Bettie Page: Pin-Up Girl & Paradox

Bettie Page Obsession

I have a friend who's obsessed with Bettie Page. In case you think my friend is male like you would think 99.9% of the people who are obsessed with Bettie Page would be, she isn't. She's very much female. Also in case you don't know who the heck Bettie Page is and you're male, you are obviously way too young. Or just not in touch with the ahem...seamier side of centerfold photography. Or both.

To educate you, Bettie Page was a girl born in 1923 from Nashville, Tennessee who had a pretty rough upbringing. Her parents split up and her father moved away when she was young and she ended up in an orphanage with the very odd set-up of her mother maintaining contact with Bettie and her two sisters on the weekends. If this were not enough of a setback, there were also rumors that her father had an incestuous relationship with her in later years when he came back to be closer to the family.

However, Bettie had quite a bit of drive and determination for a girl who was raised with very little and ended up being named "Most Likely To Succeed" by the time she hit high school and graduated second in her class. None of her high school friends could have dreamed of what she finally succeded at...pin-up modeling of the variety that most moms back in the 50's did not approve of by any stretch of the imagination.


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Not Your Typical Pin-up Girl

She was discovered on a beach by a policeman who moonlighted as a photographer. He took pictures of her to help her build her modeling portfolio and introduced her to many of the influential pin-up photographers of the day. Bettie's amazing good looks naturally gained a lot of attention from photographers. However, she really stood out from the rest of the pin-up models of the day for several reasons, first that her hair was jet black in an era where most pin-ups were platinum blonde like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. She wore her hair in very short bangs at the urging of a photographer, because of her extremely high forehead and she had an incredible figure, in a time where implants and liposuction were pretty much unheard of.

But it was not just her looks that made Bettie Page the cult icon she has become. It was the subject matter of her photographs that garnered her the most attention and controversy. In terms of choice of material, she was truly ahead of her time. After doing some swimsuit pin-up modeling typical for the day, Bettie became involved with a pin-up card dealer named Irving Claw. Part of the contract was that she do some bondage photography. This liaison led to one of the most controversial times in Betty's life.


Burlesque Featuring Bettie Page

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Bondage Photography: Victim Or Willing Participant?

You have to wonder what was going through Bettie's mind when she agreed to pose for this kind of photography in the 1950s. It was certainly not acceptable, whether considered as artwork or pornography. For sure part of it was the money since Klaw wouldn't pay her for her other work unless she submitted to doing the bondage photography. Perhaps it was a sense of rebelliousness. Regardless, it ended Bettie's boss in a lot of trouble with the United States Senate. Led by Senator Estes Kefauver, the Senate initiated hearings dealing with the pornography industry and morality. Bettie was subpoenaed. but never had to testify. However, Irving Klaw did have to testify and the only thing he was charged with at the time was contempt of court for being uncooperative with the committee.

Bettie Page Finds Religion

Despite not having to testify, the hearings had a profound effect on Bettie. She really had not thought of the photographs she was posing for as immoral or "inciting people to do evil" as the committee asserted. It was rumored that a man had died imitating a bondage scene in one of Bettie's movies which was definitely enough to cause her to reflect. While visiting a church in Key West, she experienced a religious conversion that changed her life. She left her modeling career behind and actually attended several different Bible colleges and even eventually worked full-time for the Billy Graham ministries.

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Bettie Page's Death: A Sad Ending To An Amazing Life

Despite her religious conversion, drama seemed to follow Bettie and with it mental illness. She had several violent episodes where she reportedly pulled knives on various and assorted people and was committed to mental hospitals on more than one occasion. It was only toward the end of her life when she got an attorney to represent her that she even was able to control the use of her image somewhat which she had not been able to do in years. She had been in dire financial circumstances for a number of years, even working as a maid, before she was able to profit from the numerous pictures of her that continued to circulate long after her modeling days were over. When questioned about her career later on in life, she said that she had no regrets, that her work was a lot easier than "pounding a typewriter all day" as a secretary.

She was January Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1955, was called "Queen of the Pin-up Girls", was even credited with starting the sexual revolution for women that took place in the 1960s, yet her life was far from happy. Bettie Page died of pneumonia at the age of 85. I think she died realizing the impact that her work had and remained steadfastly proud of it. Today she has a huge cult following consisting of men AND women who appreciate her for what she was...beautiful. I think she would be pleased.


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Comments 36 comments

Tess 5 years ago

Bettie was popular because she had the rare combination of wholesome girl next door and bad girl. Isn't that the girl all the guys want?


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

I would guess you are right...but I still haven't figured out what guys want!


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I haven't heard of Betty Page either so this is an interesting read. Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/68638


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Ripplemaker, it was a really nice surprise!


Mike's Corner profile image

Mike's Corner 5 years ago from Maryland

Great hub DIY, very informative. Betty Page = still hot! Good luck in this week's contest!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Mike! Why am I not surprised that you like Bettie Page? ;o)


Lori Kesling profile image

Lori Kesling 5 years ago from Toledo, Ohio

Very nice article... Although I'm wondering why you consistently used "Bettie Page" when in the video you provided, she specifically made a sign that said "Betty Page". Did she use both spellings in her personal and professional career?


