Bettie Page: Sweetheart Eternal of the Fishnet Underground
"We'll all always love her, and I imagine it will be no different for future generations. She will always be the best, there will never be another."
- Heidi Van Horne
"Bettie will always be our sweetheart!!! We love you Bettie!"
- The Rumblejetts
In December, Bettie Page succumbed to the black fate mortality promises. But the deliciously taboo and perennially desired 1950s Teaser Girl will never be completely gone.
Review electric throngs at rockabilly festivals and hot rod shows. How many arrestingly magnetic Bettie-banged hair-teases flip and fly? How many fever-wracked rock'n'roll psalmists have celebrated her, since the Queen of Curves first enflamed a nascent Fishnet Underground?
Bettie was and remains the American male's feminine ideal on 6-inch, black leather stillettos. A riveting, wild-side enchantress, she combined the wholesome loveliness of a Sunday School teacher with the crazy curves of a bad girl. In undraped splendor, she seemed at utter ease.
But she was much more than deliciously alluring, opiatic pulchritude. Her twinkling eyes, flirty winks, and dazzling smile -- full, reddened lips spread wide, perfect teeth agleam --sang of fraternity unconditional.
The two-dimensional dream-unlaced and her page-thumbing beaus were as one.
And in 1955, historic rebel noteriety was assured her. Joined by censorious governmental officials, US Senator Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee (Bettie's home state, also) launched a subcommittee dedicated to combatting the alleged causal link between girlie snapshots and juvenile delinquency.
Though subpeonaed, Bettie was never called. But her employer, Irving Klaw, did appear before the inquisitors; as a result, his professional fortunes suffered irrevocably.
(Incidentally, while Page herself preferred the spelling "Bettie," her name did sometimes appear in film loops and magazines as "Betty" -- a version that occasionally echoes, still.)
Following the 1977 passing of The King, one commentator remarked that surely every man had, for at least one moment, wished that he were Elvis Presley. It is hardly preposterous to suppose that women fans of the vaunted Bettie knew similar yearnings.
But even if they could not be the seductive sensation, countless young women wanted to follow her unafraid example. And sought her experienced counsel.
"Young women write me untold numbers of letters," Bettie said in a 2005 CMG marketing firm release. "They look up to me. They thank me for helping them see how they can be themselves, or how they can reinvent themselves, assert themselves, lose their inhibitions, and come out of their shells. Of course just posing for pictures I never intended to do any part of that, but I am gratified to see that what I did so long ago has meant something to so many."
"I don't care about fashion trends, or how the World Series ends/
You can keep your success and fame, her fresh lips drive me insane!"
- "Bettie's Kiss," Danny Dean and the Homewreckers Rockabilly Lover (Delirium 2007)
During the suffocatingly straight-laced Ike era, Bettie didn't appreciate the significance of her spectacular, fleshly flauntings. Nor did she guess that the carnally spurred would in decades hence hold her scarlet images in steamy esteem.
But venerate the voluptuous and racy lass, subsequent generations nevertheless have.
A Rockabilly Magazine comment request brought immediate responses. Everyone, it seemed, loved and respected Bettie, and leapt to offer intimate testimonies of admiration, gratitude, and grief.
Among the fetching contemporary pin ups in whose works Bettie's deliriously naughty imprint bares itself is model and RM Kitten, Dayna Delux.
"I would be honored to say a few words," she emailed.
"It's heartbreaking to know Bettie is gone. A lady who has influenced so many people and paved the way for us all. She has left a lasting impression on everyone for the past years and I'm sure for decades to come. It would be an honor for any of us if we could leave a mark in our lives as she has in hers. She may be gone but she will never be forgotten."
"Visual, tangible, sweet exotic realm/a ship on fire, with desire at the helm"
- "My Baby Looks Like Bettie Page" Wes Pudsey & the Sonic Aces
Australian rockabilly Wes Pudsey recorded his upbeat anthem for Curtis, in 1998.
"Yeah, I've heard the news," he wrote us, "and it's a real shock...Bettie's natural, buoyant beauty will always be iconic; her look is so trademark Bettie Page; but just the same, playing that ol' song I wrote will never be the same again.
"Bettie has clearly inspired so much of the modern burlesque and pin-up scene," Wes continued, "and the image of the girl with the black bangs and dazzling smile will no doubt continue to inspire rockabilly gals, pin-ups, photographers and even songwriters for a long time to come.
"Right now, though, I feel so very sad to think someone so individual and special has left our world. I know the generation that inspires the modern rock'n'roll fan is aging and passing away, but what a loss to us who've gained so much from their creativity and their originality."
