From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Bettie Page (April 22, 1923 - December 11, 2008) was a former American model who became famous in the 1950s for her fetish modeling and pin-up photos. She was also one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine.
While she faded into obscurity in the 1960s after converting to Christianity and serving as a Baptist missionary in Angola, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s and had a significant cult following. Her look, including her jet black hair and trademark bangs, has influenced many artists.
The Bettie Page revival
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 a 1993 telephone interview with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Page told host Robin Leach that she had been unaware of the resurgence of her popularity, stating that she was "penniless and infamous." Entertainment Tonight produced a segment on her. 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. Greg Theakston contacted her and extensively interviewed her 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.
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 met adversity head on, always looking forward, never looking back. That year, Bettie Page granted an exclusive one-on-one TV interview to entertainment reporter Tim Estiloz for a short-lived NBC morning magazine program Real Life to help publicize the book. The interview featured her 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. 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."
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 1997, E! True Hollywood Story aired a feature on Page entitled, Bettie Page: From Pinup to Sex Queen.
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. However, in 1997, Page changed her mind and agreed to a rare television interview for the aforementioned E! True Hollywood Story/Page special on the condition that the location of the interview and her face not be revealed (she was shown with her face and dress electronically blacked out). Then, in 2003, Page 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.
Within the last few years, she had hired a law firm to help her recoup some of the profits being made with her likeness.