Obit Magazine: Bettie Page

Didn't know there WAS such a thing, but I guess you can mourn on a monthly basis (which is sadly not too funny, given the rate of significant passings to those who love 50's culture).


In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bettie Page exclaimed, “I am more famous now than I was in the 1950s.” She was busy signing copies of her pinup photos, those saucy pictures of Page in naughty outfits and suggestive poses that adorned locker doors and helped propel America’s sexual revolution of the 1960s. Since then, the genre of pinup fantasy--bangs-and-heels, lingerie-and-costumes—has grown from the obsession of a tiny sub-culture to a grand American tradition, a tradition that lost its queen, Bettie Page, who died on Thursday, December 11. Page was 85.

Bettie Page on the BeachHer career as a pinup model started on the beaches of Coney Island in 1950, where a police officer who moonlighted as a photographer discovered Page. He assembled her first pinup portfolio. It was a long way from her hometown in rural Tennessee. The New York Times, in their obit, narrates the wayward life story of the woman behind the pinups.

Her pictures were ogled in Wink, Eyeful, Titter, Beauty Parade and other magazines, and in leather-fetish 8- and 16-millimeter films. Her first name was often misspelled. Her big break was the Playboy centerfold in January 1955, when she winked in a Santa Claus cap as she put a bulb on a Christmas tree. Money and offers rolled in, but as she recalled years later, she was becoming depressed.

In 1955, she received a summons from a Senate committee headed by Senator Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat, that was investigating pornography. She was never compelled to testify, but the uproar and other pressures drove her to quit modeling two years later. She moved to Florida. Subsequent marriages to Armond Walterson and Harry Lear ended in divorce, and there were no children. She moved to California in 1978.

For years Ms. Page lived on Social Security benefits. After a nervous breakdown, she was arrested for an attack on a landlady, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a California mental institution. She emerged years later as a born-again Christian, immersing herself in Bible studies and serving as an adviser to the Billy Graham Crusade.

Bettie Page in LingerieHer bouts with mental trouble later in life form an odd counterpoint to the sheer joy and exuberance of her pictures in youth. Either clad (or not clad) in jungle sequences, frolicking on the beach, or festooned in fishnet stockings and black lingerie, Page seemed outside vulgarity. From a 21st century perspective, her photographs are positively innocent, as if Page and her photographers were experimenting joyously. Of course there were the S & M pictures, but those too, with all of their whips and leather, seem like play.

Simply, Bettie Page had a joi-de-vivre that still captures the imagination of her viewers. From tattoo culture, to hot rod racers to actresses and models who mimic Bettie Page’s iconic look, she is the centerpiece of an entire solar system of retro aesthetics.

Obit from the New York Times
2006 Interview from the Los Angeles Times

A fascinating list of Look alikes and Bettie Page-inspired models