So an awesome friend of mine (Dave Gersh) picked up some “History of Pinup” books for me he found at a garage sale. One thing that instantly struck me was a notable omission. Bettie Page was remarkably and completely missing from one book, the other made a passing mention of her in a paragraph that focused mainly on the magazine that had published the image of her. The books (listed/pictured below) were published in 1972 and 1974. In terms of models they seem to mostly focus on blondes, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and the like. This struck me as odd because, for most, Bettie Page is the undisputed Queen of Pinup. What happened in the last 40 years that caused such a turnaround? I don’t really know but I have some ideas.
One idea is that Betty Page worked closely with Erving Klaw. The two not only made tons of pinup work but also lots of bondage and fetish images together. In 1957 the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency’s Kefauver Hearings, of which Bettie was summoned to, basically condemned their work (as well as others’) as pornographic. Subsequently, Klaw’s lawyer advised he dispose of the negatives. Klaw burned more than 80% of his work, the only negatives that remained, unknown to Erving, were saved by his sister. The damage had been done and Bettie’s modeling career was pretty much over at this time. Perhaps the ebb of Bettie was still in effect in the early 1970’s? Perhaps the lack of original negatives made publishing images of her less desirable as one would have to essentially make copy negatives and in order to do so first find quality positives.
The internet might have a lot to do with it as well. Some years back when I first started pinup photography. I downloaded every picture of Bettie Page I could find. Literally 100’s and still more are being found. This year I’ve seen a bunch of new-to-me, Bettie pinups. People find the images, scan them in, upload them, and her fans repost them all the time. Another aspect of how the internet might be making Bettie bigger than she was in the 1970’s is the normalization of fetish. It’s much, MUCH more mainstream these days. Or at least it seems that way with sites like fetlife, the popularity of people like Dita Von Teese, Madonna, Lady Gaga, books, art shows, even pop songs. A little kink seems to just be a part of younger-than-gen X’s universe. Because of Bettie fetish and pinup are closely related, possibly more today because the undergarments of her day are a fetish today.
It also seems that these books assumed that a strong connection with movies would bolster a model’s popularity within the genre. A good deal of time is spent on pinup model/actresses. But yesterday’s black and white movies are almost completely lost in today’s full color competition, and few people watch the older classics. In fact younger folks might even have a hard time watching them as the pace of movie editing is crazy compared to even the 1980’s (thanks MTv). Bettie wasn’t in many movies, and the movies she was in were pretty small, some were even just loops.
I still like the books, they are very interesting and I’m looking forward to delving into them further. The books are: