The Bettie Page Revival: 2
The Klaw Connection
One of the reasons that fetishists and BDSM practitioners hold Page in such high regard is the fact that she experimented with bondage and S&M in some of the material she made with Irving Klaw in the 1950s — a decade that often inspires thoughts of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver," not leather-clad women with whips and chains.
Having a Page-like hairstyle certainly hasn't hurt Veronica Bound, a Philadelphia-based professional dominatrix who is the curator of the Aphrodite Gallery (an erotic art gallery that is associated with the fetish clothing boutique Passional) and teaches alternative sexuality classes. The 36-year-old Bound stressed that as much as she admires Page, she didn't set out to look like her. Bound went with the short bangs because her hairdresser felt they "framed my face better," but even so, she has found the look to be a definite plus with certain clients.
"Some of my clients are familiar with the very fetishistic Bettie Page and have latched onto her as a very sexual and erotic image, and when they notice my black hair and the short bangs, they're like, 'Oh, I want to get spanked by Bettie Page,'" Bound said. "I don't really think I look that much like her — the hair does a lot of it — but it's close enough for them."
Discussing Page's cultural impact, Bound explained that Page's kinkier work with Klaw would be considered "BDSM light" by 2000s standards.
"Our society and culture have finally caught up to Bettie Page," Bound said. "In 2006, we can deal with what Bettie Page did in the 1950s. But if you were to actually put out images of what goes on now in S&M and dungeon clubs, our society on the whole is not ready to deal with that — maybe in another 50 or 60 years, but not now."
Bound added, however, that what Bettie did was extremely controversial in her time, and one anti-erotica crusader who had no kind words for Page's work with Klaw in the 1950s was Democratic Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.
Kefauver, who spearheaded a government investigation of Klaw, insisted that he was corrupting American's youth and did everything possible to get Page to testify against him in court. She refused.
"When Bettie Page did bondage videos, it was very groundbreaking," Bound said. "Nowadays, what Bettie Page did with Irving Klaw wouldn't be defined as anything particularly hardcore. But in the 1950s, those videos completely shocked the authorities."
Bill Margold, who was an adult film star in the 1970s and remains an outspoken adult industry activist, is old enough to remember Kefauver's anti-erotica campaign.
Margold, now 62, was 12 in 1956, and he remembers Kefauver and other moralists of the day railing against Page's erotica.
"I remember Bettie Page being called a corrupter of youth, and I remember that around that time, the EC Comics were also being raked over the coals as a corrupter of youth," Margold said.
Margold emphasized that even though Page (who posed for the January 1955 issue of Playboy wearing only a Santa Claus hat) never made any films as sexually explicit as what came about in the 1970s, she should still be recognized as an important figure in the evolution of adult entertainment.
"In the early 1970s," Margold said, "Triple-X began to play for real, and the first women to play for real and actually get credit for it were Linda Lovelace with 'Deep Throat' and Marilyn Chambers with 'Behind the Green Door.'
The Sex Queens
"I consider the modern era of porn was created in 1972, and everything before that was leading up to what would become the sociological acceptance of it," Margold said. "But I do believe that Bettie Page laid some of the groundwork for that. As far as film and photos go, I would say that Bettie Page was the grandmother of adult entertainment or the grandmother of modern-day erotica. We owe her a debt of gratitude. Every generation has its sex queens; Bettie Page, Lily St. Cyr and Candy Barr were the sex queens of their generation."
All of the Page admirers interviewed for this article illustrate her cross-generational appeal. Margold is young enough to be Page's son; Von Teese, Kittie Klaw, Bound and Philadelphia-based artist/graphic designer Joshua L. Pearson are young enough to be either her grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
The 26-year-old Pearson, who Bound chose as the Aphrodite Gallery's featured artist for the month of April, has created a piece called the Bettie Page Image Mosaic, which incorporates more than 470 pictures of her.
Pearson, who calls his company Digibilly Design and has collected 600-700 Page images, has been obsessed with her since he was 18, and he insisted that unlike others, he does not view her in an erotic way.
"Once I saw Bettie Page's face, I was hooked," he said. "Her smile and her eyes did it for me. You looked at her face and she brightened your day. There's just something about her face; I can't get enough of it. I really don't want to look at her as a sex symbol because I don't see her as a sex symbol; I see her as an image of happiness."
Often when Page's 1950s material is discussed, words like "fun" and "happy" come up as often as words like "sexy," "seductive" and "erotic."
Webmaster/writer Bonnie J. Burton — who founded one of the first Page tribute websites, The Bettie Page — told XBIZ, "The reason Bettie makes such a perfect sex icon — even though her photos are fairly tame compared to pinups and music videos of today — is that she had fun with sexual themes. It wasn't smutty or contrived. She had a way about her that made you feel like it was OK to admire her, not sleazy. Bettie brought campiness and humor back into sex, but she was also great at playing the girl next door."
Page Has Got Legs
The Baroness, a well-known fetish fashion designer who holds fetish-themed parties in New York City, is impressed with Page's longevity.
"It's amazing that Bettie Page is an icon to so many younger people," The Baroness said. "It's hard enough to be famous in your own generation, much less famous in another generation. If you ask most younger people about Veronica Lake or Barbara Stanwyck, they wouldn't have a clue who they were. But Bettie Page is somebody whose image has survived."