On Saturday, April 22, the city of Nashville celebrated 100 years of Bettie Page with a historical marker dedication at Hume-Fogg High School.
Bettie’s long time friend Mark Roesler had a few words to share at the ceremony.
Hi I am Mark Roesler and I was Bettie Page’s long time business agent, attorney, friend and now control her affairs since her death 15 years ago. I want to thank the City of Nashville, and all of her fans for this special day commemorating what would have been her 100th birthday in the city where she was born and she was so proud to call “home”.
Bettie Page had about 7 years in the international spotlight between 1950 to 1957 but the mark she left not only made her one of the most impactful personalities of the 20th century. But it left a mark that as we are a quarter of a century into the 21st century, her impact and legacy still resonates throughout the world.
It all started here in Nashville….100 years ago today. Bettie was very independent. She thought for herself. She chartered her own course. She was independent. & completely self made, bore no prejudice of any kind, and recognized no barrier to personal fulfillment. Always a free spirit, she moved from here to San Francisco, took her first of several secretarial jobs, but dreamed of movie stardom and modeling.
Everywhere she went, whatever she did, people were distracted by her beauty — the smile, the hair, the flawless figure. She realized that she had this incredible image that translated more to pin up modeling than television, movies, or dancing. She performed for the camera in countless 8 and 16mm so-called “film loops” exhibited in peep shows and sold through the mail. Running only minutes long, many of these were staged and issued by the brother-and-sister team of Irving and Paula Klaw of Movie Star News in New York. It was for the Klaw that Page gained infamy for pin-up modeling, often posing in bondage. “It was all pretend,” Page explained. “According to my arrangement with the Klaw, you had to do an hour of bondage poses in order to get paid for the other modeling work.”
From the period of 1950 to 1957 Bettie Page quickly became the most photographed woman in the world. There could be no doubt, she was a worldwide sensation. Her image was everywhere, and attracted international attention and notoriety. Page explained. “Nobody knew this, but I used to imagine the camera was my boyfriend, and I was making love to him. I had fun teasing the guy with the camera until he was in sync with whatever mood I was in.”
It was in 1955 that she appeared on the cover of PLAYBOY and that established a half century relationship with both the magazine & Hugh Hefner. She was the 2nd edition of Playboy after the first, Marilyn Monroe. Wearing a Santa hat and nothing else as Miss January of 1955, Bettie Page, like Marilyn Monroe, had been one of PLAYBOY magazine’s initial Playmate centerfolds during its first year of publication. Monroe fit the magazine’s business model, offering readers the wholesome “girl next door.” Page became instead the “bad girl next door” cult figure, now representing a sort of collective guilty pleasure for admirers, who are not just men. Playboy immortalized Page as one of its inaugural centerfolds and named her “the model of the century, yet she remains one of its best kept secrets.” In a TVGuide.com poll, Bettie Page was voted the “ultimate sex goddess,” outscoring others such as Marilyn Monroe.
But all of this changed in the mid ‘50s when the Senate established the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency as a response to growing calls to address the moral ills of the nation and where politicians advanced their careers on the back of how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. As chairman of the United States Special Committee to Investigate Crime Sen. Estes Kefauver applied the heat to underworld figures The hearings catapulted this wacky presidential candidate to national recognition as a defender of public morality. Kefauver claimed an early victory over the comic book industry, forcing most of them out of business…… he was hoping for an equally decisive victory against mail-order pornography & its poster child, Bettie Page. They told her that Klaw was a seller of pornography and they wanted her to testify to that effect. Bettie was visibly shaken by the whole affair. On the day she was set to testify, Page was left alone in a small room at the United States Courthouse for 16 hours, unable to leave and kept in the dark about what was happening. Kefauver never called her to the stand. A court clerk eventually told her she was free to leave. The hearing was over, but so were the careers of Page and Klaw. No Senate charges were laid against Klaw or Bettie, but the resulting hysteria garnered renewed attention from state and federal authorities.
So it was 1958 and Bettie Page vanished from view in the prime of her life. Just like Greta Garbo, like James Dean, like Jean Harlow. Gone. Except that the departure of Bettie Page was a mystery. Where and why did she go? Many thought she was dead. No one knew for almost ⅓ of a century. Her disappearance only served to fuel her notoriety.
