Bye Bye Bettie


Bettie Mae Page (April 22, 1923 – December 11, 2008)

In her own gentle, playful way, she was a revolutionary. Maybe she never meant to be when she started modeling, yet there’s no denying Bettie Page’s impact, resonance, or relevance, even half a century later.

In her portraits, we recognize the purity and uncomplicated joy of nudity. We are encouraged by her bearing, her beauty, her humor, her sweetness (yes, even in those Klaw photos… especially in those!) to regard sensuality as one of life’s purest gifts, rather than something immoral or wrong.

It isn’t just her beautiful body or her iconic style that continues to captivate us all these years later. It’s her spirit. When we look into her face, her eyes seem to tell us that it’s going to be all right; we can relinquish our shame.

It is her smile that sets us free.

(Several portraits and quotes from Bettie Page after the jump. Under the circumstances, I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but…NSFW.)

Also, I don’t have photo credits for most of these. Apologies. If you have additional info about any of these images, shoot me an email. I’ll immediately add a byline.


Photo by Bunny Yeager

I don’t know what they mean by an icon. I never thought of myself as being that. It seems strange to me. I was just modeling, thinking of as many different poses as possible. I made more money modeling than being a secretary. I had a lot of free time. You could go back to work after an absence of a few months. I couldn’t do that as a secretary.

I made all of my bikinis and most of my lingerie. My favorite was my first bikini. It was green with a little rickrack all around it.


Photo by Don Whitney

[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.


Being in the nude isn’t a disgrace unless you’re being promiscuous about it. After all, when God created Adam and Eve, they were stark naked. And in the Garden of Eden, God was probably naked as a jaybird too!

I like being outdoors. I like to go cavorting in the nude in the forests. It is just another world. To take sunbaths in the nude.


Cover of Bizarre magazine.

The only person I did bondage for was Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually they would shoot four or five models every Saturday. He wouldn’t pay for the regular pictures unless we did some bondage. So I did bondage shots to get paid for the other photos


Photo by Irving and Paula Klaw

But I never whipped anybody in my life; it was all pretend. Under my arrangement with the Klaws, I had to do at least an hour of bondage poses in order to get paid for the other modeling work.


Photo by Irving and Paula Klaw

Paula [Klaw] was one of the nicest women I’ve ever known in my life-bar none. Only Paula was allowed to tie us up. She was very gentle, caring and considerate. She never tied any ropes too tight. She was very sweet.


Photo by Bunny Yeager

I love to swim in the nude and roam around the house in the nude. You’re just as free as a bird!

All I ever wanted was a mother who paid attention to me. She didn’t want girls. She thought we were trouble. She didn’t help with homework or teach me to sew or cook. She didn’t go to the school plays I was in or go to my high school graduation. When I started menstruating at 13, I thought I was dying because she never taught me anything about that.

I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer. I wasn’t trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time. I didn’t think of myself as liberated, and I don’t believe that I did anything important. I was just myself. I didn’t know any other way to be, or any other way to live.

(About her mother’s younger lover when he made a move on her) My mother nearly murdered me over that, then made me live with my father. So I couldn’t review my exam notes, which were at home. Because of that I got beat out of graduating valedictorian by a quarter of a grade point and lost my dream of getting a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University. It was the worst disappointment of my life.


Photo by Bunny Yeager

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.

I never was the girl next door.

I never kept up with the fashions. I believed in wearing what I thought looked good on me.

Young women say I helped them come out of their shells, and 13 rock groups have written songs about me. One song has these lyrics all the way through, “I love Bettie Page. I love Bettie Page. I love Bettie Page.”

It makes me feel wonderful that people still care for me… that I have so many fans among young people, who write to me and tell me I have been an inspiration.

I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times. . . . I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.

29 Responses to “Bye Bye Bettie”

  1. Brandy! Says:

    My favorite set of her was on the boat, with the fish. Those are my absolute favorite set. I will miss her a lot (even though I didn’t know her)!

