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December 12, 2008

Bettie Page, R.I.P.

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I was sorry to learn that the legendary pinup model Bettie Page has died. She was 85 and had suffered a heart attack. The L.A. Times' Louis Sahagun writes a lovely obit. Sahagun was one of the last reporters to spend time with Page, back in 2006. He wrote up the visit here. I enjoyed "The Notorious Bettie Page," Mary Harron's recent biopic starring a brilliant Gretchen Mol as Bettie, and wrote about it here.



UPDATE: Tributes from Jeremy Richey and Susie Bright. Charlton Griffin turned up this Bettie mashup. In this vid, Bettie shakes her tailfeather.

posted by Michael at December 12, 2008


Michael, I'm not sure what Page embodies for you. Somehow, she fits within your "sex is just for fun" outlook.

Is it?

Damned if I know. One of the most difficult lessons that I learned from Myrna's death is that beauty and sexual happiness are transitory. You think you know this, but you don't... not really... until you experience it.

I've read interviews with Page, and she does express considerable regret over her past, particularly her sexual actions.

The New York Times lists Page's obituary on the front page, and credits her with some role in that great, amorphous "sexual revolution," whatever in the world that is. I've learned to despise the Times so much that I'm inclined to hate anything that pleases the Times, in particular the brain damaged homosexual worship that has inexplicably seized the literary idiots.

The virtues of that revolution are obvious: personal expression, relief from enforced marriage, freedom from unwanted child bearing.

The negatives shouldn't be swept under the rug: eternal adolescence as a "lifestyle," childlessness... and the ultimate... aborted pregnancies now exceed live births in most developed countries. If you want an explanation for the brutal crudeness of young women, look no further than the license we have given them to murder their own children.

I used to believe in the "progress" model of human society. Now, in my old age, I believe in the "cyclical" model. The progress of the sexual revolution now looks to me like something that has happened repeatedly throughout human history. As societies become rich and jaded, people flee from responsibility and childrearing.

You can't prevent the individual for making this decision. The overall direction of society is not really the individual's concern. The individual's concern is: "What can I get out of my life right now?"

I look at things the same way in my personal life. Having said that, I don't see the sexual revolution leading our society in a positive direction. We're headed downhill. What serves the pleasure of the individual doesn't necessarily serve the needs of the society at large.

Check out the video of "Sinner Blues " on my website. In her interviews, Page seems remarkably aware that she was a sinner.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 12, 2008 8:48 AM

Just a fact check here, ST. AFAIK, Russia is the only more-or-less developed country where more than 50% of pregnancies have been in the recent past. Western Europe is mostly in the 10%-30% range.

Posted by: intellectual pariah on December 12, 2008 9:43 AM

In memorial...


Posted by: Charlton Griffin on December 12, 2008 11:18 AM

Page starred in a few mainstream movies too, didn't she?

Posted by: P Roberts on December 12, 2008 3:06 PM

Wow, ST. Thanks to your enlightening comment, we now know that Bettie Page caused the decline and fall of western civilisation in the post-war years. I mean, who knew?

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 12, 2008 6:44 PM

Completely OT, but I just noticed that F. von B. left an interesting, rather anguished comment/question over at Krugman's NYT blog. Topic under discussion: Prudent Germans are bad guys for holding back from feckless, wastrel Anglo-Saxons' reindeer games. (No disprespect meant to the memory of Miss Page. Just thought the locals might be interested.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on December 12, 2008 7:32 PM

Betty Page never did it for me.
Tacky more than sexy.
Eve Marie Saint, in North by Northwest, Lordy!..........smoking even with her clothes on!

Yeah Germans! And Poles by the way.Isn't it great how we paint them as bad guys for being prudent.

Moira, you might be interested in this article.

(shameless self promotion)

Posted by: slumlord on December 12, 2008 9:59 PM

I'm with the Krauts on this one. Everybody else engages in stupid games led by the US and UK and they have to pay?

Posted by: SFG on December 13, 2008 10:00 AM

"Wow, ST. Thanks to your enlightening comment, we now know that Bettie Page caused the decline and fall of western civilisation in the post-war years. I mean, who knew?"

Well, Peter, that's certainly summarizes what I said.

To be more to the point, Page seemed to have a much more ambivalent outlook on her life as a pinup model and leader of the sexual revolution than her acolytes.

