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FDL Movie Night: Bettie Page Reveals All

Bettie Page–whatta gal! The brunette bombshell was the the number one pin-up girl of the post-war era, who suddenly disappeared at the peak of her career in 1957, and became a cultural icon. This intimate film, Bettie Page Reveals All, narrated by Page from interviews before her death in 2008 and directed by tonight’s guest Mark Mori, details her childhood, her career, and her extraordinary life. Page’s throaty drawl is mixed in with interviews, including Hugh Hefner, photographers who worked with her, past lovers, and her dedicated fans. Plus the film reveals for the first time unpublished images of Page, as well as providing a compendium of her many photos from childhood through career.

Born in Tennessee during the Depression, molested by her father (she only let him touch her on the outside, she explains), she married her hometown sweetheart before he shipped off to World War II divorcing him after he returned. Bettie worked as a secretary in New York City before she was discovered by an amateur photographer who suggested she cut her hair with bangs, who introduced her to camera clubs–groups of men who would pay to shoot models, a way to circumvent restrictive anti-pornography laws. Bettie’s sweet face, charm, enthusiasm, and healthy, curvy body made her a favorite with the clubs and she became a regular with Irwin Klaw’s studio, shooting stills and “specialty” 8mm and 16mm films, dressed in bikinis and costumes she made herself. She was photographed in Florida by Bunny Yeager, becoming Playboy’s 1955 January centerfold.

For Bettie cheesecake and fetish was simply a way to make a living, and her story points out an economic reality still at play today:

I had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift. But I could make more money in a few hours modeling than I could earn in a week as a secretary.

The 1950s were a repressive time, and Bettie represented a joyous celebration of sexuality, one which fell afoul of  Senator Estes Kefauver and the Postmaster General. Bettie was called before

those creeps, Kefauver and his committee

but refused to testify against Klaw. The Kefauver hearings, coupled with an all-too revealing photo shoot (the only time she ever got drunk), prompted Bettie to simply move away to Nashville. She married again, and during a difficult time in her marriage walked into a church and found Jesus. She became an instant convert.  She had divorced her husband, but remarried him because of pressure from the church, although the re-marriage was annulled after he tried to strangle her. Bettie married again, divorced again and moved to Bible Village in Florida, where she suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Her third husband helped her to move to California where she was again hospitalized for almost two years. After her release, she drew a knife on her landlady, was arrested and plead insanity. She was sentenced to ten years in Patton Hospital, in San Bernadino, CA.

During the late 1970s, Bettie’s images were rediscovered and popularized by painters Eric Stanton, Robert Blue and Olivia De Berardinis, while graphic novelist Dave Stevens created a character based on her in his work The Rocketeer, which was made into a film by Disney. Geg Theakston’s comic book The Betty Pages furthered the pin-up’s fame, though she was unaware of the books about her and the legions of girls wearing her signature bangs. Her style became an inspiration for fashion designers like Gaultier and Mugler. Rumors swirled about her: That she was dead, slinging hash, passing out pamphlets for Billy Graham (the latter was true!)

Thanks to her dedicated fans, Bettie was tracked down. She met her loyal supporters, including Hugh Hefner who assisted her in getting proper representation for the licensing of her image, allowing her to live comfortably. Bettie remarked that she was now making more in one year than she had made in seven years of modeling. She delighted in seeing the books about her and the action figures and other consumer goods manufactured in her image, thrilled that her work had held up for decades.

Bettie Page exuded sexuality, but without being a tramp. She was joyful, exuberant and playful, always nice even while being very naughty. She represented sexual liberation, freedom, lack of inhibition. Her influence can be seen over the last forty years in high fashion, street style and music. She was completely revolutionary: Brunette, fetishy, self-created, formed the look to her costuming, and the mystery surrounding her and her subsequent re-emergence only heightened her mystique. And what does Bettie say of her career?

I was just doing my job and enjoyed every bit of it.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.