Bettie Page, the enigmatic brunette pin-up girl whose poses for soft core, nude and B&D postcard and magazines helped launch the sexual revolution–and a spawned a generation of look-alikes–has died. She was 85.
After moving from to New York from Nashville, Page was promoted by cheesecake and bondage purveyor Irving Klaw whose mail order business selling postcard and 8mm film loops of women bound, spanking each other, or simply posing in risque costumes thrived during the repressive 1940s and 50s.
Klaw’s life’s work was curtailed by the Kefauver hearings on juvenile deliquency, which cited comic books, and by extension what was then seen as pornography, as a cause for teenage bad behavior. Attorney General Robert Kennedy joined in on the crusade, but by then, Bettie had retired from the business which had seen her famously photographed by Bunny Yeager and appearing as a Playboy centerfold.
Page never had any desire to be a star. For her cheesecake and soft-core was simply a way to make a living, and her story points out an economic reality still at play today:
I had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift. But I could make more money in a few hours modeling than I could earn in a week as a secretary.
In an interview she said her father had molestered her and her two sisters.
In 1957, Page simply up and moved to Florida, where she married a younger man. The marriage was unhappy, and one night after a fight, Page wandered into a church and experienced an epiphany, becoming a deeply devoted Christian, eventually joining the Billy Graham Crusade as a counselor.
But Jesus was no cure for what became three failed marriages. Page fell into deep depression, and after attacking her landlady with a knife, the former pin up girl was committed to a mental health hospital for ten years. She emerged in 1992 to discover she was an underground icon who had hit the mainstream.
Hugh Hefner and others stepped in to insure she received an income from her image and likeness, hooking her up with CMG, the same agency that manages Marilyn Monroe’s image and estate. Bettie lived quietly in Los Angeles, and on December 2 suffered a heart attack which left her on life support. She died December 11, at 6:41 pm.
Page expressed conflicted emotions about her achievements in an interview published in Playboy magazine in 2007:
When I turned my life over to the lord Jesus I was ashamed of having posed in the nude. But now, most of the money I’ve got is because I posed in the nude. So I’m not ashamed of it now. But I still don’t understand it.
In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times Bettie asked that her face not be photographed:
I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times. . . . I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.
Rest in peace, Bettie. Yours is the face that launched over ten thousand pageboy bobs, brought seamed stockings back into fashion, and helped us celebrate and appreciate women in all their glory.