Thursday, December 11, 2008
Just saw online that Bettie Page didn't wake up from her coma, and has passed on. I will not go in depth into Bettie's story here, but if you don't know it, I highly recommend looking into it. She had the type of life you would think someone just made up for a David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman movie, but indeed she was real, and yet not real all at the same time.
I first discovered Bettie when I was about 19 (and no, it wasn't in the 50s!) when Buck Henry wrote an article on her for Playboy about '90 or '91 called "The Case of the Missing Pin-up" or something similar. This was still back in the days no one knew she was still alive, or where she might be. Most of the stuff I found on her even misspelled her name as "Betty" rather than "Bettie." I found the mystery fascinating, and in my further investigation into this mysterious figure I discovered not only Dave Stevens and the Rocketeer (God rest him as well), but also a past America I didn't know existed.
The only 1950s I knew was Elvis and Buddy Holley, and shows like Happy Days. My parents were more than happy to agree that the cozy little fifties the Cunninghams lived in were nearly documentarian in their presentation. As I found books and card collections on Bettie, I had to wonder- if Fonzie was the least behaved character the fifties had to offer, who had been ordering 8 X 10 glossies from Irving Klaw of Bettie all tied up? Why had there been hundreds of small format publications (convenient for under mattress hiding) featuring Bettie on the beach, or in Jungle Girl costume? And dear God, who were these guys taking the pictures?
I don't know if we can credit Bettie Page with changing America, but I will credit her for revealing it to me. Perhaps she revealed it to all of us, and showed us we're fooling ourselves if we really think there was some mystical moral age to which only previous generations were privy. We've always been a little kinkier than we want to admit publicly. Maybe if we admitted it a little more we could get over it more easily.
Bye Bettie, and thank you.