Bettie Page, 1923-2008

Bettie Page will tear you apart

You’d be forgiven for thinking, before yesterday, that Bettie Page, the black-haired, 1950s pinup girl with an unflappable commitment to the camera, above, wasn’t even a real person, but, like Uncle Sam, merely a symbol.

Indeed, her face and figure are so much a part of the last century’s random visual database—like images of the moon landing, the Spirit of St. Louis, or Elvis—you might even conclude that, if she was real, then she had to have been many different women—a composite like that other Betty, Crocker—all playing to a simple fantasy of middle American sexual vitality that has long disappeared under dust, but that got “our boys” through the Second World War, Korea, and the suffocating stuffiness of whitebread life in the mid-20th century.

Of course, she was real. In fact, Bettie Page was even her real name—Bettie May Page, to be precise. (That is, she was pre- the era of sex biz pseudonyms as a given.)

Bettie Page lets ‘em have it!When she died yesterday, at the age of 85, it wasn’t the end of an era. Certainly, her active years as a model finished so long ago that only the elderly recall them. But her influence, her embodiment of “the stereotypical wholesomeness of the Fifties and the hidden sexuality straining beneath the surface,” as authors Karen Essex and James L. Swanson described her aura in her authorized biography 1996’s Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend, informs and typifies one of the most durable types in American culture.

Page made that “hidden sexuality” open, visible, glaring. There was nothing demure about her. She was aggressive, and she never had a headache. What always amazed me about her photos was how completely unembarrassed she was, regardless of the pose. Holding a monkey? Love it. Legs up in the air? Having fun! Strapped face down over a chair while being spanked? This is great! No matter how absurd the setup, she always completely sold the shot.

In other words, she was a professional. It’s a quality crazily all too rare in this world. It separates one from the rest, even if they’re just smiling for pictures.


1 comment so far ↓

#1 sirensongs on 12.15.08 at 6:43 am

Not to be mean or anything, but just as a Buddhist meditation on impermanence I would like to see a photo of the elderly Page.

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