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Birth:
22 Apr 1923 1
Death:
11 Dec 2008 1
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Full Name:
Bettie Mae Page 1
Birth:
22 Apr 1923 1
Death:
11 Dec 2008 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Patton, CA 1
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Card Issued: California 1

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Bettie Page, Queen of Pinups, Dies at 85

 

Bettie Page, a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in the nude, in bondage and in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men’s magazines and private stashes across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the sexual revolution of the rebellious ’60s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 85.

  Her death was reported by her agent, Mark Roesler, on Ms. Page’s Web site, bettiepage.com.

Ms. Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years, had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack, said Mr. Roesler, of CMG Worldwide. She was transferred in a coma to Kindred Hospital, where she died.

In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million locker doors and garage walls. She was also a major influence in the fashion industry and a target of Senator Estes Kefauver’s anti-pornography investigators.

But in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, and for three decades her private life — two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental illness, resurrection as a born-again Christian, years of seclusion in Southern California — was a mystery to all but a few close friends.

Then in the late 1980s and early ’90s, she was rediscovered and a Bettie Page renaissance began. David Stevens, creator of the comic-book and later movie character the Rocketeer, immortalized her as the Rocketeer’s girlfriend. Fashion designers revived her look. Uma Thurman, in bangs, reincarnated Bettie in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” and Demi Moore, Madonna and others appeared in Page-like photos.

There were Bettie Page playing cards, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts and beach towels. Her saucy images went up in nightclubs. Bettie Page fan clubs sprang up. Look-alike contests, featuring leather-and-lace and kitten-with-a-whip Betties, were organized. Hundreds of Web sites appeared, including her own, which had 588 million hits in five years, CMG Worldwide said in 2006.

Biographies were published, including her authorized version, “Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend,” (General Publishing Group) which appeared in 1996. It was written by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson.

A movie, “The Notorious Bettie Page,” starring Gretchen Mol as Bettie and directed by Mary Harron for Picturehouse and HBO Films, was released in 2006, adapted from “The Real Bettie Page,” by Richard Foster. Bettie May Page was born in Jackson, Tenn., the eldest girl of Roy and Edna Page’s six children. The father, an auto mechanic, molested all three of his daughters, Ms. Page said years later, and was divorced by his wife when Bettie was 10. She and some of her siblings were placed for a time in an orphanage. She attended high school in Nashville, and was almost a straight-A student, graduating second in her class.

She graduated from Peabody College, a part of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but a teaching career was brief. “I couldn’t control my students, especially the boys,” she said. She tried secretarial work, married Billy Neal in 1943 and moved to San Francisco, where she modeled fur coats for a few years. She divorced Mr. Neal in 1947, moved to New York and enrolled in acting classes.

She had a few stage and television appearances, but it was a chance meeting that changed her life. On the beach at Coney Island in 1950, she met Jerry Tibbs, a police officer and photographer, who assembled her first pinup portfolio. By 1951, the brother-sister photographers Irving and Paula Klaw, who ran a mail-order business in cheesecake, were promoting the Bettie Page image with spike heels and whips, while Bunny Yeager’s pictures featured her in jungle shots, with and without leopards skins.

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.

In recent years, she had lived in Southern California on the proceeds of her revival. Occasionally, she gave interviews in her gentle Southern drawl, but largely stayed out of the public eye — and steadfastly refused to be photographed.

“I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2006. “I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.”

Pinup queen Bettie Page dies at 85

Bettie Page, the brunet pinup queen with a shoulder-length pageboy hairdo and kitschy bangs whose saucy photos helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, has died. She was 85.



Page, whose later life was marked by depression, violent mood swings and several years in a state mental institution, died Thursday night at Kindred Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been on life support since suffering a heart attack Dec. 2, according to her agent, Mark Roesler. A cult figure, Page was most famous for the estimated 20,000 4-by-5-inch black-and-white glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957. The photos showed her in high heels and bikinis or negligees, bondage apparel -- or nothing at all.

Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products -- Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses -- and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page."

Then there are the idealized portraits of her naughty personas -- Nurse Bettie, Jungle Bettie, Voodoo Bettie, Banned in Boston Bettie, Maid Bettie, Crackers in Bed Bettie -- memorialized by such artists as Olivia de Berardinis.

"I'll always paint Bettie Page," De Berardinis said Thursday night . "But truth be told, it took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad-girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting - it was part of the fun of being a woman."

