled for release in 2009.
For obituary coverage of Page's death in the Wall Street Journal, click here, and from the New York Times, click here.