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Bettie Page: Posed for Our Sins

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The pinup model who wanted to be a missionary...

  Bettie Lost and Found

In some ways it's a great irony: scores of men and women have found their own eroticized interpretations of god in the image of Bettie Page, yet Page herself found god sometime in the late 1950s. As she explained in a 1997 Playboy interview, she repented what she'd come to see as her sins: sex, nude modeling, and a little shoplifting in college. She wanted to become a missionary, but was denied that role by church superiors because she'd been twice divorced.

It was during this time that deeper psychological problems began to manifest. As minutely detailed in Richard Foster's controversial but seriously researched 1997 biography, The Real Bettie Page, she became delusional in her fifties. In two separate incidents, she attacked her landlords with knives. Page was judged not guilty by reason of insanity both times, which ultimately led to years of institutionalization. While Page herself spent much of the '80s in and out of California mental institutions, her mystique endured.

  The Merging of Woman and Image

With examples of her charismatic beauty once again abundant in the 80s, Page sprang up fresh in the erotic awareness of new generations. Still, nobody seemed to know where she was, until a Tennessee newspaperman's legwork led to an interview with one of her brothers, and eventually the lady herself popped up in 1992, interviewed in, of all venues, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Contrary to the show's title, she told host Robin Leach that she was “penniless and infamous.”

Two books published in the mid-90s did their best to piece together the story of Page and her eponymous image. An authorized biography entitled Bettie Page, The Life of a Pinup Legend, written with Page's cooperation, gave a visual overview of her career with a bit of information, but it didn't discuss her later mental and legal difficulties, a task that was tackled by the aforementioned The Real Bettie Page. That latter book revealed that at the time Page was becoming a cultural icon of greater fame than she had ever known in the 50s, she was hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia. According to the book, she learned about her new fame from seeing a report about herself on television while in still in a California hospital. The 2005 biopic The Notorious Bettie Page was based on the Foster book.

During her years living in obscurity, which were pre-Internet, Page's image was spread afar by magazines, collector's cards and comic books. Once she returned to public view-in however limited a fashion, considering that she almost never allowed herself to be photographed, preferring to let fans remember her as she was-Page ultimately connected with admirers and protectors like Dave Stevens and Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, as well as business people savvy enough to market her image and turn her into a “brand.”

CMG Worldwide, which also manages the images of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, claimed in a 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times that her official website had more than a half a billion hits over five years. In the last years of her life (she died in December 2008, at 85), she would visit their offices and sign paintings she'd posed for, which greatly increased their value. After all the years of dissonance, Page had reconciled enough with her image to profit from it.

While she never deserted her religious beliefs, thanks to years in therapy, Page returned to her earlier belief in the glory of the naked body. “God approves of nudity,” she told Playboy in 1997. “If [Adam and Eve] hadn't listened to the devil, they could have been nude all their lives and happy as larks. I always went around my apartment in New York totally nude.”

Bonnie J. Burton, author of the 1995 online essay “I Was a Teenage Betty,” told Richard Foster: “She makes sex seem okay instead of a sin.” Or, as Greg Theakston put it: “She wasn't like any other pin-up model of the 1950s because her smile reassured you that it was okay to feel good while looking at her pictures.”

And the truth shall set you free.



I think I've actually watched the movie of her life story. It's amazing how she changed the bondage business.



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