The international character of Bettie's purple shadow was also exemplified by Brigitte Handley and Dark Shadows. Australians, like Pudsey, all three members spoke to RM:
"Bettie Page was an original who stood out from the rest," said singer/guitarist Brigitte. "She was confident, sensual, playful, dangerous, and different.
"There was something really dark, wild and mysterious about Bettie that always appealed to me. She was the alternate to Marilyn and the mainstream and stood out on her own as an individual with fantastic style.
"Her pictures really illustrated and captured that same raw, raucous energy that drew me into underground rockabilly music and culture. Nobody wears back-seamed stockings and 6-inch heels like Bettie Page!"
Dark Shadows bassist Carly Chalker enthused, "The most photogenic gal of all time with the loveliest curves, bangs and smile!"
"Bettie Page was one sexy gal," agreed drummer Nerida Wu.
"If you don't look like Bettie Page, if you don't move me like Bettie Page/
If your hair doesn't grow black to the roots, you can go kiss Bettie Page's boots --
Like I do..."
- "Betty Page Is Back" Gretschen Hofner (Blueyedog 1992)
"Bettie Mae Page -- an iconic figure in pop culture who had a great impact on society," avered model/RM Kitten Victoria Vengeance. "Her lack of inhibition in front of the camera will continue to be an influence and an inspiration. Freedom of sexuality and expression at its finest. R.I.P."
"Trend setting!" was the pithy commendation of Bettie sent by longtime California-based singer and guitarist Jerry Sikorski, of 1980s American Patrol and current Jerry Sikorski Combo.
Model Kim Falcon showered praise. "Betty was a huge influence in my life and my work! She will never realize what a great impact she had on this earth! She will be greatly missed! May God bless her!"
"Bettie Page was both overexposed and underappreciated," lamented singer/guitarist Kim Lenz. "Sure, you find her pictures everywhere, but I don't think most people stop and realize what an effect her persona had not just on the rockabilly scene but on mainstream culture.
"She was a true 'modern' woman, comfortable with her power and sexuality in a way that was WAY ahead of its time.
"Thanks for paving the way, Bettie..."
"I first became aware of Bettie Page in the late 1980s," said Darla Crane. "Way before I started modeling. A girlfriend of mine had just landed a gig editing a magazine called "Bondage Life" and she loaned me a stash of Bettie stuff she found crammed away in a corner of her new office.
"I was already familiar with Bettie's likeness (it seemed to be plastered across half the t-shirts in Los Angeles) but this was the first time I had a name to go with that amazing face and body and I was smitten.
"When that same girlfriend finally convinced me to model in bondage, I took my cues from Bettie and tried to convey the "sweet, naughty tease" of it all. Bettie was also one of the first celebrities I was able to impersonate and my Bettie lookalike work led to wonderful relationships with GlamourCon, Golden Apple Comics, Dave Stevens, and Olivia De Berardinis.
"I was eventually able to give Bettie a few promo shots of myself done up as her and the handwritten thank you note she sent me is one of my most prized possessions. Simply put, I would not have the terrific life I live today without Miss Bettie Mae Page."
"Bettie, Bettie, where can you be? I ain't seen the likes of you in Hustler magazine"
- "Bettie Bettie," BR5-49 Live From Robert's (Arista 1996)
The same brashness and estrogenic self-confidence so distinguishing Bettie's tease and bondage pictorials positively seethe in the hopped-up oeuvre of wildcat siren Josie Kruezer.
"I am saddened by the passing of Bettie Page as it marks the end of an era," Josie told us. "Her daring free-spirit, brazen sexuality and her girl-like innocence inspired so many women to gain sexual independence in a very repressive time.
"Her legend lives on as she continues to inspire the girls and women of the X, Y and now the Z generation as they begin to discover their own sexuality and feminine power. She is an icon who will be truly missed."
"The thing, above all else, that always stood out to me about Bettie Page," said actress and model/RM Kitten Heidi Van Horne, "was the attitude- that look coming from behind her eyes, the fact that she was in on the joke. Yes, she was hot, yes, she had a great smile, killer curves and a great haircut- but the strength behind the eyes is what makes her images stand out, and what makes them just as stirring today as they were when they were first captured fifty years ago."
"Bettie Page will never be forgotten - while my friend Bernie Dexter is still struttin' her stuff!" emailed veteran English guitar rocker Steve Hooker. Famed retro model Dexter was, in fact, a scheduled speaker at Bettie's funeral. The pin up was ultimately laid to rest near glamour peer Marilyn Monroe.
Independent film house Cult Epics released Bettie Page, Dark Angel, in 2004 (predating by a year major-budget biopic The Notorious Bettie Page). Paige Richards starred.
