Bettie Page and I have some similarities. We’re both from Tennessee. We both moved to New York City in pursuit of a bigger dream… and we both ended up in Los Angeles. She was a sex symbol with legions of loyal fans who fantasized about her night and day.. I… well, that is where the similarities end my friends.
Bettie did a lot to dispel the American puritanical myth that sex and sexuality is somehow evil and unnatural. I’m no expert on Bettie, but like many, I have followed her resurgent popularity among young, modern day women with fascination.
Many females that we’ve interviewed in the rockabilly scene in particular view Bettie as a pioneer who bursts open doors at a time when there were few professional choices for women and plenty of unspoken rules about their sexuality (sex was not to be enjoyed too much, to sleep with a man before marriage meant you were a slut, etc.). Bettie had some pretty liberal views on sexuality that at the time were considered very taboo.
It’s easy to forget that not that long ago, women in the U.S. were often viewed as too hysterical and emotional for serious work and men controlled the good jobs, money and power in the household. Many husbands even “spanked” their wives like children… or worse. Bettie had issues with men but you don’t get the sense that being bossed around or controlled by a man was one of them.
Bettie was pretty famous during her peak as a ‘pin-up” cheesecake model but the mark she left after those years was even bigger. Her life was fascinating, in part because she dropped out of sight at the height of her fame, discovered religion but in the meantime had bouts with psychological issues and brushes with the law. It’s not easy being a pioneer.
Much has been written and said about Bettie Page. There were even dueling fictional movies based on her life a few years back. I don’t want to add to the noise, but I did want to offer a little tip about a movie I had the pleasure of seeing while attending “Viva Las Vegas” last month called “Bettie Page Reveals All”.
What separates this documentary from the other accounts of Bettie’s life is that it was filmed with the full cooperation of Bettie, featuring a wonderful collection of archival material and it is told in Bettie’s own words. In fact, she provides the voice over for the documentary.
But don’t expect to see more recent images of an older Bettie. According to the producer Mark Mori in the Q&A after the film, this was in accordance with Bettie’s wishes. She told Mark she wanted her fans to remember as she was in her hey day.
Bettie died in 2008 after living much of her middle and later life in seclusion and near poverty. But thanks to the help of people like the producers of this film and Robin Leach from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, she was eventually able to see more control and income from her images. She lived out her closing days in some degree of comfort until her death in 2008. In fact, in 2011, her estate made the Forbes annual list of top-earning dead celebrities, earning $6 million, tied with the estates of George Harrison and Andy Warhol, at 13th on the list.
When Bettie’s voice first rang out at the screening, I got chills. It was a voice that reminded me of my long dead grandmother not some sexpot. She had the same unique Tennessee accent, similar intonations and not so correct “hillbilly” grammar at times. It was hard to reconcile this grandmotherly voice with the beautiful creature on screen talking about intimate details of her life and sexuality so openly.
Without a latter day Bettie on screen, the producers had to rely on some pretty rare archival footage, reenactments and interviews with contemporary icons like Ditta Von Teese and Hugh Hefner as well as former friends, husbands, etc. to fill the void. Not an easy task, but I thought the filmmakers did a good job of keeping the story moving while allowing Bettie to tell her life’s tale in a way that wasn’t too different from how my own grandmother might have spun me a story from her own life (minus the R rated dialogue and visual stimuli of course).
The film was a fascinating, intimate look at a woman who for many, even after viewing the film, retains a bit of her mystery.
One of the appeals of Bettie’s life was that she openly (and bravely) flouted the societal norms at the time on women’s sexuality (and still are very much alive today in much of the world and as evidenced by our own Presidential election politics, this country as well). That is what makes Bettie so enticing and mysterious… and in my view so punk. I don’t think Bettie intended to be a pioneer, she just didn’t care if people had a problem with her lifestyle or what others in polite “normal” society thought. She was OK with it so that was all that mattered. You really cannot get much more punk than that.
If you think, like Bettie, that life is meant to be lived shamelessly on one’s own terms, not the terms that someone else imposes, then I think you will like this film.
I’m not sure what plans the producers have for distribution but you can get involved with the film by visiting their website HERE.
And I’ve included a trailer of the film below.