Mary Harron and 'The Notorious Bettie Page'
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Today, The Notorious Bettie Page hits selects theaters. The film stars Gretchen Mol and tells the story of the premiere pinup model in the 1950s, Bettie Page. She was known for her big smile and carefree nature. When Page met photographers Irving and Paula Klaw, her portfolio and her reputation changed dramatically.
She became notorious for taking pictures in the nude, as well as for bondage and other fetish poses. Actress Lili Taylor plays the persuasive Paula Klaw.
LILI TAYLOR (Actress): (As Paula Klaw) You see, the customers who want this stuff, they're very respectable, very high-quality people. So what if they want something a little strange? It makes them happy.
Unidentified Woman: (Actress): Sure.
BRAND: The film's writer and director, Mary Harron, spoke with my colleague Alex Chadwick.
ALEX CHADWICK reporting:
Who was Bettie Page?
Ms. MARY HARRON (Writer/Director, The Notorious Bettie Page): Bettie Page was a young girl from Nashville, from a rural Christian family, who ended up as one of the most famous pinups of her era; and some people say the most photographed pinup of all-time.
And, in the process of her pinup modeling, she started to do bondage photographs, which was just part of her work--and it was through a brother and sister called Irving and Paula Klaw--and the bondage photographs got her in a lot of trouble with a Senate committee into pornography.
CHADWICK: And you show this development. In the film there's a kind of a beginning when a guy asks her to pose for some pictures. And then she meets the Klaws; and they actually have a business of selling photographs to people who can order specific things: I want these kinds of boots, I want these shoes; shoe fetishes seemed to be huge. And, pretty soon, she is the bondage model.
Ms. HARRON: Yes, and she was--one of the things that makes her such a successful bondage model was that I don't think she really understood the nature of those photographs, because bondage scenarios are kind of dark and her attitude in these photographs is totally light and funny. And, you know, she's holding a whip like it's a plate of cookies, which now make her photographs kind of paradoxical and almost comic.
CHADWICK: She goes on one of her early assignments to a suburban house. And she's been hired to be a model for a camera club--you open the door and you go in this house and there are--it looks like fifty guys in there with their little Brownie cameras and things, and they're all with bottles; oh, do this, do that; but she feels okay in that.
Ms. HARRON: It's just a--it's a mysterious thing that she was so relaxed in front of the camera, and she was so relaxed in these bondage photos where she's dressed up in black leather and high heel boots. She's just so sunny. She's like Betty Crocker; she's just so wholesome and good-natured. You know, for her, it was like a kid in front of the mirror, just like--really like a child-like joy just in her own world of play and dressing up. And she also loved, as I think great models have to, she loved the attention of the camera.
Unidentified Man: Hey, Bettie. Will you bend over for us a little bit? Please?
Unidentified Man #2: Will you show us your keyster?
CHADWICK: What era is this? When she goes to New York how old is she? And, what about--what is the year?
Ms. HARRON: You know, mid '20s when she went to New York, I think. And this was an era when, right after World War II, when pinups and pinup magazines had become huge, you know, because of the soldiers reading them overseas, and because of these mass-market pinup magazines with old names like Wink and Titter and Flirt. They were kind of semi-respectable. You could buy them on newsstands, but people would keep them at home under the bed or hide them in the garage from their wife. What I was most interested in was, really, sex in the 1950s, I think.
CHADWICK: And what did you discover?
Well, you know, there's the sex that we know about--have always known about, which is the cheesecake; you know, the Marilyn Monroe, the Betty Grable, the sunny voluptuous pinup; but there was also a kind of hidden world of sex, and Bettie Page's story is also a part of that hidden world.
CHADWICK: In terms of telling a story, making a movie, I'm not sure Bettie Page's life is unhappy enough. It comes to an end in some way; there's a Senate hearing about pornography, and she eventually finds Jesus and renounces her life, but she doesn't fall into drugs, she's not beaten up by a gangster or dragged off to a brothel; she seems to emerge from this as a fairly whole person.
Ms HARRON: I think she had a lot of, you know, hard times in middle age. But I think that her pinup career was something that she enjoyed. I think it was something she really--made her very happy while it was going well. In fact, I think there is a certain feeling like, oh, well, you know, it must be like good girl/bad girl, you know, she must have some downfall, but, in fact, Bettie Page's story doesn't fit any easy categorization. And even when she became--she had a hard time at the Senate hearings and became born again, but then she never really renounced her pinup life. As a Christian now, she looks back and says, I'm proud of my photographs.
CHADWICK: Mary Harron, co-writer and director, The Notorious Bettie Page. Thank you.
Ms. HARRON: Thank you.
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