As the “Queen of Pinups,” Bettie Page rarely needs an introduction. Her trademark jet-black hair, blue eyes, and bangs influenced generations of pinup models and burlesque performers to come, and her physique still inspires countless artistic renditions.
Much of Bettie’s life has become pop culture history. She was born on April 22, 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee. After graduating salutatorian of her high school, she moved to New York City with dreams of becoming an actress.
She worked secretarial jobs to support herself and soon became a popular “camera club” model known for her lack of inhibition and playful demeanor.
In the early 1950s, she began working with photographer Irving Klaw. These photos propelled Bettie Page into stardom, and she became the first famous bondage model. She appeared in Teaserama and Varietease, two burlesque revue films produced by Klaw. Bettie also had a brief speaking role in the burlesque film Striporama, clips of which can be seen here for free on Youtube. She became the Playboy Playmate of the Month for the January 1955 issue.
Throughout her pinup and burlesque career, Bettie was caught up in intense federal anti-pornography cases. Although she was never the target, Bettie’s name appeared in several FBI interstate transportation of obscene materials investigations. This scrutiny, coupled with Bettie’s conversion to Christianity, led to her departure from modeling and burlesque in 1958.
After retiring, Bettie struggled with mental health during a time when such issues were rarely discussed and less understood. She kept in close contact with her sister Goldie Page, who was also a burlesque performer. Many of their vintage photos can be seen here.
Bettie passed away on December 11, 2008. Her striptease continues to delight generations of fans, and her presence is still felt throughout the burlesque industry. Through films such as Bettie Page Reveals All and The Notorious Bettie Page, and rare interviews she completed later on in her life, we have details of her journey through pinup and burlesque that continue to keep her legend alive.