Bettie Mae Page (born Betty Mae Page April 22, 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee) is a former American model who became famous in the 1950s for her fetish modeling and pin-up photos. While she faded into obscurity in the 1960s after her conversion to Christianity, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s and now has a significant cult following.
As the Salutatorian of her class, on June 6, 1940, Bettie Page graduated from high school with a scholarship and enrolled at George Peabody College with the intention of becoming a teacher. However, the next fall she began studying acting, hoping to become a movie star. At the same time, she began her first job, typing for author Alfred Leland Crab. Page graduated from Peabody with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944. In 1943, she married high school classmate Billy Neal in a simple court house ceremony shortly before he was drafted into the Navy for service in World War II. For the next few years, Bettie moved from San Francisco to Nashville to Miami and to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she felt a special affinity with the country and its culture. In November 1947, while back in the United States, Bettie filed for divorce from Neal.
In the late 1940s, men formed what were known as camera clubs as a means of circumventing legal restrictions on the production of nude photos. These clubs existed ostensibly to promote artistic photography, but many were merely fronts for the production of erotica. When Page entered the field of glamour photography she did so as a popular camera club model, working initially with photographer Cass Carr. Her lack of inhibition in posing made her a hit. Her name and image became quickly known in the erotic photography industry, and in 1951 her image appeared in men's magazines with names like Wink, Titter, Eyefull and Beauty Parade.
From 1952 through 1957 she posed for photographer Irving Klaw for mail-order photographs with pin-up, bondage or sadomasochistic themes, making her the first famous bondage model. Klaw also used Page in dozens of short black-and-white 8mm and 16mm "specialty" films which catered to specific requests from his clientele. These silent featurettes showed women clad in lingerie and high heels acting out fetishistic scenarios of abduction, domination, and slave-training with bondage, spanking, and elaborate leather costumes and restraints. Page alternated between playing a stern dominatrix and a helpless victim bound hand and foot. Klaw also produced a line of still photos taken during these sessions. Some have become iconic images, such as his highest-selling photo of Page gagged and bound in a web of ropes from the Leopard Bikini Bound film. Although these underground features had the same crude style and clandestine distribution as the pornographic "stag" films of the time, Klaw's all-female films (and still photos) never featured any nudity or sexual content.
In 1953 she took acting classes at the renowned Herbert Berghoff Studios, which led to several roles on stage and television. She appeared on The United States Steel Hour and the The Jackie Gleason Show. Her off-Broadway productions included Time is a Thief and Sunday Costs Five Pesos. Also in 1953, Page acted and danced in the feature-length burlesque revue film Striporama by Jerald Intrator. She was given a brief speaking role, the only time her voice has been captured on film. She then appeared in two more burlesque films by Irving Klaw (Teaserama and Varietease). These featured exotic dance routines and vignettes by Page and well-known striptease artists Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm. All three films were mildly risque, but none showed any nudity or overtly salacious content.
In 1954, during one of her annual pilgrimages to Miami, Florida, Page met photographers Jan Caldwell, H. W. Hannau and Bunny Yeager. At that time Page was the top pin-up model in New York. Yeager, a former model and aspiring photographer, signed Page for a photo session at the now closed African wildlife park Africa USA in Boca Raton, Florida. The Jungle Bettie photographs from this shoot are among her most celebrated. They include nude shots with a pair of cheetahs named Mojah and Mbili. The leopard skin patterned Jungle Girl outfit she wore was made, along with much of her lingerie, by Bettie herself. A large collection of the Yeager photos, and Klaw's, were published in the book Bettie Page Confidential (St. Martin's Press, 1994).
After Yeager sent shots of Page to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, he selected one to use as the Playmate of the Month centerfold in the January 1955 issue of the two-year-old magazine. The famous photo shows Page, wearing only a Santa hat, kneeling before a Christmas tree holding an ornament and playfully winking at the camera. In 1955, Bettie won the title "Miss Pinup Girl of the World."
While pin-up and glamour models frequently have careers measured in months, Page was in demand for several years, continuing to model until 1957. Although she frequently posed in the nude, she never appeared in scenes with explicit sexual content. The reasons reported for her departure from pin-up, glamour, and fetish modeling vary. Some reports mention the Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (after a young man apparently died during a session of bondage which was rumored to be inspired by the infamous Bettie Page), which ended Irving Klaw's bondage and S&M mail-order photography business. In fact, the United States Congress called her to testify to explain the photos in which she appeared. While she was excused from appearing before the committee, the print negatives of many of her photos were destroyed by court order. For many years after, the negatives that survived were illegal to print.
However, the most obvious reason for ending her modeling career was her conversion to Christianity while living in Key West Florida in 1959 in combination with the 1957 trials, after which she severed all contact with her prior life. For many years, the last generally known facts of her life were the divorce from Armond Walterson in the early 1960s and that she was working for a Christian organization. Page even attended a Bible college, Biola University in Los Angeles, then worked briefly as a Christian missionary.
In 1976, Eros Publishing Co. published A Nostalgic Look at Bettie Page, a mixture of photos from the 1950s. Between 1978 and 1980, Belier Press published four volumes of Betty Page: Private Peeks, reprinting pictures from the private camera club sessions, which reintroduced Page to a new but small cult following. In 1983, London Enterprises released In Praise of Bettie Page - A Nostalgic Collector's Item, reprinting camera club photos and an old cat fight photo shoot.
