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.