Bondage Babe Bettie Page Dies at 85

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Bettie Page in the 1950's.

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Jan. 1972: Police alerted Harry to an incident at Bible Town, a ministry retreat in Boca Raton. "Bettie was running through the motel complex, waving a .22-caliber pistol and shouting about the retribution of God." Harry, taking pity on his volatile ex-wife, brought her home to stay with him and his children — Larry, 16, and Linda, 12.

Apr. 13, 1972: Bettie brandished a knife and forced Harry and the kids to pray before a portrait of Jesus. "If you take your eyes off this picture," she shouted, "I'll cut your guts out!" Foster reports that she was charged with breach of the peace and confined in Jackson Memorial, a state hospital, for four months. Then Harry took her back home.

Oct. 28, 1972: Hialeah policeman Tom Fitzpatrick was called to the Lear household, where Bettie was tearing the place up. He sat her in the patrol car while he took a statement from Harry. Returning to the car, Fitzpatrick "saw Bettie in the back seat, with her dress pulled up, panties around her knees, masturbating with a coat hanger that the officer had left" there. His report: "defendant psycho." Assault and battery and disorderly conduct charges were dropped after she recommitted herself to Jackson Memorial, where she spent six months, part of it under a suicide watch.

Apr. 19, 1979: Having relocated to Southern California, living in Lawndale in a trailer owned by her neighbors Esther Trevin, 67, and Esther's 77-year-old husband, Bettie, unprovoked, attacked the woman with a knife and was subdued by Mr. Trevin, who, after warning Bettie to drop the knife, knocked her out with a crescent wrench. Charged on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, Bettie was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The following year she was sentenced to five years' confinement at Patton State Hospital. Just seven months later, on her doctor's recommendation, she was released.

June 12, 1982: At four that morning, while a boarder in the Santa Monica home of Leonie Haddad, she entered the bedroom of her sleeping landlady, straddled her and shook her awake, brandishing a foot-long serrated bread knife and whispering, "God has inspired me to kill you!" She attacked Haddad, Foster writes, "slicing her from the corner of her mouth to her ear ... Bettie stabbed Haddad four times in the chest, narrowly missing her heart... stabbed the hand eight times, severing the top of Haddad's third finger." When brought to court, "Bettie pleaded not guilty but changed her plea to not guilty by reason of insanity after two California Department of Medical Health doctors testified that she was insane and had confessed to the attack." She was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in Patton. She stayed there until 1992.


Late in life, the real Bettie Page apparently buried, or tamed, her demons. In 2003, when she was 80, she finally posed for a public picture, her first in more than four decades that wasn't taken by a police photographer. Her hair was gray, but the bangs and the apple cheeks and the Edenic smile were there, undiluted. The octogenerian Bettie still took a great closeup.

Maybe it's a mistake to ask who Bettie was. Watching her dance, or being touched by her smile, or monitoring the inane dedication she brings to tying up or getting tied down, viewers may get the feeling they know Bettie Page the person, when all they're getting is what Bettie Page the performer wants them to see. She gave her audience what artists impart: the illusion of knowing someone. Indeed, it may be a tribute to the mystery of Bettie's personality that neither Mary Harron's biopic nor the host of Bettie-maniacs, young and old, could penetrate it.

Besides, any full-time movie lover is a closet Platonist. We believe that the truth is up there on the screen — that the shadows on the wall have more validity than the people who put them there. To her generations of fans, the real Bettie Page is that two-dimensional image, forever young, tender, sexy and smiling.

See pictures of Bettie Page.

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