"I was saddened to hear the news of Bettie's passing," Paige told RM. "However, grateful for all that she has done for all of us.
"When I was cast in the movie Bettie Page, Dark Angel I was able to get to know her through research for the movie. I did not know her personally but felt like I did through her work, I think that is how she made us all feel.
"There is just no one like her and never will be. She quit modeling 50 years ago and still no one has pulled at our heart strings quite like Bettie. I feel that she will live on forever through her work...and her inspiration. No one has influenced modern pop culture like Bettie.
"I am grateful that she was able to realize the influence she was having on, well... everything. I am also thankful she has able to see how much she was appreciated and loved by all us fans."
Cult Epics recently scheduled theatrical showings for Dark Angel. As was noted in an earlier RM review, the film recreates such prized Bettie dance and bondage 16mm loops as ""Whip Dance," "Fighting Girls," "Dominant Betty In Black Corselet," and "Bound and Gagged."
"Queen of Pain, Queen of Pain/ I love your metal bra that points"
- "Queen of Pain" The Cramps Big Beat From Badsville (Epitaph 1997)
Dark Angel was the product of auteur Nico B. "Bettie Page as an icon is the visualisation of the perfect female; sexy with beautiful curves, innocent but naughty, and my favourite attribute: black hair," Nico recently told RM.
The film's fanciful and rollicking rockabilly soundtrack moments were dreamt and realized by plectrum Paganina Danny B. Harvey.
In a previous RM interview, Harvey had mused, "Bettie Page's influence over both men and women alike is off the Reichter scale, as far as I'm concerned. Girls all over the world dress like her, walk like her and cut their hair like her. Her look is timeless and will always be in style.
"I would think that if some future civilization uncovers pictures of her, when digging through 20th and 21st Century archeological digs, it would only be a matter of time before the females in their civilization would start dressing like Bettie Page. How could she not be an inspiration?" ("Have Guitar, Will Travel, part II" RM June 2005)
In addition to Dark Angel, Cult Epics collected Bettie's 16mm loops with full-length featues Teaserama, Striporama, and Varietease in top-shelf, DVD-format box set. Released prior to its subject's departure, it stands as indispensible.
"I was about 8 or 9 years old when I saw a picture of Bettie in a magazine at a friends' house," RM was told by veteran Rockat-turned-solo guitarist/singer Barry Ryan. "I got a raging hardon but I had no clue about what to do.The memory lives on. RIP Bettie."
"Talk to me like you talk to them, let me hear it in an 8x10/
Spell it out in monochrome, things I never would have known"
- "Hey Miss Betty," Chris Spedding Guitar Graffiti (RAK 1979)
Barry's fellow Rockat ( now Detonators leader), singer Dibbs Preston, was insistent. "Bettie Page is still alive in her sexy, fun and mysterious pictures.''
Founding Sha Na Na drummer Jocko Marcellino penned tribute "Betty Page" for Buzz Campbell and Hot Rod Lincoln, also playing drums on their studio version. "She was the goddess of the rockabilly movement," Jocko said, "almost single handedly setting the female fashion style."
As heartfelt as were those thoughts from modern day Bettie-hued sorts, though, the most touching issued us came from 1970s drive-in icon Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill, The Astro-Zombies, and others):
"It seems that 2008 was the year of losing a lot of very wonderful and gracious entertainers," Tura said. "When I heard about Bettie Page passing, I really began to feel my own mortality.
"I know that she lived in seclusion towards the end of her life and I am sorry for that. She was a trend setter of her time and she always seemed to enjoy that little touch of mischief that she displayed in all of her photos. She brought a lot of happiness and smiles to our servicemen overseas and to the youths that grew during her era.
"The world is a sadder place for all of the wonderful actors and actresses that have passed this year and they will all be missed. I am sad that Bettie never got to know that she was still loved long after the bloom of youth had left her cheeks. But her fans and supporters over the years will always hold her very dear.
"Bettie, I know that your fans and friends and family will always miss you and I know that they are sorry that they didn't get a chance to say goodbye to you.
"Goodbye Bettie, even though we have never met, I think that you are smiling now for all the joy you gave over the years."
The example left by Bettie is that of the vibrant nonconformist daring to stride freely. For that, she merits catagorization with Elvis Presley and Lenny Bruce, other post-WWII touchstones in the annals of the unrespectable disrupting popular culture for the better.
Philosophical waxings to one side, though, this essay's introductory assertion remains of foremost import: Our Bettie will never truly be gone.
At least, not from the hearts of the Fishnet Underground.
"When I go down to the juke joint, all the girls look like you"
- "Betty Page" Buzz Campbell & Hot Rod Lincoln Runaway Girl (King 2006)