Bettie Page: Real Vs. Reel Life

Bettie Page modeled in New York from 1950 to 1957, but her impact far outstrips the relative brevity of her career. The late 1970s brought a resurgence of interest in Pages career, winning her new generations of fans and making her an icon all over the world. Her distinctive look and radiant presence have combined to make her an influence not only on erotic media, but also the wider realm of pop culture, from fashion and music to movies and comic books.

Born in 1923, Bettie Page rose to fame on the strength of her photographs in such mens magazines as Wink, Beauty Parade and Titter. Her image appeared on postcards, playing cards, and album sleeves. By 1954, she was the top pin-up model in New York. Model-turned-photographer Bunny Yeager extolled Betties natural beauty in essays that accompanied their outdoor photo shoots, which included a session with two cheetahs at a wild animal park in Florida. Yeagers holiday photo of a beaming Bettie wearing only Santa Claus cap became the January 1955 centerfold in Hugh Hefners year-old magazine, Playboy.

Less well known at the time was Betties work with Irving and Paula Klaw, who catered to private clients with photographs and short films featuring female models in S&M scenarios. That changed in 1955, when Tennessee senator and aspiring presidential candidate Estes Kefauver launched a campaign against pornography that included television coverage of his subcommittees hearings. Bettie began to work less, and in 1957 she left New York and modeling. No one knew what became of her. Though collectors sought out her old photos, she was largely forgotten.

In 1978, Belier Press began reprinting Pages photos from the camera club sessions in bound volumes, introducing her to a new generation of fans. Author/artist Dave Stevens used Page as the model for his heros girlfriend in his comic book The Rocketeer. Pages profile grew when a fan named Greg Theakston created The Betty Pages, publishing nine issues of his Bettie-centric magazine from 1987-1993.

Books about Page began appearing in the mid-1990s, including an authorized biography Bettie Page: Life of a Pin-up Legend by Karen Essex and James Swanson. Today, Bettie Page websites abound, and her likeness adorns everything from drink coasters to hot rods. Contemporary burlesque artists like Dita Von Teese cite her as a major influence; and retailers offer clothes and wigs to achieve the Bettie Page look. Page is fully ensconced in the vocabulary of high fashion as well. In a February 2005 photo shoot for W Magazine, Renee Zellweger was styled after the pin-up model, with bangs and black hair. Meanwhile, Pages once-scandalous bondage films are available on video and DVD.

 

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