    Oh and this interview with Bettie Page is really good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Ynlp7sxZs

  2. Medic Says:

    *sigh*

  3. elise wilson Says:

    I cried when I read this, Mer. What you just wrote about Bettie was beautiful. She’s always been a huge inspiration to me, and I’m glad that she lived the long life that she did.

    Thank you also for all those amazing quotes from Bettie… in this post, with the quotes you chose, I think you conveyed her spirit really well.

    Farewell, beautiful Bettie. Thank you for all the happiness and inspiration that you brought. I hope you have interesting travels in the beyond.

  4. Sera Noise Says:

    Farewell, Betty.
    Lovely life, soaring soul.

    Thank you miss Meredith for lovingly sharing with us, always.

    As miss Elise Wilson mentioned, you truly captured Betty’s beautiful essence.

  5. Nadya Says:

    Thanks for this, Mer. Farewell to the greatest pin-up legend who ever lived.

    In addition to the gorgeous images that you posted above, I’ve always been a fan of this image of her by Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer:

    I did a little bit of research on this image after reading your post, and learned that Dave Stevens died this year, too. He was only 52, and lost his life to leukemia. Turns out, he was good friends with Bettie. She was his idol growing up, and he styled the Rocketeer’s girlfriend after her. Years later, he met her here in California, and they became friends. He paid her for the use of her likeness in his comic (unlike… 99% of the people who have profited from her over the years, at a time when she struggled with poverty and was unaware of her cult fame). And he helped her become savvy about that sort of thing and get paid by companies that were somehow selling her image.

    I think that the story of Dave and Bettie’s friendship is so wonderful, the idea of a fan giving back to the person who inspired them in such a creative and kind way. I hope they’re having a drink somewhere on a cloud together right now.

  6. Johnny The Anomaly Says:

    the world is less beautiful today

  7. Anja Flower Says:

    Oh fuck, I cried too.

    Bettie Page’s photographs are beautiful and special, and all the more because, like you said, they’re NOT “dirty.” They’re not wink-wink-nod-nod sin-and-shame, they just celebrate the human body in all its wonder with a little dress-up, but no ego, no fooferah, just a genuine smile. I have a Bettie poster – the drawing by Olivia of her in a nurse outfit – pinned up above my bed so that I can see her as I go to sleep, and it is one of the most comforting things I own.

    Requiescat In Pace, Bettie Mae Page. A great artist has died among us.

  8. Domino Says:

    It was really sad to read about the negative impact that her mother had on her life.

  9. Kitty Napalm Says:

    I just commented to a friend that my favourite thing about Bettie was the fact that she was so genuine and never anyone but herself – and for such an icon to be so unassuming is a rare and lovely thing.

  10. john colby Says:

    She was THE source.

  11. Alice Says:

    I read about this last night just before bed…what a tragic thing to hear.

    I am, however, a little uplifted by her statements. I was under the impression (for some reason) that she became quite ashamed of her modeling career after finding religion, so I’m glad to see that she’s still proud of her pictures and was such an open, seemingly-free and happy person her entire life.

  12. Rex Parker Says:

    What’s amazing about Bettie is that most of the people I know who Love her are women. I mean, clearly men love her too, but the idea that a pin-up could become a source of inspiration and pride for a lot of (strong, independent, smart) women – that’s just phenomenal. There is a liberating and positive quality to her that comes out in every pic (even, ironically, the bondage stuff).

    rp

  13. Pamela Says:

    I’m happy to have known her through her photos. I think the world is a more wonderful place because of her. RIP Bettie, we all love you.

  14. David Forbes Says:

    Thanks Bettie, the world’s a sexier, more free place because of you. Rest in peace.

  15. Tequila Says:

    To say she left an impression on me is an understatement. She was THE catalyst for so many things in my life ranging from art to the exploration of sexuality…As THE pin up of last century and the muse for so many amazing artists across generations that her icon status was cemented long before she became a pop culture fixture in the 90′s.

    It’s hard not to love her for being so much to so many and really bringing quite a few kindred spirits closer.

    That smile, her enthusiasm, and honesty (both visually and later to herself) make her far more than just another pretty face or model…but a woman that each define in various ways for themselves and to those each of us inevitably introduce her to.

