Bettie Page passed away last Thursday at the age of 85. A lot of eloquent things have been said about her but what interests me is how much information I have read about her has been wrong. I have read articles that have implied Betty was personally discovered by Hugh Hefner himself while other accounts focus on her turn to religion as if it was some sort of huge contradiction to the person she was.
I guess it is to be expected. She existed to millions of people as an image. Like any great piece of art, people brought their own interpretations to Bettie’s beauty. In the BDSM community she is often embraced as a symbol of the playfulness of BDSM. To others she is a queen of glamor. Artists have copied her likeness to their own works and perpetuate her legend independent of what Bettie made. In far too many cases other people made far more money from Bettie than Bettie did. I guess that is what happens when you tap into something so many people recognize. You become public property like any good myth.
Bettie Page in my mind is a modern goddess. I have full faith that ages from now, archeologists will be trying to figure out who this sexy dark banged girl was. Their theories will be outlandish, fantastic, mythic and ultimately correct. Her sexuality is universal.
Instead of talking about Bettie’s life, I thought I would mention a few things I know about Bettie Page that seem to be omitted from the obituaries I have read. There are so many fascinating parts to her life that the truth is far more interesting than what I have been reading.
1. She made a lot of her own costumes. What we often equate as Betty Page-like fashions were things Bettie made herself. Weird bikinis and odd colors were hand sewn by her. It’s one thing to be beautiful but I have always admired the creative sort more.
2. She wasn’t crazy about the movie of her life, ‘The Notorious Bettie Page’. She felt it was outright wrong in quite a few places and openly heckled parts of it at a screening.
3. Bettie Page had a revival in the 80’s as many artists appropriated her likeness, but it was Dave Stevens who made a point of searching for her to see if she was alive and could receive royalties. He helped her cash in on her own fame, which helped live a comfortable life in retirement. That is a lesson for all of us. It is one thing to be a fan, but it is another thing to take care of the thing you love.
4. Bettie went through a lot of shit from her family and her boyfriends all her life, yet somehow managed to be a sweetheart to everyone who met her. That takes an amazing heart.
5. My favorite Bettie quote was about her status as a role-model. “I wasn’t trying to be anything,” she insists. “I was just trying to be myself.” That’s why I think we love her so much.