“She was always a very, very intense person.”
Bettie Page is an icon–no argument about that. In Richard Foster’s book, The Real Bettie Page, the author reveals the unknown history of the 50s pin-up model. Bettie’s career was sadly all too brief, but many outstanding photographs and films remain. Bettie Page’s unstable and unhappy childhood was fraught with poverty. She always dreamed of being an actress and stumbled accidentally into modelling in 1950. Initially posing for photography groups, Bettie soon became an extremely popular model for amateur photographers. In the early 50s, Bettie began working for Irving Klaw, and together they produced such classics as Teaserama and Jungle Girl Tied to Trees. An FBI investigation of Klaw’s business put an end to the relationship between Bettie and Klaw–and Bettie’s brief modelling career ended as she sank into oblivion.
Foster’s book brings Bettie Page back into the public eye, but I would probably guess that she wouldn’t be too thrilled about it. Foster tracks Bettie’s religious conversation and an almost 20 year odyssey through mental institutions for numerous charges (including attempted murder). It really doesn’t make for pretty reading, and after reading the book, I was left with a feeling of overwhelming sadness.
Bettie Page was a very controversial figure in the 50s, and yet her relationships with men were really rather unremarkable. While she was married 3 times, she turned down many offers to the ‘casting couch’–even though she was quite aware that she had the opportunity to ‘advance’ her career. I would imagine that the author’s exhaustive research would have uncovered all of Bettie’s lovers–and again, the 50s goddess had remarkably few.
At the end of the book, the author has included numerous Bettie Page websites, and a “Catalogue of Curves”–a list which includes the films Bettie made, books about Bettie, and Bettie Page magazines layouts. The Real Bettie Page also includes many photographs of Bettie too. Foster spends some time weighing the possibilities that Bettie posed for “additional shots,” and there is some significance to this question as certain shots would be judged obscene by 1950s FBI standards. The author weighs evidence for and against these additional shots and other career-related rumours. It seems such a tragedy that Bettie profited so little from her work. Foster admires Bettie Page–that’s clear, and the creation of the book was no simple task. But the book isn’t a homage, it’s an expose, and a fascinating read for fans.