From reading her interviews, I can see clearly that she harbored great reservations about her past actions, that she in some way regretted a lot of what she had done, and that she was more than a bit mystified by the determination of her followers to exalt a part of her life that she couldn't quite embrace.

At the worst are characters like Susie Bright, who seem determined to somehow mate feminism with... whatever that silly stuff she carries on is all about. Apparently, screwing around a lot is the key to everything. Bright is carrying on a mind boggling idiot war against... whatever it is that she thinks she's carrying on a war against.

The sexual revolution has spawned a cult of idiocy that Page didn't understand and didn't embrace.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 13, 2008 3:42 PM

ST, this is one of those times I agree with you. Susie Bright is one of yer "sex positive" feminists (I think that's what they call it). She notices, acknowledges, but still doesn't seem to quite realise, that Bettie Page was not altogether positive about sex or about her past.

Posted by: alias clio on December 13, 2008 9:56 PM

Bettie Page reminds me of Marilyn Monroe in that her sexiness had an underlying cuteness and sweetness to it. And of course the sexual abuse and breakdowns.

Posted by: hello on December 14, 2008 12:21 AM

Yes, tis a day to doff our hats.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on December 14, 2008 12:48 AM

Maybe I'm nuts, but the whole Bettie-Page-as-forerunner-of-the-sexual-revolution thing seems to me like a desperate attempt to bring relevancy to a pretty obvious subject. Some people feel uncomfortable saying, "Hey, she was bright and silly and fun and clumsy and generous and fearless and sexy and she looked really great naked--and thank god for that!" Because that would be sexist, or something.

After all, there were scores of pin-up models back in the day. Were they all forerunners of...something? Or were they just cute chicks using their looks to scrape by? Lord knows, we guys are always willing to drop a few bucks for a bit of feminine skin and personality, and there always seems to be a portion of the female population willing to help us out in some fashion. (And thank god for that!)

I love Bettie. I love seeing her big smile, especially when she's doing one of those wonderfully clunky little dances. She seems to be having real fun--to be really involved with herself and her performance. But she also appears to be enjoying the act of sharing all that she has to give (that's where her sweetness comes from).

If she were young today, I suspect we'd all be having fun watching her play dress-up on Youtube.

Posted by: Ron on December 15, 2008 9:06 AM

I agree with Ron that calling Bettie a big factor in the "sexual revolution" is an overstatement. I think an obit in the Times (not sure if it was NY or LA) pushed the notion.

There indeed were lots of pinups during the height of her career -- and before. True, not so many were photos of actual women. That's because many calendar pin-ups (the kind I used to see on service station garage walls as a kid) were illustrations. So why not claim as harbingers of the "revolution" such people as Rolf Armstrong, George Petty, Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren. Oh yeah, can't do that 'cause they were guys.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 15, 2008 11:41 AM

I suspect that there are thousands of men who owe Bettie Page a debt of gratitude for moments of solitary pleasure during their adolescence.

I discovered Bettie in reprints of her 50s work in a store that had a rack of used periodicals. Ironically, I could buy this stuff, which featured a lot of Page's nude work, even though I could not buy Playboy.

Page was not the only pinup, but I liked that a lot of her poses were natural, and minimized the use of stupid props -- fishnets, corsets, heavy makeup and other stuff that might be used to make her "sexy." Instead, she offered a more natural, and more womanly sensuality. It may have helped that some of her photos were taken by Bunny Yager, a woman, rather than by a male photographer, since some men are more mechanical and unimaginative in depictions of sexuality.

I am sorry that Page's life was not happier. I am glad that in later life, Hugh Hefner helped contribute toward her living expenses. It was a nice, and gentlemanly gesture.

I agree that Page was not a harbinger of the sexual revolution, and some of her early work was related to typical sexual hypocrisy. Camera clubs were an excuse to give guys and opportunity to take nude photos. We've come a long way now that people are taking nude photos with their cell phone cameras and sending them to friends.

RE: What serves the pleasure of the individual doesn't necessarily serve the needs of the society at large.

Sounds good to me. I love the line in the Declaration of Independence about individual pursuit of happiness. Note that there is nothing there about the necessity of serving the needs of society at large.

Posted by: Alec on December 15, 2008 4:03 PM

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