Born on April 22nd, 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee,
Bettie Mae Page became one of the most infamous pin-up models in the U.S.A. Ms. Page's early family life was a chaotic one with incidents that had an impact on Ms. Page later in life. While some details are best left out, it should be noted Ms. Page did spend a year in an orphanage with her two sisters. Her father had been in jail and her mother struggled with two jobs while the girls were in the orphanage.
After their time in the orphanage, Bettie and her sisters would emulate their favorite actresses by creating dresses, costumes, trying on make-up and creating different hairstyles. It is this area that would later benefit Ms. Page as she would fashion her own bikinis and costumes, and most notably, her trademark bangs. Ms. Page's fashion, looks, and photo shoots also has had an impact of models and actresses generations later. It is also her gorgeous looks, demure manner, beautiful body, jet black hair and bangs, and her poses which has prompted many fantasy, pin-up and comic book artists to render her likeness. Artists like the late Dave Stevens
, as well as noted current pin-up and comic artists Olivia de Berardinis
, Jim Silke
, and Steve Woron
just to name a few.
Despite all the aforemention family hardships, Ms. Page excelled with her education, eventually becoming Salutatorian at Hame-Fogg High School on June 6th, 1940. She also received a scholarship to George Peabody College. At George Peabody, Bettie had initially wanted to pursue a career as a teacher but instead decided on acting the following year. While attending College, Bettie earned an income by typing for published author Alfred Leland Crabb. Bettie graduated from George Peabody College in 1944 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. It was also during her time at College that Bettie met up again with one of her High School classmates, William "Billy" Neal. They married prior to Neal's drafting into the Navy during World War II. Now Mrs. Neal, she traveled and lived in different locales such as San Francisco
, and in Haiti
. After returning to the U.S from Haiti, Bettie initiated her divorce.
Bettie eventually found her way to New York City
. It is during this time where Ms. Page's activities are not well known but it has been assumed she'd found work as a secretary or doing other type of clerical work. Not long after, Bettie was walking along the shore of Coney Island
when she was approached by Jerry Tibbs, a police officer and amateur photographer. He offered her job as a model for some pin-up shots and Bettie also received a portfolio featuring all the photos. Word quickly spread amongst photographers of the area (some of whom were a bit sleazy) and Ms. Page earned more work as a pin-up model for what was known as "camera clubs". Camera clubs were gatherings of men who would take photos of female models who would do pin-up and nude modeling and these photos would often be used in men's magazines of the 1950's. Ms. Page's photos wound up in a large number of these magazines, on front covers, back covers and as interior photos.
Irving Klaw, along with his sister, met Ms. Page during 1952 and gave her more work posing not only in pin-up style shots, but also as a bondage model as BD/SM themes were often used in the shots. Ms. Page would often appear wearing different outfits such as vinyl and leather skirts, pantyhose, high heels, and inncoent girl get-ups. She'd often appear with another female, and would have different roles ranging from the innocent troublemaker being spanked, to the dominating mistress who would mete out "punishment'. These photos were made available by Irving Klaw via his mail-order business as he placed ads in the men's magazines of the time. They proved to be very popular and helped propel Ms. Page's popularity and demand even higher. These original and reproduced photographs are still highly sought after by collectors. After her spotlight in front of the photo camera, Bettie had decided to pursue her dreams again of being an actress and hopefully a movie star. After enrolling in a studio for acting, Ms. Page found small roles in Off-Broadway plays and also landed few spots on T.V. most notably the Jackie Gleason Show.
Irving Klaw again approached Bettie for more work, but this time in front of a different type of camera, 8mm, for a few burlesque films titled Teaserama and Veritease. She also appeared in the films with burlesque stars Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr. After all the modeling work she'd done, Bettie took a vacation to Miami, Florida, a familiar locale to her. In 1954, while in Miami, Bettie again met a few photographers in the area, and one was model and aspiring photographer Bunny Yeager.
Bunny was very familiar with pin-up modeling, and it was her experience that helped provide some of the best photographs of Bettie Page, all of which are again highly sought after and popular with collectors. Shot on location in Boca Raton, Florida, at a theme park called Africa USA (shut down long ago), Bettie appeared in various shots and poses, some of which include her fishing in the nude on a boat, galavanting nude in the ocean and in the sand on the beach, with two cheetahs, and with actors dressed as African tribesman who had "captured" and tied Ms. Page to a tree.
Ms. Page later took it upon herself to submit a well known photo to a fledgling men's magazine of the time called Playboy. A Christmas themed photo, Ms. Page indeed appears nude, and it became the Centerfold in 1955. Also, this same photo has been re-made as a figurine and is likewise highly sought after by collectors when it rarely becomes available for sale.
A couple of years later after a break from modeling, the U.S. Government formed a "Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Deliquency". It was essentially a dog and pony show concocted by politicians and was also a bit of a generic witch hunt, due to the death of a teenager who'd supposedly imitated Ms. Page by practicing BD/SM. While it was never proven that Ms. Page's photographs were the reason behind the boy's death, Ms. Page was summoned before the U.S. Congress to testify to "explain" her photographs. The proceeding also forced Irving Klaw to destroy all of his photographs, negatives and films, although the majority of these were saved by his mail order customers and collectors. Klaw ended up bankrupt as a result. Fortunately, Ms. Page did not appear before Congress and the matter was eventually dropped, but the trial proceedings and stress of it had a negative effect on Ms. Page's mental well being.
Ms. Page later converted to Christianity and her involvement with churches and bible schools consumed a lot of her time, and it was also this decision, along with the stresses of the Senate hearings that prompted Ms. Page to discontinue her modeling career. After a few more failed marriages, including to her first husband, Ms. Page had two altercations while she lived in California and she was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, which explained her behavior and violent mood swings and past behavior. While this information is known, it is not necessary to relay all details.
Bettie Page is also a comic book character due to the fact her likeness began appearing in comic books during the 1980's, notably by Eros Comics and Pacific Comics, where writer and artist Dave Stevens
based his character The Rocketeer
's girlfriend, Betty, on Bettie Page. AC
and Black Cat Comics
also featured Bettie Page photos and comic strips, and artist Steve Woron
began a very popular line of pin-up comics called Betty Page the 50's Rage
It has become common to assert that Ms. Page's first name was often misspelled ... that it is spelled "Bettie" NOT Betty. It is also sometimes asserted that she changed the spelling of her name from Betty to Bettie as a young girl. However, she made many burlesque appearances, and many films with her name spelled Betty, even one in which she points to the poster with her name (spelled Betty) and then to herself. It is clear she spelled her name Betty well into adulthood.
The digest comic/fanzines published by Greg Theakston via Black Cat Comics provided a multitude of reproduced photographs of Ms. Page, along with detailed chronologies and encylopedic listings of Ms. Page's former appearances in men's magazines. There were stories and articles by Dave Stevens, as well as Jim Silke. Ms. Page again appeared as a comic character in Dark Horse Comics by writer and artist Jim Silke
who created fictional stories involving Ms. Page as various incarnations of characters, including Cleopatra. Ms. Page's popularity had seen a resurgence one she wasn't quite sure to make of and often refused to have her face photographed or televised when she would provide only a few interviews during this time until the late 1990's. The last known face photo of Ms. Page was in 2003 for a promo for Playboy magazine.
Bettie Mae Page never had any children, and eventually succumbed to a heart attack after suffering pneumonia. She lapsed into a coma and her family decided to remove Bettie off life support. She passed away on December 11th, 2008.