"The origins of what captures the imagination and creates a particular celebrity are sometimes difficult to define," Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner said Thursday night. "Bettie Page was one of Playboy magazine's early Playmates, and she became an iconic figure, influencing notions of beauty and fashion. Then she disappeared. . . . Many years later, Bettie resurfaced and we became friends. Her passing is very sad."

In an interview 2 1/2 years ago, Hefner described Page's appeal as "a combination of wholesome innocence and fetish-oriented poses that is at once retro and very modern."

According to her agents at CMG Worldwide, Page's official website, www.BettiePage.com, has received about 600 million hits over the last five years.

"Bettie Page captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality," said Roesler, chairman of the Indianapolis-based CMG Worldwide, who was at Page's side when she died. "She was a dear friend and a special client and one of the most beautiful and influential women of the 20th century."

A religious woman in her later life, Page was mystified by her influence on modern popular culture. "I have no idea why I'm the only model who has had so much fame so long after quitting work," she said in an interview with The Times in 2006.

She had one request for that interview: that her face not be photographed.

"I want to be remembered," she said, "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."

Bettie Mae Page was born April 22, 1923, in Nashville. She was the oldest girl among Roy and Edna Page's six children. Her father, an auto mechanic, "molested all three of his daughters," Page said in the interview.

Her parents divorced in 1933, but life didn't get any easier for Bettie.

"All I ever wanted was a mother who paid attention to me," Page recalled. "She didn't want girls. She thought we were trouble. When I started menstruating at 13, I thought I was dying because she never taught me anything about that."

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. She was noticed on the beach at Coney Island by New York police officer and amateur photographer Jerry Tibbs, who introduced her to camera clubs.

Page quickly became a sought-after model, attracting the attention of Irving Klaw and his sister, Paula, who operated a mail-order business specializing in cheesecake and bondage poses. Under contract with the Klaws, Page was photographed prancing around with a whip, spanking other women, even being hog-tied. She also appeared in 8-millimeter "loops" and feature-length peekaboo films with titles like "Betty Page in High Heels."

"I had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift," Page recalled. "But I could make more money in a few hours modeling than I could earn in a week as a secretary." Her most professional photographs were taken in 1955 by fashion photographer Bunny Yeager. They included shots of Page nude and frolicking in waves and deep-sea fishing, and a January 1955 Playboy centerfold of her winking under a Santa Claus cap.

At 35, Page walked away from it all. She quit modeling and moved to Florida, where she married a much younger man whose passions, she later learned, were watching television and eating hamburgers.

Page fled from her home in tears after a dispute on New Year's Eve in 1959. Down the street, she noticed a white neon sign over a little white church with its door open.

After quietly taking a seat in the back, she had a born-again experience. Page immersed herself in Bible studies and served as a counselor for the Billy Graham Crusade.

In 1967, she married for a third time. After that marriage ended in divorce 11 years later, Page plunged into a depression marked by violent mood swings. She argued with her landlady and attacked her with a knife. A judge found her innocent by reason of insanity but sentenced her to 10 years in a California mental institution.

She was released in 1992 from Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County to find that she had unwittingly become a pop-culture icon. A movie titled "The Rocketeer" and the comic book that inspired it contained a Bettie-esque character, triggering a revival, among women as well as men, that continues unabated.

With the help of admirers including Hefner, Page finally began receiving a respectable income for her work.

In an interview published in Playboy magazine in 2007, Page expressed mixed feelings about her achievements. "When I turned my life over to the lord Jesus I was ashamed of having posed in the nude," she said. "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."

She spent most of her final years in a one-bedroom apartment, reading the Bible, listening to Christian and country tunes, watching westerns on television, catching up on diet and exercise regimens or sometimes perusing secondhand clothing stores.

Occasionally, however, Page was persuaded to visit the Sunset Boulevard penthouse offices of her agents at CMG Worldwide to autograph pinups of herself in the post-World War II years of her prime. The agency controls her image and those of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, among others.

During one such event in early 2006, Page needed about 10 minutes to get through the 10 letters of her name. As she pushed her pen over a portrait of her in a negligee with an ecstatic smile, she laughed and said, "My land! Is that supposed to be me? I was never that pretty."

She is survived by her brother Jack Page of Nashville and sister Joyce Wallace of Blairsville, Ga.  

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