But during that isolation she had a number of issues…. A failed third marriage in 1978 precipitated some mental instability, violent mood swings, and trouble with the law. It was 1992 when she left San Bernardino’s Patton State Mental Hospital to emerge from this dark period during which she had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
It was that year that I had a call from Hugh Hefner about trying to help this recluse who I had no idea who she was. I went and met her at a halfway house and observed the groundswell of interest in Bettie in the early ‘90s. We soon began “protecting” her valuable name and likeness. We started a clothing line that featured the “Bettie Page” and opened a store called “Bettie Page” on the Las Vegas Strip. Page became increasingly popular not only here in the United States, but throughout the world. Her website BettiePage.com became one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the internet, getting almost ¾ million hits each day. She was recognized for having changed the social norms and allowing people to be less inhibited and look at sex in a different way. “
“Her undeniable influence will forever remain in fashion, films and merchandising, “She was reclusive and private, so without intending to be, without quite understanding how, her modeling work made her a pivotal figure in the sexual revolution that began in the 1950s. To her adoring fans she will always be remembered as the ‘Queen of Pin-up.’ “ Images of Bettie Page continue to inspire imitation by curious young girls who somehow – probably through the internet – discover this “Dark Angel” whose personality reflected the lethal combination of sweet apple pie, as well as dangerous forbidden fruit. Judging by the hundreds of millions of hits registered at her authorized website, the magnetic appeal of Bettie Page to young men, and women, appears to be timeless.
“Young women write me untold numbers of letters,” Page explained in 2005. “ Gratified to see that what I did so long ago has meant something to so many.” What resonated with young women was how Page owned her own sexuality. Whether projecting innocence, or being completely wild and uninhibited, it seemed to be her choice, and either choice, wholesome or edgy, was fine with her, and she embraced them both. She was confident her audience did as well.
The fashion designers, Madonna, and others can copy the fetish behavior, the bangs and the bullet bras, but only the spontaneous and unpredictable Bettie Page herself was able to project the unique and volatile combination of the playful nice girl — along with the perilous one. Wholesome innocence one moment, dangerous dominance the next. That quality defined the Bettie Page persona, as well the flesh and blood person few people were fortunate enough to know. Quietly, steadily, old black and white photos of Bettie Page have continued to stimulate tributes in the form of books, websites, fan clubs, documentary films, and countless licensed products. Celebrities and supermodels who have attempted to leverage the “magic” and pose as the naughty and nice Bettie Page include Madonna, Dita von Teese, Farrah Fawcett, Demi Moore, Katy Perry, Renee Zellweger, to name a few.
So the transcendent beauty and playful yet dangerous personality of Bettie Page trumps all else and continues to inspire documentary films, designers’ fashions, artists’ fetishes, and fans’ fantasies.
Towards the end of her life, she told me she wanted people to remember her as she looked when she was young, and for being someone who, in her words, “changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form. Being nude was something I enjoyed, it felt so natural. There is nothing disgraceful concerning nudity unless one is being promiscuous about it. Don’t forget the Bible says when God created Adam and Eve, they were stark naked. Who can argue with that?”
When Bettie Page left the modeling scene, she sought privacy, read widely, enjoyed classic movies, and lived out her life as a devoted Christian. Many times she told friends, “My long term goal is to live a healthy hundred years. We often went to the Playboy Mansion to watch old movies and attend private parties with her friend Hugh Hefner. Her most memorable experience she told me was attending the Playboy’s 50th Anniversary party at the Playboy Mansion with Anna Nicole Smith. Neither one wanted to be seen in public…..Anna Nicole, one of my clients, hadn’t been to the Mansion in many years and Bettie didn’t want to be seen in public. But I told each of them that the only way the other would go and Hef really wanted them there, was if the other would go. Anna Nicole idolized Bettie and Bettie was a huge fan of Anna’s. They both agreed at 6 p.m. that night and I picked them both up at 10 p.m. and we made a grand entrance at the Playboy Mansion. There were a # of photographs taken of the two with another client of mine Pamela Anderson. That was the only picture that Bettie allowed to be taken in the last 50 years of her life. Bettie died a couple of years later in 2008 & today she is buried a few feet away from both Marilyn Monroe & Hugh Hefner in Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles. Buried next to what became her best friend and the other iconic beauty, Marilyn, who became the runner up in the poll at the turn of the Century as the “Ultimate Sex Goddess”.