Bettie Page Dies At 85

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Bettie Page, the pinup bombshell from the 1950s, has died in Los Angeles. She was 85. Page was a secretary-turned-model who helped inspire the sexual revolution.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In the 1950's Bettie Page helped set the stage for the sexual revolution. She did it with a winning smile, a beautiful body and not much clothing. For a time, Page was America's most famous pin-up girl. Last night she died in Los Angeles at age 85. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this remembrance.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: You may not know Bettie Page's name but you've probably seen her at some point.

Unidentified Man: See the daring display of torsos in Teasarama as the dancers strip to please.

BATES: The endless legs, tiny waist and beautiful bust line were topped by a pair of laughing blue eyes and a lush brunette mane that featured Page's signature bangs. In an era of blonde bomb shells, Page stood out.

Unidentified Man: Bettie Page, the nation's top pin-up queen.

BATES: And she was. A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Page fled an abusive first marriage for New York City in the late 1940's. In the 2005 movie, the "Notorious Bettie Page," actress Gretchen Mol recreated what happened when Page visited Coney Island and asked a favor of an amateur photographer.

(Soundbite from the movie "The Notorious Bettie Page")

Ms. GRETCHEN MOL: (As Bettie Page) Will you take a picture of me? Silly people take pictures of me all the time but I don't know how to take one of myself.

BATES: She soon became the favorite model for photo clubs that were the rage in the early 50's. Page's agent and friend, Mark Roesler has this explanation.

Mr. MARK ROESLER (Agent, Bettie Page): People appreciated how she created less inhibition among people.

BATES: Page was approachably beautiful, and whether she was in a bikini on a California beach or indoors in revealing lingerie, her playful nature shone through. It was that combination of homecoming sweetheart and scantily-clad siren that struck a chord invents. In this scene from the "Notorious Bettie Page" a photographer proposes the perfect outlet for the novice model.

Unidentified Woman: I'm going to send these pictures to a new magazine, it's called Playboy. Do you it?

Ms. MOL (As Bettie Paige): No, ma'am. I don't think I do.

Unidentified Woman: Well, it's new. A very tasteful magazine printed on beautiful paper, it's very classy. Look toward me, please.

(Soundbite of camera shot)

Unidentified Woman: OK. I need you to lift your knee up. I'm seeing a little bit too much.

BATES: Soon, after Page ended up in a Santa hat and not much else, and a star was born. But Page ran in to trouble when she posed for a now famous series of fetish pictures featuring bondage and spanking, and lots of black leather. Those sparked a congressional investigation. Mark Roesler.

Mr. ROESLER: They really went after what Bettie was doing in those types of photographs. I think that that did get to her and that was the reason why she really disappeared.

BATES: From pin-up magazines but not from real life. Page had two other failed marriages, endured a stint in a mental hospital and became a Born Again Christian before returning to live quietly in Los Angeles. Her photos still commend top dollar, something Page perhaps foresaw when she adamantly refused to be photographed in later life. In this NBC interview from about 10 years ago, she explains why.

(Soundbite of an NBC interview)

Ms. BETTIE PAGE (Pin-up Model): I wouldn't want to see a model when she's old and out of shape. Who would? There's nothing to look at. You want to look at them when they're young and beautiful.

BATES: And that is precisely how Bettie Page's millions of admirers will remember her. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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