Bondage Babe Bettie Page Dies at 85

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Bettie Page in the 1950's.

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Born April 22, 1923, in Nashville, to a strictly Christian family, the future pin-up queen was more like a prom queen. Sunny and popular, Bettie May Page was a member of the high school debating team, appeared in theatricals and co-edited the literary magazine. Her grades (second highest average in the class) earned her salutatorian status on graduation day. She married Billy Neal, a good-looking football player from another school; she attended and graduated from George Peabody Teachers College, then headed for Hollywood, where in 1945 she landed a screen test at 20th Century-Fox.

Fox didn't sign Bettie. The story goes that she was sent packing after she rejected a studio executive's horny attentions. By her own account, it was not the first or last time that she had to decide whether to submit to a man's priapic predations. Late in life she declared that her father had sexually abused her as a child. She also described an incident in New York where a young fellow asked her if she wanted to go dancing and, when she got in his car, took her to a spot in Queens where she was forced to perform fellatio on a half-dozen men.

After a stop in Miami, Bettie arrived in New York City to pursue a serious career as an actress. Like thousands of other bright young things, Bettie auditioned for plays and films, without success, and got a few minor roles in early live TV. One afternoon, on the Coney Island beach, she was approached by a young off-duty policeman and asked if she'd pose for some pictures. Perform? Why not? Thanks to the cop, Jerry Tibbs, Bettie received her first lessons in modeling. Tibbs also offered Bettie some prescient advice: Wear bangs. The new hairdo hid her high forehead, provided a straight-line frame for her round face and her pert lips. Voila! She now looked like Bettie Page.

Soon she was posing for Camera Clubs — groups of amateur photographers, almost always men, who got to hone their craft and be near pretty women by taking cheesecake pictures. Professionals noticed her as well, and Bettie had a career as a skin-rag cover girl, though to her it was a rent-paying sideline to her acting studies. Why did she do it? Probably, because she was good at it. When the cameras clicked, her personality clicked on. No wonder she kept smiling.

She created an erotic illusion in men's minds — clouded and clarified them — without the airbrushing and soft focus of the Playboy nudes, without the sexy repartee that screenwriters gave Marilyn Monroe. Bettie was the sole creator of her myth; she was her own auteur. But her gifts were best appreciated in motion, not in repose. To express and exploit them fully, she needed to be liberated from the pages of Eyeful and Titter and be seen in pictures that moved. Enter Irving Klaw.

See pictures of Bettie Page.

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