photo & text by nacrowe
PERRY FARRELL once opined in the PORNO FOR PYROS song "CURSED FEMALE" the lyrics "cursed to be born / beautiful, poor and female / there's none that suffer more." this could certainly be said about the life of 1950s glamour model BETTIE PAGE as expressed in the unauthorized biography THE REAL BETTIE PAGE (CITADEL, 1997) by RICHARD FOSTER.
her life was one of NEGLECT and SEXUAL ABUSE, both as a child and young adult. it ironic, but it seems the only people that did not exploit her were the photographers that took and later published her legendary PIN-UP photos. these shoots were largely run by families with both the models and the studio owners looking out for their financial and security interests. outside of that space, its a whole different story with opportunistic state government officials, federal agencies and men looking to use her for their own ends.
starting with her stepfather. her childhood was tragic to say the least. born poor and given up by an abusive mother to an orphanage by her teens, she understandably had ABANDONMENT ISSUES from an early age. this deficiency was compounded when she regrouped with her mother later only to find her stepfather abusing her, and her mother jealously taking her new spouses side. i'll say it a different way, her mother was jealous of her looks and didn't defend her against child SEXUAL ABUSE.
a voracious reader, PAGE was salutatorian of her high school class and gained a scholarship to a nearby teachers college where she trained to be an english teacher. this in turn would be used against her by her then-boyfriend who didn't think it was fitting that she went to college while he was an auto-mechanic.
in reading this book you really get the sense of an indomitable spirit that was attempting to transcend her squalid, meager beginnings anyway she could. throughout her life she traveled around the country and lived in FLORIDA, NEW YORK CITY, LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO, OREGON, INDIANA and even HAITI as she sought work, education and adventure. her modeling was a total lark, as it was really just an excuse not to do secretarial work during her time in MANHATTAN and provide more time to pursue acting through various schools and academies. modeling wasnt her passion, it was purely a means to a financial end and she took it seriously as a job but had fun doing it, which shows in her legendary photographs. but her intellect was beyond such and, like MARILYN MONROE, she is never credited for her pursuits outside modeling.
what really got me about this book is the inverse relationship between what she represented and what she ultimately became. she represents unbridled female sexuality and control in an era that preceded the SEXUAL REVOLUTION of the next decade, the 1960s. her being investigated by the FBI and effectively shamed by local NYC public officials only cemented that reputation. what she became was a psychotic victim to her own delusions in her later years that saw her attempt murder twice on innocent elderly bystanders which resulted in her spending over a decade in and out of mental hospitals. the book really does a good job in identifying key moments in her DOWNWARD TRAJECTORY after she left modeling at 34.
its funny, she went through a period where she became deeply involved in EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY and studied at multiple institutions around the country, but ultimately was rejected for overseas missionary work due to her past divorces. evangelical fervor gave her a tool to regain a sense of power but ultimately this surrogate family never fully embraced her either.
i dont want to oversimplify things and relate that her problems are rooted in her abuse and dismal NEGLECT as a child. but it is compelling to consider what causes a person to deteriorate and loose their grip on reality. her life was intense, complicated and beyond her control, which to me is the greatest irony since her PIN-UP photos find a woman comfortable in her surroundings and secure, confident and in complete control of her SEXUALITY.
compelling book. recommended if the subject matter is of interest to you.