The Baltimore Sun


Pinup girl helped set stage for sexual revolution

Bettie Page, a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in the nude, in bondage and in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men's magazines and private stashes across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. Ms. Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years, had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack and lapsed into a coma.

In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million locker doors and garage walls. She was also a major influence in the fashion industry and a target of Sen. Estes Kefauver's anti-pornography investigators.

But in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, and for three decades her private life - two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental illness, resurrection as a born-again Christian, years of seclusion in Southern California - was a mystery to all but a few close friends.

Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she was rediscovered and a Bettie Page renaissance began. David Stevens, creator of the comic-book and later movie character the Rocketeer, immortalized her as the Rocketeer's girlfriend. Fashion designers revived her look. Uma Thurman, in bangs, reincarnated Ms. Page in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and Demi Moore, Madonna and others appeared in Page-like photos. There were Bettie Page playing cards, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts and beach towels. Her saucy images went up in nightclubs. Bettie Page fan clubs sprang up. Look-alike contests featuring leather-and-lace and kitten-with-a-whip Betties were organized. Hundreds of Web sites appeared, including her own,, which had 588 million hits in five years, CMG Worldwide, her agent, said in 2006.

Biographies were published, including her authorized version, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend, which appeared in 1996. It was written by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson.

A movie, The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol as Bettie and directed by Mary Harron for Picturehouse and HBO Films, was released in 2006, adapted from The Real Bettie Page, by Richard Foster.

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