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Bettie Page, 1950s Pinup Girl, Cult Figure Decades Later, Dies

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By David Henry

 

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Bettie Page, the 1950s pinup girl whose natural looks and risque fetish poses triggered a cult following four decades after she turned her back on modeling, has died. She was 85.

 

Page died late yesterday in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack more than a week ago, her agent Mark Roesler said in a statement.

 

“She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality,” said Roesler. “She is the embodiment of beauty.”

 

The busty “Dark Angel” from Tennessee was one of the most- photographed women of her era, striking a chord with men’s camera clubs and sparking outrage in Congress for her nude snapshots. Page’s image, complete with black hair bangs and naughty smile, appeared on magazine covers, playing cards, wallpaper and comic books in the 1990s, inspiring retrospective tributes from celebrities such as Madonna, Demi Moore and Uma Thurman.

 

The college-educated beauty queen who disappeared from the public eye after 1957 was unaware of her renewed popularity until “Entertainment Tonight” broadcast a television segment about her almost 40 years later. She had disowned her glamour lifestyle after becoming a born-again Christian in 1959, and later battled mental illness in Florida and California.

 

“Bettie Page is the last great icon of the 1950s,” James Swanson, co-author of “Bettie Page: The Life of a Pinup Legend,” said in a 1996 interview with NBC’s Real Life program. “Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, she brought something modern to the era. She’s like the girl next door, the greatest American pin-up and that’s why she’s eternal.”

 

Early Years

 

Bettie Mae Page was born on April 22, 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee. The second of six children, she helped raise her younger siblings while the family traveled around the U.S. in search of work. Page’s mother placed her daughters in an orphanage after divorcing her husband, who was sentenced to two years in an Atlanta penitentiary for stealing a policeman’s car.

 

At the age of 10, Page began to mimic actresses and perform songs for the other girls at the orphanage before her mother, who worked as a hairdresser during the day and in a laundry at night, reclaimed her children after a year.

 

Page took refuge from her traumatic family life in local community centers, where she learned to cook, sew and study hard enough to top her class at high school. She was a member of the drama club, helped edit the school newspaper and was voted “The Most Likely to Succeed.” She won a $100 scholarship to Peabody College in Nashville, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education.

 

Three Husbands

 

In February 1943, she married Billy Neal, the first of her three husbands, and moved to San Francisco, where she had her first modeling assignment for a local furrier. While Neal served in the Mariana Islands during World War II, Page lived in Nashville, Miami and Port au Prince, Haiti. In 1947, she filed for divorce and moved to New York.

 

Three years later while walking on Coney Island, she met police officer Jerry Tibbs who had an interest in photography and assembled Page’s first portfolio.

 

Tibbs introduced her to camera clubs, men’s hobbyist groups that sometimes acted as a front for erotic photography, and Page’s career took off. She then appeared in publisher Robert Harrison’s girlie magazines Wink, Flirt and Beauty Parade. In January 1955, she was the centerfold model in Hugh Hefner’s fledgling Playboy magazine, one month before actress Jayne Mansfield appeared as the publication’s Playmate.

 

“She had a saucy innocence that is both contemporary and provocative, and also nostalgic,” Hefner said.

 

Media Mogul

 

Page, who claimed she ignored media mogul Howard Hughes’s request for a screen test in 1955 because she didn’t want to sleep with him, also studied acting under Herbert Berghoff at Sea Cliff Summer Theater on Long Island. The apprenticeship helped her gain parts in New York stage productions and on television, once appearing on “The Jackie Gleason Show.”

 

Some of her most celebrated snapshots were taken in 1954 during a session with photographer Bunny Yeager at the Africa USA wildlife park in Boca Raton, Florida. They included nude poses with two cheetahs and scenes in a leopard-patterned jungle outfit that she made herself.

 

Her “Dark Angel” image stemmed from bondage and fetish sessions for Irving Klaw’s Movie Star News. Klaw, who paid $80 for four hours’ work at his studio in Greenwich Village, New York, required sadomasochistic shots to meet the demand of high- profile, educated clients. His sister Paula created the sets and helped Page develop the fetish image.

 

‘Very Sweet’

 

“Paula was one of the nicest women I’ve ever known in my life,” Page said. “Only Paula was allowed to tie us up. She was very gentle, caring and considerate. She never tied any ropes too tight. She was very sweet.”

 

A Congressional investigation initiated by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver in 1955 called Page as a witness and put Klaw out of business, though he had no case to answer because his models were never nude. The evidence of obscenity had included more- explicit poses that Page had done for camera clubs after a drinking session one night at a party. The Congressional probe is said to have contributed to her decision to give up modeling.

 

Throughout the 1960s, Page attended Bible schools in Los Angeles, Chicago and Oregon, helping teenage mothers and visiting jails. Her breakdown in 1972 after divorcing third husband Harry Lear led to four months’ treatment in Florida’s Jackson Memorial Hospital and 20 months in Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California. She also had numerous run-ins with the law, including a charge of assault with a deadly weapon after brandishing a knife at her landlady who didn’t provide Page with rent receipts.

 

Pop-Culture Revival

 

Page’s pop-culture revival emanated from artwork by Robert Blue and Olivia de Berardinis, who drew on her fantasy and fetish work. David Stevens also featured Page in “The Rocketeer” comics from the early 1980s, prompting an avalanche of similar publications based on her persona.

 

In later years, she lived in California and collected royalties from her work as a model after signing with Curtis Management Group. In 2005, Time Warner Inc. and HBO Films released “The Notorious Bettie Page,” a feature film starring Gretchen Mol as Page.

 

Page avoided the camera lens after her modeling years, though she was photographed with Hefner at Playboy’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2003.

 

“I want people to remember me as I was,” she said in a Playboy interview in 1998.

 

Page was divorced three times and had no children.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: David Henry in Frankfurt at [email protected].

Last Updated: December 11, 2008 23:51 EST

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aBR4D3uqMGGc&refer=us

 

She was a beautiful lady and an Icon imo in her own right. Miss ya Bettie.

 

Hugs,

Greg

http://seaboy4hire.tripod.com

[email protected]

Your low rent escort :)http://www.daddysreviews.com/newest.php?who=greg_seattle

http://www.rockbox.org/mail/archive/rockbox-archive-2008-07/att-0126/Sheeple.gif

2 months and counting!

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For those who might not be familiar with the beautiful Bettie here is a great blog full of info and some amazing pics http://the-infectious-bettie-page.blogspot.com/

 

Hugs,

Greg

http://seaboy4hire.tripod.com

[email protected]

Your low rent escort :)http://www.daddysreviews.com/newest.php?who=greg_seattle

http://www.rockbox.org/mail/archive/rockbox-archive-2008-07/att-0126/Sheeple.gif

2 months and counting!

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