Black Bangs, Bikinis and Bondage
The legendary Bettie
(her preferred spelling) Page has a huge cult following, and with good reason; she is simply the queen of pin-up girls. The voluptuous, dark haired beauty with her trademark bangs captured a unique mix of naughty and nice in the 1950's that is still revered today by many fans. She may not be as publicly known as say, Marilyn Monroe or other starlets of that era, but its that dark edge that makes us love her. It has been estimated that over 20,000 photographs of Bettie have been taken more than Madonna, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe combined.
She was born in Nashville, April 22, 1923, the second of six children. Her family suffered from economic instability during the Depression and her parents encountered many problems; her father was abusive and womanizing. When her parents divorced, Bettie, at the age of 10, and her sisters were placed in an orphanage while her mother worked and saved money.
In high school, Bettie was a straight A student, active in school activities, such as the drama club, and didn't date very much. She was even voted "Most Likely to Succeed." She also learned to sew and would later make many of her own costumes. She fell a bit short of being class valedictorian and lost a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. After high school, she enrolled in the Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. Billy Neal, her boyfriend, became her husband during her first year at Peabody, but he was drafted and sent off to War. She graduated in 1944 with a B.A. and moved to San Francisco to be closer to him. She got her start in modeling in San Francisco, posing in fur coats for a local furrier.
When the War was over, Bettie and Billy grew apart; she did quite a bit of traveling during this time to Miami, Nashville and Port au Prince. In November 1947, she filed for divorce. (She would marry again two more times!) Bettie Page moved to New York, where she met Jerry Tibbs. Jerry was a cop who dabbled in photography. He helped her put together her pin-up portfolio and suggested that she wear bangs to mask her high forehead, which would become her signature look.
Her modeling career took off; she began posing within camera clubs, where as many as sixty photographers would be snapping away. Her shots showed up in a variety of cheesecake magazines. She had no qualms about posing nude. Bettie preferred outdoor shoots; many of her infamous beach shots are by Bunny Yeager.
Bettie Page began working with brother and sister team Irving and Paula Klaw in 1951, posing for what were very controversial bondage photos in the conservative, "I Like Ike" days of America. Her uber-high heels, whips and other accoutrements of domination were ordered up by the customers who purchased the photos. Ms. Page laughed at some of the odd requests, yet was able to deliver these poses with a twinkle in her eye.
The success of these photos led to 8mm shorts such as Varietease and Teaserama. She made at least 50 of these infamous short stag films.
She was chosen as the centerfold in Playboy's January issue in 1955. The picture chosen was bought by the then-fledgling magazine from Bunny Yeager. Bettie was just shy of 32 years old at that time; ironic considering most models were considered over-the-hill at 25.
A huge controversy stirred over the Irving Klaw fetish films, and the U.S. government investigated Klaw as a pornographer. He was arrested for distribution of obscene material and it is estimated that 80% of his photos were burned.
Also around this time, it has been said that a pornographer placed Betties head on another womans body. The only set of nasty photos may have been taken at a party where Bettie was drunk, but this was pushing it too far. Bettie spent much of her savings buying up these photographs.
Feeling burned out, she ended her modeling career at its peak in 1957. She left New York for Florida, and became a devout Christian in the late fifties. She lived privately with her family in California, never to be photographed again, yet forever etched in our memories as the bikini-clad, black banged girl. She passed away at the age of 85 in Los Angeles on December 11, 2008.