    @Nadya…thank you for mentioning Dave Stevens. If you hadn’t I would have. He was not only one of the nicest guys you could meet in the world of comics but an accomplished and brilliant artist who for many defined the look of Bettie to a whole new generation. It was a huge loss when he passed on but the relationship he forged with Bettie is one of the key things that allowed her to really see the genuine love people have for her…and it was no doubt what lead to Dark Horse Comics investing so much in her pop culture image.

    It should also be noted that famed artist Jim Silke was another key person in bringing Bettie back for so many both in his now iconic paintings & drawings of her and the incredibly fun Bettie Page Comics also for Dark Horse Comics.

    Also the master pin up artist Olivia did huge amounts to not only modernize and update Bettie’s famed beauty and charm but like Dave & Jim created THE definitive paintings of her for many of the last few generations. Her Bettie paintings rank as some of her most loved by fans as they explore each side of Bettie’s work from the cheesecake to the S&M and just plain fantasy so many had of her.

    For any who have not read Jim Silke’s Bettie Page: Queen of Hearts…do so. It’s been out forever via Dark Horse Comics and still stands as one of better overviews of her “revival” and features some fantastic art by Jim.

    Rest In Peace Bettie…

  16. January Says:

    What a beautiful post. Here I’m trying to get all tough before I go to get some work done on a painful tattoo, and *sniffle* now I’m all misty.
    Thanks for this- your choice of quotes and photos were perfect, perfect, perfect.

  17. Jerem Morrow Says:

    LOVE. :(

  18. R, Says:

    This was a beautiful post about a wonderful woman who inspired plenty of young women. She was one of those women that didn’t set out to do anything but have a little fun and along the way changed history and how we view sexuality. I’ll be having a Stella Artois in her honor tonight.

  19. cappy Says:

    Makes me sad, the coverage I read in my local newspaper today — I live in a very “conservative” place, and the article was about 1/5 Bettie’s Photography career, and 4/5 her conversation to Christianity. Enough to further ruin my day.

  20. Erin Says:

    I was never really a huge fan of Bettie, nor did her photos really appeal to me aesthetically, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the impact that she’s had on popular culture, and a multitude of lives all around the world.

    She had a good life, did her thing, made a huge impact and lived to the ripe old age of 85, so I can’t really be sad about that. Glad she graced us with her presence. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

  21. Rudi Says:

    I knew she was in bad health, but it’s still sad.

    When I was teaching myself how to draw and was having difficulty capturing the little nuances of the female figure, I started copying pictures from Bettie Page photoshoots. I guess you could say she was my first muse, and I’m sure I’m not the only artist who would say that.

  22. rebecca Says:

    this is among the best of all the Bettie posts I’ve seen in the past couple days. thanks for posting it.

    xoxo

  23. k paul blume Says:

    …but, happily, thanks to Stevens and Silke and Olivia and countless imitators and still more countless others who, like me, simply sighed whenever they saw her, Bettie’s image will survive.
    And with it, so will she.

  24. Jessica Says:

    Wonderful post Mer! Such an adorable, charming beauty she was. RIP.

  25. Nico Says:

    RIP Betty. she always seemed to be having so much fun, posing naked with fish or spanking another girl with a hairbrush!

  26. Eli Says:

    I was considering getting implants because I want to look attractive..but this just inspires me not to touch or abuse my body in that way and appreciate my natural bod.

  27. essylt Says:

    RIP Bettie… you will be missed!

    She was and will definitely remain one of my favorite models ever… She was such a beautiful woman, highly inspiring. No wonder she had such a great impact on so many girls (including myself!) thoughout the world. Thanks for the post and those stunning pics. It’s a great tribute and she deserves it.

  28. Io Says:

    Whether or not it was really true, one thing I loved most about Bettie was that she always showed sex as something enjoyable in a time where shame permeated women’s sexuality, non-exploitative even in her nudest and most hogtied states, and liberating far before it was trendy. For that, she will always be an icon for me and thousands of women after her.

  29. Sideshow Beastie | Goodbye, Sweetheart Says:

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