From the Ditmars - 31st. Street Station to 49th Street going to and from the city. I was just a baby about 3-4 years old. I loved riding the bus and the subways. We used to go shopping, places like Macy's, Gimbals, Bloomingdale's, or go to the movies. Once I watched a woman get on the bus carrying a hat box. She came smiling down the aisle between the bench seats towards us. I was standing on my seat, and leaning forward over the top of the bench seat in front of me. She was noticeable even to me. She sat a few seats in front of us. She stayed on heading for Jackson Heights, and we got off. Years later I stumble upon a picture of Bettie Page, and I remember back to that day on the bus. Was it really Bettie, or am I wishfully fantasizing? I'll never know for sure or not, but it's a good story. That's part of her mystique.
Bettie (Mae) Page was a bonafide, raven haired, American Icon.
She was "The Dark Angel, The Queen of the Pinups."
She was a very popular photographers model who established a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos, with a copious enough amount of content to achieve the title of "Queen of Pinups."
A review and a commentary.
Directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), American Psycho (2000)). The screenplay was by Harron and Guinevere Turner (American Psycho (2000), the beautiful Black & White & Color cinematography was by W. Mott Hupfel III, and the music by Mark Suozzo (American Splendor (2003)).
The film stars Gretchen Mol (Get Carter (2000), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Manchester by the Sea (2016)) as Bettie Page, Chris Bauer (Sweet and Lowdown (1999), The Deuce TV Series (2017– )) as Irving Klaw, Lili Taylor (Mystic Pizza (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)) as Paula Klaw, Sarah Paulson (Serenity (2005), 12 Years a Slave (2013)) as Bunny Yeager, David Strathairn (Matewan (1987), The River Wild (1994), L.A. Confidential (1997), ) as Senator Estes Kefauver, Norman Reedus as Billy Neal, Kevin Carroll as Jerry Tibbs and Molly Moore as young Bettie.
The film selectively follows some parts of Bettie's life while significantly leaving out or inexplicably changing/rearranging other parts. That accounts for the "Quasi" in the header description.
|Times Square looking North Broadway on left, 7th Avenue on right.|
The Notorious Bettie Page is told mostly in Black & White and in flashback. In an intro we are transported to a Times Square "dirty book store." An undercover cop asks the counterman for something "special."
|Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol )|
We begin our actual story in New York City 1955. Bettie is sitting outside a traveling Senate sideshow set up in a hearing room in Federal Courthouse in Foley Square, waiting to be called to testify. Inside Democratic Senator Estes Keaufver (David Strathairn) launched his own anti-porn crusade blaming comic books and smut for juvenile delinquency.
|Senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn) left|
|Young Bettie center (Molly Moore)|
|"Got a nice shiny new dime fer ya Bettie, time to get down on your knees and do some praying." - Pappy Page (Jack Gilpin)|
Bettie claims in both the book The Real Bettie Page: The Truth About the Queen of Pinups by Richard Foster, and in Mark Mori's documentary film Bettie Page Reveals All (2012) that her father never "penetrated" her vaginally, like he did with her two sisters, but then leaves what he actually did do up to the imagination. Anyway in Foster's book Bettie claims that her father paid her ten cents a session which she used to go to the picture shows. Quid pro quo. She definitely had "daddy issues."
When her father was imprisoned for car theft, her mother ditched Bettie and her two sisters to an Protestant orphanage for a year. That rejection by her mom also had serious consequences on her mental health. When you are that young you can internalize quite a bit plaster it all over and appear quite normal on the outside but later, eventually, it will leak out and get expressed in unusual ways.
As a teenager she and her sisters did what most girls did in the thirties emulate the look and styles of movie stars, acting out parts of movies they've seen. She also learned how to sew and make her own clothes. No dummy, Page graduated as the salutatorian of her high school class, and later also successfully graduated from George Peabody College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944.
|Bettie and Billy Neal (Norman Reedus)|
We see Bettie marry, in 1943, a high school classmate Billy Neal (Norman Reedus). Bettie claims in Bettie Page Reveals All, that Billy Neal taught her everything about sex which she enjoyed, which selectively leaves out her father's abuse.
