“I was never the girl next door.”
From Katy Perry’s Bettie bangs to Dita Von Teese’s fetish modeling career to Olivia de Berardini’s beautiful artwork, Bettie Page has influenced pop culture far beyond the few years in the 50’s when she reigned as “Queen of Curves.” Bettie was full of contradictions: innocent and naughty, shy and extroverted, sweetly smiling in one photo, seductively scowling in another. Her iconic smile gleams from the black and white photographs, reflecting her fun-loving personality.
Bettie was born on April 22, 1923 (she was a Taurus like me!) in Nashville Tennessee. She was the second of six children, and started helping take care of her younger siblings when she herself was still very young. Disagreements between Bettie’s mother and father led to a divorce, which caused financial turmoil in the family. Only 10 years old, Bettie’s mother placed Bettie and her two sisters in an orphanage as she worked two jobs to save money for financial stability.
As a teenager, Bettie and her sisters imitated the makeup and hair styles of their favourite motion picture stars. Bettie learned to cook and sew at a local community center. Her sewing skills would come in handy in later years when she started making her own costumes to model in.
Bettie wasn’t just a pretty face, she was very intelligent. She graduated as Salutatorian of her class and won a $100 scholarship to attend Peabody College in pursuit of a degree in education. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1944, but became more and more interested in an acting career.
Bettie moved to San Francisco to be with her first husband, Billy Neal, and there launched her modeling career at a local furrier, where she modeled fur coats for customers. For the next few years she traveled from San Fransisco to Nashville to Miami, to as far away as Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When she returned to the United States in 1947, the free-spirited Bettie, unhappy with her marriage, filed for divorce and moved to New York.
In 1950, she met by a chance of fate Jerry Tibbs, who was a police officer with an interest in photography. Tibbs took photos of Bettie, putting together her first pinup portfolio and introducing her to many other photographers like Cass Car. Tibbs was also the one who recommended that she cut her bangs. In Bettie’s own words:
“[Jerry Tibbs was] the one who got me wearing bangs. For years I had my hair parted down the middle in a ponytail, tucked down around the sides. But he said to me, ‘Bettie, you’ve got a very high forehead. I think you’d look good if you cut some bangs to cover it.’ Well, I went and cut the bangs, and I’ve been wearing them ever since. They say it’s my trademark.”
In a matter of months, Bettie’s pinup career began to gain momentum, posing in magazines like Wink, Eyeful, Titter, and Beauty Parade.
Bettie also studied acting at Sea Cliff Summer Theatre in Long Island as a student of Herbert Berghoff. With his encouragement, she scored roles in various New York performances and television appearances, like the Jackie Gleason Show.
In 1955, Bettie won the title “Miss Pinup Girl of the World.” That year, she was featured as the centerfold in Playboy’s January issue, wearing only a Santa hat, kneeling in front of a Christmas tree with an ornament in hand and playfully winking at the camera.
While living up north, she vacationed often in Florida, where she would pose for photographers Jan Caldwell, H.W. Hannau, and Bunny Yeager, who featured her in many outdoor photo shoots. In 1957, Bettie left New York for good and moved to Florida, ending her pinup model career at the height of her popularity. The reasons for her leaving the modeling industry range from her investigation by the United States Senate Committee Investigation (after a young man reportedly died from a bondage session, inspired by bondage images of Bettie Page) to her conversion to born-again Christianity.
For the next couple of decades, Bettie faded into obscurity, but regained a cult following in the 80’s and 90’s. She became a popular symbol of 1950s erotica, and gave a few interviews in her later life about her pinup career. In a 1998 interview with Playboy, she summed up her view on her former pinup modeling days by saying:
I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.
Full name : Bettie Mae Page
Birth date : April 22, 1923
Born : Nashville, Tennessee
Height : 5 feet 5 1/2 inches
Weight : 128
Marriages : Billy Neal (1943 – 1947), Armond Walterson (1958 – 1963) and Harry Lear (1967 – 1972)
Children : none
Hair color : black
Eye color : blue-gray
Measurements : 36-23-35
Education : Bachelor of Arts degree from Peabody College
Favorite actress : Bette Davis in Dark Victory