Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Notorious Bettie Page

Do you know Bettie Page?

She was the most famous (or should we rather say infamous?) pin up model from the 1950s.
Bettie Mae Page was born in the Nashville, Tenessee on April 22, 1923. Her parents had three sons and three daughters and the family was very poor; they would divorce when Bettie was 10 years old. Her father molested all three of his daughters and ended up in jail after stealing a police car.
At high school, Bettie was a very good student and had roles in many of the school plays. After graduating, she left Tenessee for New York, where her career as a pinup model took off, when an amateur photographer asked her to pose, while she was on a break from her job as a secretary. She got more and more popular, resulting in being the centerfold of Playboy magazine in January 1955.

A picture of Bettie taken by Irvin Klaw

From 1951 onwards, she started posing for the photographer Irving Klaw, a photographer who specialized in S&M, and Bettie became known as the Queen of Bondage. Irving took thousands of pictures of Bettie; and Bettie also appeared in more than 50 burlesque films, Teaserama being the most famous one.
Back in the days, however, the prudish American society did not allow pictures like Klaw's and he was arrested for "conspiracy to distribute obscene material". Bettie was not arrested, but was asked to testify in the case and the senator of Tennessee launched a congressional investigation against her.

Bettie in Teaserama

After the cause with Klaw, Bettie retreated from public view and moved to Florida in 1957. Before the start of her career, she had been married and divorced and in the years after her career, the same scenario happened twice again.
The salvation of her misery was in 1959, when she saw a church with a neon cross on top and entered this building. This was the moment that would change Bettie's life forever, since it made her dedicate her life to Jesus Christ.
Quite an unexpected move from someone who used to be a pin up and S&M model, isn't it? Bettie had always been a christian, though. The reason why she had no problems with being portrayed (partially) nude, was because Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were nude too.
Ever since the end of the 1950s, Bettie hasn't appeared in the public view anymore and led a rather quiet life, with the exception of being treated for schizophrenia for 8 years throughout the 1980s. Bettie died in December 2008, at the age of 85.

Bettie competing against a gorilla

Bettie had been practically forgotten until her pictures and movies were rediscovered by a large audience during the 1990s. People were fascinated by this woman, who seemed to be the innocent girl next door gone wild - a superstar whose success was demolished by the government and who practically disappeared afterwards.
This must have been the reason for director Mary Harron to film Bettie's past, her career and the way she vanished from the public view. The movie she made is named The Notorious Bettie Page and features Gretchen Mol as Bettie.

The trailer of The Notorious Bettie Page

I personally really enjoyed this movie. The ambiance is wonderful, the acting is good and the funniest part is that it shows how incredibly innocent the photo shoots actually were compared to what we are used to today. Bettie also did it purely because she enjoyed it, but didn't think of the possible consequences and the fact that it was not as innocent as she thought it was.
The real Bettie Page was positive about the movie too, but wasn't very pleased with the title of the movie.
"Notorious? That's not flattering at all. They should have used another word."

Bettie just did what she loved to do, that was all.
"I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer. I wasn't trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time. I didn't think of myself as liberated, and I don't believe that I did anything important. I was just myself. I didn't know any other way to be, or any other way to live."


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