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Hi Lori, thanks. Yes, I noticed that, too. She was born Betty Mae Page,according to Wikipedia, but you will find her name spelled Bettie in several references as well. Maybe she dropped the Betty Mae for Bettie, because it sounded more sophisticated. Now I must find out!


Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 5 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination. What a fascinatin and sadly tragic woman she was. And beautiful. Thanks for writing.

Namaste.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Deborah. Seems to be that way with a lot of very beautiful women.


Don Simkovich profile image

Don Simkovich 5 years ago from Pasadena, CA

She worked full-time for the Bill Graham association? I had no idea. You're right, the photography was ahead of its time but I don't know if too many photographers today have improved upon her shots anyway.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Don, yes, pretty amazing, huh? I think at the time in her mind she was trying to make up for the provocative posing, but much later in life, she seemed to come to grips with it and was more at peace.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Great tribute to a tormented pin-up who is far more famous now than perhaps she was in her own time. Well done on the nomination too!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Docmo. Appreciate the nice comments from such a gifted writer!


2besure profile image

2besure 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Fascinating figure in time! Well done hub! I can't help wonder, if roots of her mental illness was due to inner conflict of breaking the moral code of the day. I watched her little hoochie coocher dance. Quite mild compared to today's strippers!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, 2 besure! I think you're dead on it with that observation. From everything I've read, she seemed very naïve about what she was doing at the time she was doing it, but when her work ended up as part of the hearings on pornography, it really made her pause.


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice hub with hot pics,thanks for sharing.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Crystolie, glad you enjoyed!


MelissaDipuccio profile image

MelissaDipuccio 5 years ago

I am obsessed with Ms. Bettie Page, and have been for years. Nice hub =]


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Melissa, If you have to be obsessed, there are worse things to be obsessed over! You need to meet my friend, tess45!


Suncoastflausa 5 years ago

Such a beautiful woman with such a tragic life. I've followed her story for years. I thought she ranked right up there with MM. Thanks DIY. Nice story. Nice pics


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Suncoast. Hear she's buried near Elizabeth Taylor now, two gorgeous brunettes together. I know she'd be happy about that!


BRIAN SLATER profile image

BRIAN SLATER 5 years ago from Nottingham Uk

This hub is pretty amazing, I didn't know her life story but have admired her pics for quite a few years. An amazing body, you would think she had treatment to get it like that.Phew!!


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

I forever had a crush on Bettie Page, even to this day. A classic beauty.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

You're right, AA, she really came along before "having work done" was the norm and she still looked amazing.


kirsteno profile image

kirsteno 5 years ago

I've never heard of her before this. Fascinating hub. You have to wonder what makes people like that tick. She was beautiful. I'd love to have her body even if I did have to have the surgeries to go with it :)


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Amazingly, she's achieved a kind of cult staus even today, Kirsteno. And you're not the only one who'd love to have her body! :)


Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

Jo_Goldsmith11 5 years ago

so sad a story but there were some high points too. She sure was beautiful! I voted up!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Thanks, Jo, she did have a very tragic life. But in the end, I really think she was at peace.


sabrebIade profile image

sabrebIade 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

Wow! I didn't even know this Hub existed until I read a forum post and tracked it down!

Very nice!

I think it's cool that her persona was so far reaching that the Rocketeer's girlfriend was based on her in a comic published almost 60 years after she was born!


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

Sabreblade, then we both learned something, because I didn't know this about the Rocketeers either! Had to look it up and yes, I think Bettie would've been thrilled about a cartoon character based on herself.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Boom chicka wah wah!! What a girl..

I'd never heard of this woman at all, so thanks for the great introduction. The pictures are terrific too.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

You're not kidding, Jane! She was pretty awesome and I think way ahead of her time. Her kind of beautiful was just as pretty then as it is today, a really amazing looking woman. Thanks for stopping by.


THAT Mary Ann 5 years ago

She was a beautiful woman-- and likely had more important talents than taking her clothes off in public-- who must have been very troubled. She was a debater in high school and voted "Most Likely to Succeed" - so she was no "dumb broad." Though she flirted with fame, she never really got to a place where she could be truly happy with herself. She also suffered from depression and spent years hospitalized in psychiatric care.

Beyond the strip tease, there is plenty in her story to make people sad.


DIYweddingplanner profile image

DIYweddingplanner 5 years ago from South Carolina, USA Author

So true, MaryAnn. She was beautiful AND inteligent, but found herself living in a time where possibly that wasn't so very appreciated. I often wonder what she could have done had she traveled another path or if mental illness would have followed no matter what.


Elyzabeth 14 months ago

It was great reading about Betty, and how some woman ended up trying to get ahead in life and finding using their talented bodies!!'

I have had that secretary job, and tried and struggled all my life. Man judge you no matter what. I did not succeed in career, but I just like Betty, have come to turns with my life! And love me for who I am.

Thanks for sharing her life & struggles.

Elyzabeth

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