In the early 1980s, comic book talent Dave Stevens based the female love interest of his hero Cliff Secord (alias "The Rocketeer") on Page. In 1987, Greg Theakston started a fanzine called The Betty Pages and recounted tales of her life, particularly the camera club days. For the next seven years, the magazine sparked a worldwide interest in Page. Women dyed their hair and cut it into bangs in an attempt to emulate the "Dark Angel." The media caught wind of the Bettie movement and wrote numerous articles about her, more often than not with the help of Theakston. Since almost all of her photos were in the public domain, opportunists launched related products and cashed in on the burgeoning craze.
In the mid 1990s, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous produced a segment on Page, as did Entertainment Tonight. Page, who was living in a group home in Los Angeles, was astounded when she saw the E.T. piece, having had no idea that she had suddenly become famous again. The Betty Pages editor, Greg Theakston, contacted her and did an extensive interview for The Betty Page Annuals V.2.
Shortly after, Page signed with Chicago-based agent James Swanson. Three years later, nearly penniless and failing to receive any royalties, Page fired Swanson and signed with Curtis Management Group, a company which also represented the James Dean and Marilyn Monroe estates. She then began collecting payments which ensured her financial security.
After Jim Silke made a large format comic featuring her likeness, Dark Horse Comics published a comic based on her fictional adventures in the 1990s. Eros Comics published several Bettie Page titles, the most popular being the tongue-in-cheek Tor Love Bettie which suggested a romance between Page and wrestler-turned-Ed Wood film actor, Tor Johnson.
In 1997, E!: Entertainment Television's E! True Hollywood Story aired a feature on Page entitled, Bettie Page: From Pinup to Sex Queen.
Most, if not all, of Page's existing films have been reissued on DVD, such as Bettie Page: Varietease/Teaserama as well as a collection of five shorts called Betty Page in Bondage. In 1984 London Enterprises, a producer of S&M films, added music and narration to 28 of Klaw's silent fetish movies for the two-volume video Irving Klaw Bondage Classics. Page appears in half of these featurettes. In 2005 both volumes were released on a single DVD by Cult Epics as Bettie Page: Bondage Queen. A compilation of her burlesque dancing performances from Striporama, Varietease and Teaserama plus 6 black-and-white dancing and cat-fight shorts are on the Cult Epics DVD release Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen. The DVD 100 Girls by Bunny Yeager (also by Cult Epics) is a documentary with behind-the-scenes footage on Yeager's photo sessions with Page and other pin-up models.
In 2004, Cult Epics produced the biographical film Bettie Page Dark Angel. This low-budget straight-to-disc biopic centers on the 1953-1957 Irving Klaw period, faithfully recreating six lost fetish films she did for Klaw. Model Paige Richards plays the title role. Another biographical movie, The Notorious Bettie Page, was released in 2005 and shown in theaters in 2006, and is based on the story of Bettie Page from the mid-1930s through the late-1950s. It stars actress Gretchen Mol as the adult Page. Bonus footage added to the DVD release includes rare color film of Page playfully undressing and striking various nude poses for the camera.
In 2006, Bettie Page and Halo Guitars collaborated to produce a limited edition of custom guitars, released at the 2007 Winter NAMM show in southern California. The total run of one hundred guitars were hand-made by luthier Waylon Ford, painted by the artist Pamelina H., and signed by Bettie Page.
The question of what Page did in the obscure years after modeling was answered in part with the publication of an official biography in 1996, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-up Legend. Her biography described a woman who dealt head-on with adversity, always looking forward, never looking back.
Another biography, The Real Bettie Page: The Truth about the Queen of Pinups written by Richard Foster and published in 1997, told a less happy tale. Foster's book immediately provoked attacks from her fans, including Hefner and Harlan Ellison, as well as a statement from Page that it was "full of lies," because they were not pleased that the book revealed a Los Angeles County Sheriff's police report that stated that she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and, at age 56, had stabbed her elderly landlords on the afternoon of April 19, 1979 in an unprovoked attack during a fit of insanity . However, Steve Brewster, founder of The Bettie Scouts of America fan club, has stated that it is not as unsympathetic as the book's reputation makes it to be. Brewster adds that he also read the chapter about her business dealings with Swanson, and stated that Page was pleased with that part of her story.
In a 1993 telephone interview with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous she told Robin Leach that she had no knowledge of her resurgence, telling him that she was "penniless and infamous." In a late-1990s interview, Page stated she would not allow any current pictures of her to be shown because of concerns about her weight. In 2003, however, she changed her mind and allowed a publicity picture to be taken of her for the August 2003 edition of Playboy. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times ran an article headlined A Golden Age for a Pinup, covering an autographing session at her current publicity company, CMG Worldwide. Once again, she declined to be photographed, saying that she would rather be remembered as she was.
In 1996, Bettie Page did grant an exclusive one-on-one TV interview to entertainment reporter Tim Estiloz for a short-lived NBC morning magazine program Real Life. The interview was granted as part of Page's participation in publicizing her biography, Bettie Page: The Life Of A Pin-Up Legend. The interview featured her voice reminiscing about her career and relating anecdotes about her personal life, as well as photos from Bettie's personal collection. At Page's request, her face was not shown during the interview. The video of the interview was broadcast only once, but recently resurfaced on YouTube under the title, "REAL Bettie Page TV Interview - Her Life In Her OWN Words."
Within the last few years, she has hired a law firm to help her recoup some of the profits being made with her likeness. She has also been plagued with ill health in the last few years, with many fans sending her messages of hope and good luck.