Burlesque History

Bettie Page.

Bettie Mae Page.

Bettie was born April 22nd 1923 in Nashville Tennessee. She was one of six siblings.

As a teenager Page would play with make up and hairstyles with her sisters, copying their favourite celebrity looks (as many young girls today do) eventually she learnt how to sew, which came in handy when making her own clothes and later her own bikinis which many people attempted to copy and sell as their own designs.

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In 1940 she was voted ‘Most likely to succeed’ at Hume-Fogg High School. Page had her sights set on becoming a teacher and in 1944 she graduated George Peabody College with a bachelor of arts degree.

The following year Page wanted to become a movie star. She moved to New York to help her dream become reality. Whilst looking for her slice of fame she worked at the Rockefeller Centre as a secretary until 1950.

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One night whilst walking home through Coney Island she met a police officer called Jerry Tibbs. He was an amateur photographer off the clock and suggested that Page would make a great pin-up. He gave her his card and she agreed to the photo shoot. Jerry helped build her portfolio, but suggested that she should cut her hair into bangs to reduce the light reflection from her forehead.

Page was a quick success and rose to fame extraordinarily quickly in the photography and glamour photography world. She worked with the likes of Cass Carr, Bunny Yeager and Irving Claw. Her lack of body hang-ups made her easy and natural to photograph, especially in the erotic aspects of their art.

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By 1951 she had appeared in Wink, Titter, Eyefull and Beauty Parade.

in 1952 she started working with Irving Claw making mail order photos and videos featuring pin-up to BDSM on 6mm or 8mm film depending on what the client wanted.

in 1953 her acting classes paid off and she got on TV. She appeared on The US Steel Hour and the Jackie Gleason Show. However her arguably most famous appearance is in Striporama which even involved a speaking role.

Whilst working with Claw she worked alongside burlesque legends such as Tempest Storm and Lili St Cyr.

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In 1954 Page met Bunny Yeager (who was a former model herself) on one of her annual trips to Miami. Bunny and Bettie somehow got hold of two cheetahs called Mojah and Mbili, and thus created the Jungle Bettie set. These images were then published in Playboy, Selected by Hugh Hefner himself.

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Bettie Page was huge in the 50’s and was high in demand. in 1955 she posed for Playboy, in the same year she also won Miss Pin-Up Girl of the World.

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She was called the Queen of Pin-Ups and still is today, as well as Dark Angel and Queen of Curves. 

It’s believed that the Kefauver Hearings of US senate special to investigate crime in interstate commerce in 1957 may have put an end to Bettie Page’s modelling career. A man died during a bondage session, rumored to have been inspired by the images and films Irving Claw and Bettie made together.

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Later, in 1959 she had on of her last photo shoots with Sam Menning. A few months after that she converted to Evangelical Christianity, studying the bible with Billy Graham in LA and Portland, she decided that she wanted to become a missionary.

Sadly Bettie was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with paranoia, depression and violent mood swings. Bettie has seldom had her photo taken since then, saying that she wanted to be remembered as she was.

In the 80’s she gained a major surge in popularity, with women all over the globe copying her signature look. Dave Stevens created the comic book The Rocketeer  based on her image. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that she started to receive royalties for her image and likeness.

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The last publicised image of Bettie Page was in a 2003 edition of Playboy. 

Bettie died on December 11th 2008 by a heart attack and is now buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

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A lot of today’s media wouldn’t exist without Bettie’s image. Icons such as Dita Von Teese, Katy Perry, Madonna, Uma Thurman have taken parts of her style and made them their own.

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All images sourced from google images & royalty free sites.

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