At this point the film script goes off the rails. It depicts Bettie getting getting gang raped by a bunch of hicks in Tennessee, then has her leaving for a hopefully better future in New York City.
|The handsom stranger|
|gang rape " lay down in the back seat."|
|"I'm on my period!"|
|"Well honey, it just ain't your day you'll have give us all blowjobs."|
In actuality, Billy spends more time in the stockade that in training. Bettie visits him on weekends. Billy is next sent to San Francisco and Betti follows. As soon as Billy is shipped off Bettie goes back to using her maiden name. Her marriage is on the rocks. Bettie get a job as a secretary. She meets a former silent movie director who runs a talent agency and gets asked to pose for some still photos. A short time later she gets asked to do a screen test for 20th Century Fox, it flops, and Bettie didn't want to go the casting couch route to the big time that most starlets took. Back in San Francisco she dates a sailor named Joe and they hit it off until he gets shipped off again. By the time Joe gets back Billy has been discharged and Bettie tries to make a go of it and gets pregnant, but Billy accuses her of two timing him and heads for Nashville. Bettie "he wasn't the same guy he was a jealous maniac accusing me of sleeping with every sailor in San Francisco." Bettie gets another offer from Warner Brothers to do a screen test but she ignores the telegram an heads for Nashville instead, moving in with Billy and his parents. It doesn't work out, they argue all the time and she miscarries. At one point Billy puts a knife to her throat when she threatened to divorce him, and on another occasion almost chokes her to death. Betty saves her dough and splits after four months.
Bettie heads to Miami, she wants to see the Atlantic Ocean. In Miami Beach she meets a guy who has mahogany furniture business in Haiti. He'll hire her to be his secretary and help him close out the business because of the mounting political turmoil. There in Haiti Bettie falls in love with a Haitian man but dumps him when she finds out he's married. She's next almost raped by her boss, and then when she is about to start working for the American Ambassador, all the Americans on the island are evacuated when rioting starts. Bettie is flown back to Miami. There she gets the idea that Television is the new big thing and so she heads for New York City.
In the fall of 1947 Bettie is working as a secretary for the American Bread Company, near Pennsylvania Station. She has, most likely, been trying to break into show business, Broadway, TV, and probably even Burlesque. She tries out a Ford Model Agency but sthey tell here that she was not tall enough and too hippy.
One day Bettie is window shopping on the way home when she meets a handsome stranger on the street/avenue. They hit it off and in a short time he asks her if she'd like to go dancing. Bettie is crazy about dancing. He tells Bettie that he's meeting up with some friends, a couple over on Eight Avenue. He tells her that he'll feel awkward without a date. Bettie agrees. They walk to a car where the couple is waiting. They get in the car and at the next red light two more young men hop in. A bit further down the Avenue two more wise guys get in. Instead of heading to a ballroom they go across the Queensboro Bridge. In Queens behind a high school (Bryant or Long Island City High?) they stop. The bait, the original couple, run off leaving Bettie with five guys who tell her lay down on the back seat and spread 'em, they all want sex. Bettie thinking fast gets down on her knees pleading. She tells them she can't because she's on her period. That doesn't save her though, they tell her that if that's the case she'll have to give them all blow jobs before they'd drive her back to Manhattan and let her go unharmed. She sucks off, each one in turn, she must have made an impression since they make her promise that she'll meet them again the next Saturday. (It makes you think back to the exact nature of her father's abuse and what she was forced to do to earn her that dime.)
Back at her apartment the initial shock wears off and she is traumatized, she calls Billy on the phone and tells him she's coming back to Nashville. Back in Nashville she gets a job at a railroad office but again doesn't get along with Billy. Billy is overly possessive and suffocating. In a few months she makes her estrangement legal and heads back to New York City a little bit wiser.
Here is where the film gets back on track picking up on her second journey to New York City by bus.
Two years later it's 1949, Betty is working again as a secretary. She is walking on the beach at Coney Island and is approached by a camera buff and off duty N.Y.P.D. patrolman Jerry Tibbs (Kevin Carroll) . Jerry wants to take her picture, he gives her his card. He tells her that she'd make a great pin-up model. He makes a deal with her, that in exchange for letting him shoot her, he'd make her a professional portfolio for free. It was Tibbs who suggested that she cover her high forehead with bangs, her trademark look.
|N.Y.P.D. cop and camera club photographer Jerry Tibbs (Kevin Carroll)|
|Her trademark bangs|
|Bettie on her way to her first Camera Club shoot|
|June King (Tara Subkoff)|
|"I can take my bottoms off."|
|"I saw beaver!!!!!!"|
Both Bettie and the photographers used these camera club sessions for artistic self expression and self exploration. And these camera clubs were not limited to only amateurs, well known photographers Weegee, Art Amsie, Arnold Kovacks, Don Baida, Robert Collins, Morris Glassman, Robert Stanton, Sam Menning and Gordon Parks attended the sessions. Bettie progressed from swimwear and lingerie to topless and finally fully nude posing, her lack of inhibitions was refreshing and soon she was in top demand.
