Friday, April 22, 2011
Bettie Paige, the icon of the pin up, was born on April 22, 1923. Bettie left us in 2008 at the age of 85.
“She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality,” her agent Mark Roesler said upon her death in December of 2008. “She is the embodiment of beauty.”
Bettie Mae Page was born in Nashville. After high school, Page earned a teaching credential. But her career in the classroom was short-lived. "I couldn't control my students, especially the boys," she said. She tried secretarial work and marriage. But by 1948 she had divorced a violent husband and fled to New York City, where she enrolled in acting classes.
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, amateur photographer Jerry Tibbs admired the 27-year-old's curvy body and asked her to pose. Nudity didn't bother her, she said, likening it to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was Tibbs who introduced her to camera clubs, which helped launch her modeling career.
In 1951, Bettie fell under the influence of Irving Klaw, a photographer who specialized in S&M. He cut her hair into the dark bangs that became her trademark, and posed her in spiked heels and little else. Bettie began to attain renown as the "Queen of Bondage," known for her bangs, saucy come-hither looks, and controversial sadomasochistic poses.
She appeared as a performer in over 50 burlesque films and numerous mail-order girlie magazines, with titles such as Wink, Whisper and Flirt. Bettie became the preeminent pinup queen of her day and was the girl most-commonly seen tacked up on walls in military barracks and garages. In 1954, Bettie starred in Varietease, which managed to challenge the sexual mores of the time without showing nudity or overtly salacious content. In January 1955 she was also the 13th model to grace the centerfold of a new slick magazine called Playboy.
Bettie’s meteoric rise is cut short when in 1955, Senator Estes Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat and presidential hopeful, turned his attention to pornography. Congress called on Bettie to testify in order to explain the photos in which she appeared. Although she went to Washington to appear before Congress, she was never called to testify. Yet, the negatives of dozens of her photos were destroyed by court order. The negatives that survived were illegal to print for many years.
It wasn’t long after this Congressional affair that, at the age of 35, Bettie Paige walked away from it all. She quit modeling and moved to Florida, where she married.
"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."
Bettie Page, the 1950s school teacher-turned-secretary-turned-model, was a pioneer. She did change society. She was ahead of her time. Her controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution and remains a cult icon to this day.