Bettie Page: Queen of Pin-Ups

Hello my beauties,

Exciting times in the ohsodelightful universe. I have decided to focus this blog purely on Vintage and Tutorials. Do not fear if you come here for the recipes and food they will have their own space on the web over at www.carnieandtheherb.com

Now that the big announcement has been made, today’s post is up next. The focus will be on Bettie Page today, she is a great source of inspiration for many people, and is one of my big loves in the pin-up world.

Bettie Page

With her jet black hair, pale skin, blue eyes and trademark “Bettie Bangs” Bettie Page was a pin-up model who had a significant profile in the 1950’s. Often referred to as the “Queen of Pin-Ups” she was resourceful, shrewd and offered a different look to the all american pin-up that was popular in that period.

As a teenager, Bettie Page and her sisters experimented with hairstyles and make up to get the latest styles and fashions in their own home. It was also at this point that Bettie learned to sew. These skills were useful in her later life too, even at the height of her fame she still sewed her own outfits and did her own stylings for the majority of her shoots.

After leaving high school and being voted “most likely to succeed” by her classmates; she married high school sweetheart Billy Neal in 1943. It was a simple courthouse ceremony before he was drafted into the army for World War Two. For the next few years she moved around, from San Francisco to Nashville, and to Miami and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And in 1947, back in the USA she filed for divorce.

Her early adult years were spent in California, and she eventually moved to New York to pursue a career as an actress. After meeting Officer Jerry Tibbs whilst walking alone along Coney Island shore, it was here that she began to find work as a pin-up model, and posed for dozens of photographers throughout the 1950’s. Tibbs suggested that she would make a good pin-up model, and in exchange for allowing her to shoot her, he would help her develop a portfolio. Officer Tibbs first suggested to Bettie that she get her trademark bangs to keep the light bouncing off her high forehead while she was being photographed.

In the late 40s, camera clubs were set up to circumnavigate anti nudity laws in the USA. These clubs existed to promote artistic nudes, but in reality many of these were fronts and a means to produce pornography. Bettie was a popular camera club model, and worked with Cass Carr to start. Her lack of inhibition soon made her a hit with her name and image becoming well-known within the erotic photography industry. In 1951, she had appeared in many men’s magazines including Wink, Titter, Eyeful and Beauty Parade.

Between 1952-1957, Bettie worked with Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Posing for mail-order photographs they had a pin-up and bondage theme which resonates heavily even today. Bettie became the first famous bondage model with this work and was also used in dozens of black and white ‘speciality’ showreels which catered to specific requests. These silent speciality showreels showed women in lingerie and high heels acting out abduction, domination, spanking and bondage with Bettie alternating between being the stern domme and the helpless sub often being bound hand and foot. Klaw also took still photos during this time. His highest selling photo, featuring Bettie shown gagged and bound in a spider’s web of rope still had the crude look like the “stag” films at the time, never featured any nudity or explicit sexual content and had an all female cast.

Of these images, Bettie later said.

“They keep referring to me in the magazines and newspapers and everywhere else as the “Queen of Bondage.” The only bondage posing I ever did was for Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually every other Saturday he had a session for four or five hours with four or five models and a couple of extra photographers, and to get paid you had to do an hour of bondage. And that was the only reason I did it. I never had any inkling along that line. I don’t really disapprove of it; I think you can do your own thing as long as you’re not hurting anybody else — that’s been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl. I never looked down my nose at it. In fact, we used to laugh at some of the requests that came through the mail, even from judges and lawyers and doctors and people in high positions. Even back in the ’50s they went in for the whips and the ties and everything else”

In 1953, Bettie began to take acting lessons at the Herbert Berghorf Studio, leading to several roles on stage and television. Appearing on a broad spectrum of pieces such as The United States Steel Hour, Sunday Costs Five Pesos, and acting and dancing in a feature-length burlesque film Striporama in which she was given a brief speaking role. These featured exotic dance routines featuring Bettie, Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm. All were risqué, but again none showed explicit content or nudity.

In 1954, during one of her annual holidays to Florida, Bettie met photographers Jan Caldwell, H.W Hannau and Bunn Yeagar. At this time, she was the top pin-up model in New York. Yeagar, who was a former model and now aspiring photographer, signed Bettie for a photo session at the now-closed wildlife park Africa USA in Boca Raton.

The Jungle Bettie shots from this shoot are easily her most celebrated. The leopard print Jungle Girl outfit, along with most of her lingerie by Bettie herself, and the shots include nudes with a pari of cheetahs.

After Yeagar sent shots of Bettie to Hugh Hefner, he selected one to use as Playmate of the Centerfold in January 1955. This famous shot shows Bettie wearing only a santa hat and playfully winking at the camera whilst holding an ornament. From this she became known as the “Queen of Curves” and “The Dark Angel” Outlasting many pin-up and glamour models, whose careers would usually span months, Bettie remained in demand for years continuing to model until 1957.

Image result for santa hat bettie page

The reasons  reported for Bettie’s retirement from modelling vary depending on the source. Some reports mention the Kefauver hearings of the United States Senate Special committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce. A young man apparently dies during a bondage session that was said to have been inspired by Bettie’s work. However, the most likely reason for the end of her modelling career was her conversion to born-again Christianity while she was living in Key West Florida in 1959.

I really enjoyed writing and researching this article about Bettie Page. She still fascinates me and I feel that I have the creativity in common with her when it comes to creating pin-up style clothing and accessories. She was a driven woman, and still brings joy and inspiration to people all over the world even today.

Stay tuned for more posts about the history of all of your favourite pin-ups and screen sirens. If you have someone you would like me to cover, contact me on Facebook, Twitter or send me an email.

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