Bettie Page (April 22, 1923 Nashville, Tennessee – December 11, 2008) was a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men’s magazines and private stashes across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the cultural revolution of the rebellious ’60s. Bettie has often been called the “Queen of Pinups”. In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million locker doors and garage walls.
But Bettie wasn’t just a hottie, in high-school she was almost a straight-A student, graduating second in her class. She graduated from Peabody College, a part of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but a teaching career was brief. “I couldn’t control my students, especially the boys,” she said. She tried secretarial work, married Billy Neal in 1943 and moved to San Francisco, where she modeled fur coats for a few years. She divorced Mr. Neal in 1947, moved to New York and enrolled in acting classes.
She had a few stage and television appearances, but it was a chance meeting that changed her life. On the beach at Coney Island in 1950, she met Jerry Tibbs, a photographer who assembled her first pinup portfolio. Bettie was one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine. “I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society,” Hugh Hefner told the Associated Press. In 1955, she won the title of “Most Beautiful Pin Up Girl in the World” and became known as “The Dark Angel” and “The Queen of Curves.”
Money and offers rolled in, but in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, converted to born-again Christianity, and for three decades her private life — two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental illness, years of seclusion in Southern California — was a mystery to all but a few close friends. For years Ms. Page lived on Social Security benefits. After years of obscurity, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s when a a Bettie Page renaissance began. She inspired many artists. David Stevens immortalized her as the Rocketeer’s girlfriend. Fashion designers revived her look. Uma Thurman, in bangs, reincarnated Bettie in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” and Demi Moore, Madonna and others appeared in Page-like photos. There were Bettie Page playing cards, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts and beach towels. Her saucy images went up in nightclubs.
In recent years Bettie steadfastly refused to be photographed. “I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2006. “I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.”
On December 6, 2008, Bettie Page was hospitalized in critical condition. Her family eventually agreed to discontinue life support, and she died at 18:41 PST on December 11, 2008. She is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Her headstone, not far from the crypt of Marilyn Monroe, lists her name as “Bettie Mae Page” and includes the legend “Queen of the Pin-Ups”.