In 1951 her first commercial work was for a series of magazines published by Robert Harrison, Wink, Titter, Flirt, Beauty Parade, Dare, and Eyefull. She was 27 when she started modeling, but in print editors would say 22.
Left out of the film is also the fact that Bettie also along with other camera models made even more cash posing in "private sessions" with amateur photographers who offered more money. It was during one of these sessions that Bettie claims to have gotten a bit tipsy after being plied with some booze and posed much more explicitly showing what later the porno magazines of the 60s would scream from their covers "split wide open beaver." (see below at end of piece, *and definitely NSFW)
Bettie's account must be taken with a grain of salt as it's obvious from the photos that do exist that her version is selective. The images look as if they were taken at different sessions, Bettie even looks different and they are shot in different locals. She may also be differentiating between the camera club shoots and the private sessions. Jack Bradley is quoted as saying the real pro photographers couldn't shoot pornographic shots, but the many amateurs weren't worried since they didn't make a living as professionals. These shots were collected as say Birders would capture and collect images of rare birds. In the fifties pin up celebrity "pussy" was collectible. Besides Bettie, June King, Joan "Eve" Rydell and most probably other camera club and Klaw models did private sessions. It would be interesting to see if they were shot at the same shoots (usually in apartments or lofts) and with similar furniture in the "sets." Back in the 1950's these images could never have been legally published, and extra money, was extra money.
You can't blame a girl for obfuscating a bit and trying to defend her, in the 1950's, quite outré definition of modesty and at the same time trying to rationalize what she did with her Christian faith. Blaming the "devil's drink," or "demon rum," always is a good traditional, acceptable, and forgivable excuse. Her saying that she got a kick from enjoying the power she had over men when blatantly exposing yourself to males, wouldn't quite play to the Puritans still around in various guises.
|Paula (Lili Taylor) and Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer )|
Bettie had a healthy attitude about the subject matter thinking it both harmless and silly. The Klaws catered to their fetishistic-ly bent clientele fulfilling "special" requests in ten minute 8mm and 16mm movie reels. None of these films featured nudity and the Klaws made doubly sure requiring their models to wear two pairs of panties so that no pubic hair could be remotely seen. Pubes, sadism, and sex was a no-no in 1950s, any combination would make the material pornographic and illegal to sell via mail.
The film barely touches on Bettie's attempts at acting. It depicts her attending acting classes (Herbert Berghof Studio) and doing improve. It doesn't inform us that she did in fact get roles on TV (The United States Steel Hour and The Jackie Gleason Show) and Off-Broadway. She also acted and danced in Jerald Intator's Striporama (1953). Intrator also directed Satan In High Heels (1962) Bettie appeared in Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955) directed by Irving Klaw, a clip of this is featured in the closing credits. Her Klaw movies paid $150.
The film next touches on Bettie's photo sessions with Bunny Yeager who she met while on vacation in Miami in 1954, Yeager paid her five dollars an hour, and took about eight hundred pictures of Bettie. The film curiously changes to saturated color for the beach and "Jungle Bettie" photo sessions, it's suggested in other commentaries that the use of color represents the woman's gaze. Yeager sent the shots off to various magazines. Hugh Hefner of the then two year old Playboy chose one of these to use as the Playmate of the Month centerfold in the January 1955 issue. Bettie is winking at the camera, nude, wearing only a Santa hat and kneeling before a Christmas tree.
|Bettie with Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson )|
The film also leaves out Billy showing up unexpectedly in New York City and banging on the door of her apartment. She's inside but doesn't answer. Billy bangs hard enough to wake a neighbor. Billy gets into an altercation with Bettie's next door neighbor, pulls a knife and stabs him. The cops arrest him and send him back to Nashville.
In the film we get two portends from both Yeager and another model that Bettie is approaching her use by date for a modeling career. When Yeager asks Bettie her age and she replies thirty-two, Bunny tells her not to tell anybody else that. On another occasion in a dressing room with one of Klaw's fetish models, the model asks Bettie what is she going to do when she gives up modeling, implying that they are both getting to the end of the road. Apparently the film wants to show that these two incidents were the triggers for Bettie deciding to quit the biz in 1957 while she was still on top.
|Bettie with Armand (Alejandro Chabán)|
The film is supposedly depicting Bettie, on New Years Eve, in the aftermath of an argument over whether or not they are going out dancing to celebrate. Armand wants to watch TV. Bettie gets up, walks out, (Bettie says she was in tears), the film depicts her strolling along the beach (actually it was one of Key Wests main drags) until she sees a lighted cross that belongs to an evangelical church where she has a "comes to Jesus" moment.
