bettie page

bettiepage

I woke up this morning to hear of the death of iconic pin-up girl Bettie Page.  She’d suffered a heart attack a little over a week ago and so the news wasn’t a surprise but it’s still sad.  My first exposure to the lovely Bettie was through the late Dave Stevens‘ marvelous The Rocketeer comic book in the mid-1980s, where “Betty” (later named Jenny and played by Jennifer Connelly in the 1991 film of the same name) was idealized in pen and ink for a new generation of (mostly) young men who had never yet seen any of her original nudie, bondage, and cheesecake photos from the late 1940s and 1950s.  By the early 1990s, the Bettie Page revolution was in full swing and if you knew where to look, it wasn’t difficult to see her influence everywhere–books, movies, comic books, postcards, posters, porn.  And if it wasn’t the dirty, fun, girl next door Bettie herself, it was  some swishy hottie who wanted to look and be just like her.  Remember that hot retro chick who used to work the bar down at your favorite watering hole, the one with the bangs, the sneer, and the purr every time Johnny Cash came roaring over the juke?  That was Bettie.  Revved-up for a new generation.

The real Bettie, the one beyond the image, didn’t have the easiest life after she quit posing for fetish pictures in the late 1950s.  She became a Christian, spent some time in Portland, Oregon (I was told when I lived there), Florida, and then eventually moved back to Los Angeles.  There were plenty of mostly downs and you can read more about that here, but it seems that in her final years Bettie recouped some of the money that had been made off of her image throughout the decades.

She’ll live on–in books, movies, comic books, postcards, posters, and porn.  Legends only grow hotter with the passage of time.

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uncle forry

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The great Forrest J. Ackerman, the man who unleashed countless monster kids into the world with the publication of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, died last night in Hollywood at the age of 92.  He will be missed.

I got a chance to meet Forry back in the late 1990s at the World Horror Convention in Phoenix, Arizona and he was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and some friends as well as show us the rings he received from the legendary Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  He also talked about those iconic masters of horror and I could have listened to Uncle Forry, as he was widely known as to his many fans, all night.  I always meant to journey down to Hollywood to visit his fabled Ackermansion, his treasure trove of a house filled with cinematic arcana devoted to science fiction, horror, and fantasy… but alas, I never did.

You can read more about the king of genre fandom here.

R.I.P.

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the triffids are back

I’ve long been a fan of John Wyndham’s apocalyptic science fiction novel Day of the Triffids.  For such a ludicrous concept–giant carnivorous plants, possibly man-made, stalk the earth and leave humanity dead, wounded, or scrambling to fight them off–the book is a gripping read, mostly due to how Wyndham superbly delineates the power struggles between the different gangs of survivors in the waning twilight of civilization.  The relatively mindless terror of the triffids is bad enough.  But with the added pressure of argued, reasoned, collectivized tyranny enforced by a group of soldiers upon our protagonists, it’s difficult to decide what grim fate is worse.

Published in 1951, Wyndham’s novel has influenced everyone from George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland (28 Days Later), as well as spawning two direct screen adaptations.  The first one was a 1962 version starring Howard Keel–sort of fun in a Saturday morning movie and cold cereal kind of way–and from what I can remember it’s not very faithful.  The other version, made for British television back in the early 1980s, lacks the cinematic oomph! that the story demands, but its earnest acting and faithfulness to the source material make it essential viewing.

Here’s a clip from it:

Now, 57 years since its original publication, Wyndham’s monstrous veggies are getting a new chance at life with news that the BBC has commissioned a new mini-series from writer Patrick Harbinson (ER, Law & Order).  The show won’t hit television screens until 2009, so if you’ve never read the book… you have plenty of time to rectify that.

I’m not sure if the majority of Americans truly understand how vibrant triffids are to the collective imagination of people hailing from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  It’s sort of like the difference between Dr. Who in England (it’s part of the culture at large, not relegated to cult status) and Star Trek in the States (cult phenom).  Triffids are part of the culture.  Here in Ireland, hidden away in the wilds, I was more than amused hearing people toss out the word “triffid” to describe an overgrown plant or savage looking nettle.  Thank the gods above and below that I haven’t seen any plant(s) actually move around in the jungle of weeds behind our cottage, but there is a rather large and intimidating looking beast of a plant nestled between the back door and the window that distresses me.  The cat seems to like it, though, so I’m not completely ready to burn it down yet.  But at the slightest sign of aggression… it’s broccoli.

You can read more about the allure of triffids and the perverse love of watching the end of the world in films here.