Bettie Page has been immortalized in bronze sculpture, song lyrics, paintings, comic books, and enough tattoo ink to flood a swimming pool. As the many tributes testify, the Nashville native reigns as an American pop culture icon. The 1950s pinup queen was born the second of five children to Roy and Edna Page in Nashville, April 22, 1923. Bettie’s early years were spent drifting throughout the South with her family as her father searched for employment. In 1933 Edna left Roy and moved back to Nashville, where she supported her children as a hairdresser.
Assessing her future possibilities, Page decided that education was her only means of escape from the poverty and instability she had known since birth. She excelled as a student at Hume-Fogg High School and graduated in 1940 as salutatorian, earning a scholarship to George Peabody College for Teachers. After graduating with a teaching degree, Page decided a career in education was not for her. She began to travel, making a living with secretarial work in San Francisco, Miami Beach, Haiti, and New York.
At Coney Island in 1950 Page met amateur photographer Jerry Tibbs, who took her first pinup photographs and convinced her to cut her famous bangs. She began modeling for camera clubs part time, soon becoming a favorite of “gentlemen’s magazines.” The most infamous of Page’s photographs were taken by Paula and Irving Klaw. Clad in leather, six-inch heels, metal cones, ball gags, or other fetish regalia, Bettie teased and spanked her way through hundreds of photo sessions and a few short films. After the Klaws were investigated in 1957 by a U.S. Senate subcommittee led by Tennessee’s Estes Kefauver, Page left modeling. In 1959 the ex-pinup devoted the rest of her life to the Christian faith. Bettie Page now lives in California, declining offers to be photographed, while the web page supported by her and her brother Jack adds to the mystique that attracts a new generation of admirers.
Karen Essex and James L. Swanson, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend (1996); Bunny Yeager, Betty Page Confidential (1994)