Bettie Page, the legendary pin-up girl of the 1950′s who helped usher the bondage-aesthetic into the mainstream, has died after suffering a heart attack last week in Los Angeles. She was 85.
Page was born in Nashville, Tennessee and grew up with aspirations to be an actress. A young military bride, she lived in cities across the world until her divorce, and settled in New York in the late 1940s. There she began to support herself by modeling for the erotic photographs for which she would eventually become famous. Page posed for pictures and made erotic films (none of which contained nudity or explicit sexual content) until 1959, when she converted to Christianity.
Even those who don’t know her name would still recognize her iconic image from refrigerator magnets, lunchboxes or any of the countless other pieces of Page merchandise available today.
And of course, any fan of the rockabilly look or Dita Von Teese can see the influence of Page on their aesthetics.
In the biography from her official website, Page’s move from underground star to pop culture icon is made apparent. The site states:
Vanity Fair praised the playfully seductive Page as “our Uber-pin-up.” The New York Times has declared that today “her star shines more brightly than it did in her brief heyday from 1950 to 1957.” Playboy immortalized Page as one of its inaugural centerfolds and recently named her “the model of the century, yet she remains one of its best kept secrets.” In a recent TVGuide.com poll, Bettie Page was voted the “ultimate sex goddess,” outscoring others such as Marilyn Monroe
Page’s cultural impact is also evidenced by the lengthy obituary for her on Time.com, written by Richard Corliss. In it, he calls her, "the Garbo of bondage movies," and writes that Page was the "sole creator of her myth; she was her own auteur."
Sadly, as is often the case with female "sex symbols" (such as Monroe), a long history of sexual abuse was an integral part of Page’s story, and she battled both physical and mental illness throughout her life.
Page’s story was brought to the screen by out lesbian producer Christine Vachon and executive-producer and co-writer Guinevere Turner in the 2005 biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol.
In 2009, the documentary Bettie Page Reveals All, by filmmaker Mark Mori, is set to be released.
There will be a private service and burial at Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles on Dec. 16.