The Queen of Pin-ups
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Bettie Page was the second of six children
born to Walter Roy Page & Edna Mae Pirtle
. Though legally "Betty" - she started spelling her name with an "ie" instead as a child. Her family struggled plenty, frequently moving from place to place in search of stability, with her parents divorcing & Bettie and two of her sisters staying in a orphanage
for a year at one point. Despite this
, Bettie was a great student & was voted "Girl Most Likely to Succeed" - along with graduating as the salutatorian of her high school class. (She then went on to graduate college with a bachelor of arts - despite wanting to become a teacher initially.)
Bettie married her first husband Billy in 1943
, right before he shipped out for WW2 - and traveled to live between CA, TN, Florida, and Haiti.
After divorcing Billy in 1947
, Bettie moved from California to New York City
to pursue work as an actress. Once there, she apprenticed at a local theater and took on some acting classes & gigs - but most importantly
found unexpected work as a pinup model - after a chance Coney Island meeting with Jerry Tibbs
, a cop pursuing photography on the side. Once her first pinup portfolio was put together in 1950
- her modeling career quickly picked up speed, with Bettie frequently posing for "camera clubs" - and appearing in magazines like Beauty Parade
One of these earl 50s "camera clubs" was with Irving Klaw
for mail-order photos & short 8mm and 16mm films with pin-up and BDSM themes. Apparently the girls would only be paid for the whole afternoons shoot if they did "an hour of bondage"
- so Bettie did exactly that, and now is considered the first famous bondage model
because of it! She also shot a couple burlesque films with Klaw, alongside Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm.
She continued modeling in New York - but would also travel to Florida to shoot with Bunny Yeager among others, outdoors - on boats - with wild animals
! In 1955
, Bettie landed the centerfold spot in January's Playboy
after Bunny Yeager
submitted shots of her, and won the title “Miss Pinup Girl of the World"
. Pin up and glamour models of the time typically had short, months-long careers, but Bettie continued modeling through 1957
In 1957, she stepped out of the spotlight at the height of her career - and settled down in Florida
. (Later becoming a born-again Evangelist.) Between 1958 & 1972
, she tried to become a missionary, attended three
bible colleges, moved back to Nashville, re-enrolled in college (later dropping out)
, briefly remarried her first husband
- moved back to Florida, and was divorced twice more. In her "new life" - when people would recognize her and ask if she was Bettie Page, she’d answer, “Who’s that?”
. In 1978
, she moved to Southern California - and had a nervous breakdown, was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, and was later arrested for assault & placed under state supervision for 8 years
Through the late 80s & early 90s
- Bettie's modeling days had a resurgence of popularity, and she had no idea!
Her brother, Jack then helped her get an agent - and tried to get her royalties for her work, but it was of course - a giant, legal, mess
. In the meantime, numerous interviews, books & even comics were produced with Bettie's name attached - and sometimes her direct involvement. (Now that she was aware of being a not-so
-cult superstar, of course. Though she did refuse
to be photographed or taped, most of the time.) That's...a lot. And there's a lot I'm leaving out!
There's a lot of speculation as to the why, and how of Bettie Page - and even now trying to stitch together conflicting accounts & quotes from Bettie herself
is kind of a pain in the ass even with the amount of things I've watched and read about her life. I guess it's more fun to keep em guessing, right?
Bettie Page passed away in 2008
, at 85 years old in Los Angeles.(She is now buried at Westwood Memorial Park, LA. I wanted to visit her gravesite the last time I was in California but the weather foiled my plans. Looks like I'll have to go back!)