In Another Era, She’d Be a Gigantic Star

At the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago they have a lot of great films. In addition to interesting and artistic films, I also enjoy the fact that they have very few previews and no commercials as well as the fact that you can buy a beer while you are watching a movie.

Bettie Page Reveals All is a documentary about the iconic fashion / fetish model Bettie Page. For me, the most interesting facet of the movie was not discussed at all; what would have happened had Bettie Page been a modern celebrity instead of one who retired from public life in the late 1950s.

When Bettie Page stopped doing photo shoots, she simply fell off the face of the earth. In those days it was easy to hide; records weren’t online, the web doesn’t provide a central place for people to (inadvertently) pool information, and it doesn’t take an instant to upload a stalker photo to twitter. She never provided any other photos after her shoots, so that’s how the world knows her today. As George said in Seinfeld, she “left on a high note”.

Bettie Page, however, had actual skills and intelligence. In the documentary they showed her high school transcript and she barely missed being the valedictorian of her high school class which would have given her a college scholarship. Unlike modern “celebrities” who became famous solely due to a “s*x tape”, Bettie Page designed and sewed many of her own costumes. She also had a lot of personality and took control of the photo shoots and could (sort of) act. Compared to 99% of the “celebrities” today, she had talent.

Alas, like many of the modern celebrities we wouldn’t name her because we don’t want the traffic, she was bi-polar and ended up spending several years in a mental institution after she stabbed her landlord in a psychotic episode. In the end her story had a semi-happy ending because Hugh Hefner found her a lawyer who got her royalties for all the various things being made with her iconic image on it so that she at least had some money in her retirement years.

Cross posted at LITGM

6 thoughts on “In Another Era, She’d Be a Gigantic Star”

  1. Interestingly, she’s actually #8 (!!) on this list:

    Top Earning Dead Celebrities (between June 2012 and June 2013).

    I would note that one of the people most responsible for her continued popularity is the also now deceased artist Dave Stevens

    During the 80s he did a lot of artwork which encouraged awareness of her image, glamour, and style. He modeled the look of the Rocketeer’s girlfriend as a part of his classic Rocketeer graphic novel.

  2. She was also an actual Playboy Playmate, by the way — twice.

    And another person trading on (and yes, popularizing) her style is fetish queen Dita Von Teese.

  3. Reading more about her in imdb I think she was smart, for unlike most of the celebrities today she left th3em wanting more (one of the principles of show business).

    While in later life she licensed the use of her name to promote various collectibles (such as figurines, t-shirts, and books of her pin-up photos), she herself did not make public appearances, stating “I want people to remember me the way I was.”.

    And that principle – leaving them wanting more – was also in the way she presented herself – whereas today she’d probably just be another “sex star” for a few years & then retire to obscurity.

  4. Conventional wisdom says trends come back every 20 years, but I think it may be to closer to 30 (with allowance for shorter fashion epicycles within).

    It’s not that I normally notice these things. Maybe someone who knows more about it than me can comment, but
    those big Bettie Page bangs on women’s hairstyles started coming back a few years ago, right? The last time was the 80s?

    There was always the weird, rockabilly subculture that never quite went away who held her as the banneret, but now everybody has gone retro it seems.

  5. @IGotBupkis – on the top dead celebrity earners, reminds me of something the wag sad upon hearing of the death of Elvis – “<i?Good career move" ”

    I have been thinking of this question though since Carl posted it.

    Would Bettie be more popular than ever today?

    I think not because the women who make their money sexualizing their persona are pushed by the market to be more vulgar than ever – I don’t think Betty would have gotten far out of the gate.

    Same reason classic striptease is pretty much dead.

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