The end of the film is all happy, happy, joy, joy, showing Bettie beatifically handing out bible tracks to all the sinners of the world spreading the word.
So what was the purpose of telling the story they way they? Did the director and writers have a message, an agenda? You tell me. The complete story is way, way Noir-er than this.
Gretchen Mol is great as Bettie Page though she should have had more of a Tenneesee accent, Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor do a believeable job. The film is about a 7/10.
But Bettie's actual story doesn't end that way, we've only reached the intermission....
Evangelical Christianity was another channel for madness though not as benign as her last phase. She used to be (for 50s puritanical America at least, and paraphrasing Cheech and Chong) fucked up on titillation and kink, now she was fucked up on the Lord.
While Bettie was a beautiful woman of desire she was still somewhat sweetly naive but driven and with that drive still in control. Her modeling career filled a hole.
Sex filled another hole, all of Bettie's husbands and lovers claim they Bettie was voracious. Bettie herself claims in Bettie Page Reveals All to have had to teach some of her lovers what to do. i.e., to get her off. Famous designer, Richard Arbib a former beau of Bettie's Richard Arbib says Bettie was very sexual even wanting to have sex in a car. He pulls over and "she's going away at me" (blow job). and a cop stops and tells them that he has a tail light out. Bettie wasn't hung up in any way. Bettie said that she wouldn't date anybody who drank or smoked. Maybe she should have. Her choices in men otherwise were all unlucky, or when potentially a great match, had uncontrollable circumstances jinxing them. More than one of her lovers was already married. Bettie claimed a lover named Carlos Garcia "was the love of her life." He turned out to be married. Other problems concerned sabotaging ex wives and children, or her choices were way to young and immature to offer any understanding or a lasting commitment.
|Richard Arbib & Bettie|
The real kicker to her flight from New York City was when she was confronted aggressively at her apartment, by the "storm troopers" of the Vice Squad of the N.Y.P.D. under the Robert F. Wagner Jr.'s administration, and shown, in her face, the "beaver shots" from her private camera club sessions, that were bought, under the counter, from a "dirty" book store in Times Square. You can just imagine the snickering and cruel and off color comments from the our boys in blue. (see below NSFW)
Did they scare the shit out of her telling her to get, proverbially, out of town by sundown, or face jail time and be pilloried with two inch headlines in the press?
She abruptly flees New York City out of fear, hurriedly puts all her belongings in a storage place in Jersey and drives down to Florida, her one refuge. She seeks out and finds Armand Waterson who immediately ditches his current gal pal for Bettie. Armand and Bettie pick up where they left off, even making love regularly in drive in theaters. Was Bettie trying to relive her teen years without her domineering and restrictive mother?
They get married but Bettie finds that all they have in common was sex, movies, dancing and hamburgers. She's running out of money. Her whole legit modeling portfolio is auctioned off with all the rest of her worldly possessions, when she can't pay the Jersey storage unit rent. Then she and Armand try to get a lobstering business going. But it all goes tits up. Armand isn't too ambitious and their lobster pots keep getting raided by teenagers. The New Years Eve refusal of Armand to take her dancing, tripped the switch getting Bettie started on her decline into madness.
Her conversion to Evangelical Christianity apparently became a mania rather than a calming device. She gets divorced. She heads out of Key West, up to enroll in a bible college. Bettie again fills the hole this time with a religious fervor. She wants to be a missionary saving souls but finds out that there is a caveat, as a divorced woman she can't. They wont let her. Here, the great religious powers that be, guided from on high, misguidedly tell her to go back to Nashville and remarry Billy, I guess taking the divorce "stain" away.
She follows their dictum's and remarries Billy. After just one month with Bettie, Billy tries to choke her to death, and almost succeeded. Just before loosing consciousness she hits him upside the head with the phone. She immediately gets the marriage annulled. Not on the grounds of the attack but because the marriage was never consummated. Billy, thought for sure, that after all her lovers and years in New York City, she was carrying around a lethal dose of "The Clap."
So Bettie heads back to Florida, she has a sister in Coral Gables. Florida has again been her one true sanctuary. In Miami she appears to have somewhat reverted back to a more normal wavelength. She's got a job and is out and about dating again. At a ballroom in downtown Miami. She actually picks up recently divorced Harry Leer.
