Bettie Page and 1950s Conservative America

The 1950s were an odd time for the United States. By nature isolationists and conservative beyond reason, the second world war left the country in an awkward position. Forced out of their isolationist shell after a surprise attack on American soil by the Japanese, Pearl Harbor, the United States’s role in world affairs began evolve into a more grown-up, parental one. The young men, who came back from the war, had seen a different world, that had a different moral point of view. In the world recovering from a war, Bettie Page would serve as a metaphor for the younger, more liberal generation and the older more conservative old guard.

Bettie Page was born straight out of a fetishist’s most cherished of fantasy. She was the R-Rated Marilyn Monroe for the 1950s.

“A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Page lived in California in her early adult years before moving to New York City to pursue work as an actress. There, she found work as a pin-up model, and posed for dozens of photographers throughout the 1950s. Page was “Miss January 1955”, one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine. “I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society,” said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner”

Page would float about the early part of her adult life, looking for a way to break in the motion picture business. A chance meeting with an NYPD police officer, who was an amateur photographer, set Page’s career path.

“Bettie met NYPD Officer Jerry Tibbs, who was an avid photographer, and he gave Bettie his card. He suggested she’d make a good pin-up model, and in exchange for allowing him to photograph her, he’d help make up her first pin-up portfolio, free of charge. It was Officer Tibbs who suggested to Bettie that she style her hair with bangs in front, to keep light from reflecting off her high forehead when being photographed. Bangs soon became an integral part of her distinctive look.”

Camera clubs were all the rage for the amateur photographers because it allowed club members to trade nude photos of their models over the postal service. With Ms. Page’s radiant beauty, she become a much sought after model. Her rise in fame culminated in Ms. Page featured on the cover of the January 1955 cover of Playboy.

Page would cement her fame working for professional photographer Irving Klaw, who ran a mail order business.

“From late 1951 or early 1952 through 1957, she posed for photographer Irving Klaw for mail-order photographs with pin-up and BDSM themes, making her the first famous bondage model. Klaw also used Page in dozens of short, black-and-white 8mm and 16mm “specialty” films, which catered to specific requests from his clientele. These silent one-reel featurettes showed women clad in lingerie and high heels, acting out fetishistic scenarios of abduction, domination, and slave-training; bondage, spanking, and elaborate leather costumes and restraints were included periodically. Page alternated between playing a stern dominatrix, and a helpless victim bound hand and foot.”

However, the life of a model began to wear on Ms. Page..However, the life of a model began to wear on Ms. Page..

“In late-1940s America, “camera clubs” were formed to circumvent laws restricting the production of nude photos. These camera clubs existed ostensibly to promote artistic photography, but in reality, many were merely fronts for the making of pornography. Page entered the field of “glamour photography” as a popular camera club model, working initially with photographer Cass Carr. Her lack of inhibition in posing made her a hit, and her name and image became quickly known in the erotic photography industry.”

Bettie would come to rue modeling for the camera clubs. Yes, the camera clubs were mere front for making pornography but, quite often, the female models were often plied with drink to break down any reserves the models might have. Models either consented or were assaulted because they had no protections against such behavior.

Or the other equally traumatic assault on their person, the less criminal minded photographers would get the models drunk and convince them top pose for the camera clubs’ various members,’ photos of the models with their legs spread, which happened to Bettie several times.

All of these incidents began to wear on Bettie:

“The reasons reported for Page’s departure from modeling vary. Some reports mention the Kefauver Hearings of the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce (after a young man apparently died during a session of bondage which was rumored to be inspired by bondage images featuring Page). After leaving modeling, Page converted to born-again Christianity on December 31, 1959, while living in Key West, Florida, and recalled in 2008, “When I gave my life to the Lord I began to think he disapproved of all those nude pictures of me.