Leer is an electrician with three kids. They hit it off well and they get married in 1967. Harry decides to seek joint custody of his kids, two sons and a daughter. He wants them to live with Bettie and their father in a new house. All is good until Harry's ex wife causes friction between Bettie and the daughter. Bettie sticks it out for five years, and as the marriage starts to disintegrate, Bettie again turns to religion to fill the reopening sink hole in her life. Bettie getting fanatic about her religion eventually results in a nervous breakdown. She puts up a picture of Jesus on the wall, grabs a knife and commands Harry and the kids to stare at it. Maybe they'll see the light. Maybe Jesus will talk to them? Harry is able to sneak away by claiming to have to go pee, he goes out the bathroom window and over to the neighbors, who he has call the police. Harry goes back the same way and joins Bettie and the kids and when the police arrive and distract Bettie he is able to tackle her down.
Bettie is cuffed and locked into the back of the police car. The deputy goes to get Harry's statement. When he gets back to the car he finds Bettie spread-eagle, with her dress to her waist, her panties around her ankles, and the wire clothes hanger in her hands banging her box with the hook end. The the deputy accidentally left the hanger in the back seat. She's masturbating/self-mutilating herself. Bettie is crazier than a shit house rat.
Bettie gets evaluated and eventually gets declared insane. She gets put in a Florida psych ward, gets drugged and receives shock treatments. When she is finally released, Harry feeling sorry for Bettie, builds her an attached apartment and pays her to clean his house and take care of the garden. When in 1978 Harry finally decides he's had enough of Florida (he misses the seasons), he sells the house and moves to the Carolinas.
Bettie asks her brother Jimmy if she can come live with him. Jimmy says sure, but then he doesn't show up at the airport to meet her. What is up with that? A desperate Bettie, with what money she has scraped together, rents a cheap place, a trailer near Los Angeles, in a section called Lawndale. This incident becomes another trigger to Noirsville.
In 1979, living off only what Harry still sends her, she flips out for no reason. She grabs a kitchen knife runs outside and stabs repeatedly the wife of her landlord while she was gathering clothes off the line. The husband hears his wife's screams, comes running out and he gets stabbed in the hand. He then grabs a ratchet wrench out of the shed, and knocks Bettie flat with it. They run back into their trailer, bolt the door and call the police.
Bettie comes to and goes calmly back to her trailer. The police come and haul her off kicking and screaming for evaluation. She pleads insanity and gets put away for evaluation. After two tears she's released as per her doctors recommendations in 1981.
In 1981 she is placed by a case worker in a Lebanese immigrant's apartment, Leone Haddad, in Santa Monica. Hadadd thinks her apartment mate is a bit strange, she doesn't know however, to what extent. One night, four months later Bettie is suddenly in Haddad's bedroom straddling her, pinning her down on her own bed and stabbing her in the chest, face, mouth. Is she reenacting with a knife the abuse her father did to her with his penis? It has been speculated as so. Who knows.
The cops come and Bettie is hauled away once again. She's diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic pleads insanity and gets put away for ten years in a California loony bin, Patton State Hospital in Highland, California.
So Bettie put away for ten years oblivious to the cult status she is achieving world wide. No one knows if she is alive or dead, Her brother Jimmy had moved back to Nashville while she was locked up. There are numerous rumors that she died, or she'd been killed by the mob, or she's a granny in Florida. Urban legends.
Bettie's vanishing act had the same effect as Marilyn Monroe's death had upon her legacy. It built momentum over the years. She's a bonafied Icon. She's as famous as the Movie Stars she always wanted to emulate as a young girl, though she never took part in any of it directly.
The true nature of her situation sealed the lips of her relatives. Bettie finally is released in 1992. Her brother Jimmy replies to a letter from Richard Foster author of The Real Bettie Page: The Truth About the Queen of Pinups, telling him that Bettie is alive but is a now recluse. Jimmy agrees to forward to her a letter of questions, she answers, the results are incorporated along with what was gleamed from the interviews of her various husbands, lovers and acquaintances, in addition to public records into his book.
When Bettie is discovered alive and impoverished, a civil action was started by her friends and fans to try and get her a piece of the pie of her own legacy. Hugh Hefner gets involved and even though there are a new set of money problems and squabbles, Bettie Page does not die poor and her family is well provided for.
<Warning the images below are definitely NSFW>
Private Sessions (some of the real shots)
|Joan "Eve" Rydell|
|What Bettie refers to as an "open" shot.|
|Betti Page and camera club member at a private session|
|Bettie foolin' around|
|June King private shoot|
|More fooling around|
|More fooling around|
|June King another camera club model on a private shoot|
|June King fooling around during a private shoot|
|Bettie taking a snooze during a break|
|June King at a private shoot|
|June King fooling around|
|Bettie getting a trim|
|June King private shoot|