Bettie Mae Page (April 22, 1923 – December 11, 2008) was an American model who gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos. Often referred to as the “Queen of Pinups”, her jet black hair, blue eyes, and trademark bangs have influenced artists for generations.
A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Page lived in California in her early adult years before moving to New York City to pursue work as an actress. There, she began to find work as a pin-up model, and posed for dozens of photographers throughout the 1950s. Page was “Miss January 1955”, one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine. “I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society,” said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner to the Associated Press in 2008.
In 1959, Page converted to evangelical Christianity and worked for Billy Graham, studying at Bible colleges in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, with the intent of becoming a missionary. The latter part of Page’s life was marked by depression, violent mood swings, and several years in a state psychiatric hospital suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. After years of obscurity, she experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s.
Revival of public interest
In the 1970s, artists Eric Stanton, Robert Blue and Olivia De Berardinis were among the first to start painting Bettie images. In 1979, artist Robert Blue had a show titled Steps Into Space, at a gallery on Melrose Place in Los Angeles, where he showed his collection of Bettie Page paintings.
At that time in New York, artist Olivia De Berardinis had begun painting Bettie for Italian jean manufacturer Fiorucci. Olivia has continued to paint Bettie, and compiled a collection of this artwork in a book titled Bettie Page by Olivia (2006), with a forward by Hugh Hefner. To mark the millennium on an international scale, renowned Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama created original art of Bettie Page, placing her on the pedestal of highly-accomplished, beautiful women.
In 1976, Eros Publishing Co. published A Nostalgic Look at Bettie Page, a mixture of photos from the 1950s. Between 1978 and 1980, Belier Press published four volumes of Betty Page: Private Peeks, reprinting pictures from the private-camera-club sessions, which reintroduced Page to a new but small cult following. In 1983, London Enterprises released In Praise of Bettie Page — A Nostalgic Collector’s Item, reprinting camera club photos and an old cat fight photo shoot.
A larger cult following was built around Page during the 1980s, of which she was unaware. This renewed attention was focused on her pinup and lingerie modeling rather than those depicting sexual fetishes or bondage, and she gained a certain public redemption and popular status as an icon of erotica from a bygone era. This attention also raised the question among her new fans of what happened to her after the 1950s. The 1990s edition of the popular Book of Lists included Page in a list of once-famous celebrities who had seemingly vanished from the public eye.
In the early 1980s, comic book artist Dave Stevens based the female love interest of his hero Cliff Secord (alias “The Rocketeer”) on Page. By the mid 1980s Olivia De Berardinis noted that women began to frequent her gallery openings sporting Bettie bangs, fetish clothing, and tattoos of Page. Olivia said, “Black bangs, seamed stockings and snub nosed 6″ stilettos. These are Bettie Page signatures, anyone who dons them wears her crown. Although the fantasy world of fetish/bondage existed in some form since the beginning time, Bettie is the iconic figurehead of it all. No star of this genre existed before her. Monroe had predecessors, Bettie did not.” 
In 1987, Greg Theakston started a fanzine called The Betty Pages and recounted tales of her life, particularly the camera club days. For the next seven years, the magazine sparked a worldwide interest in Page. Women dyed their hair and cut it into bangs in an attempt to emulate the “Dark Angel”. The media caught wind of the phenomenon and wrote numerous articles about her, more often than not with Theakston’s help. Since almost all of her photos were in the public domain, opportunists launched related products and cashed in on the burgeoning craze.
In a 1993 telephone interview with Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Page told host Robin Leach that she had been unaware of the resurgence of her popularity, stating that she was “penniless and infamous”. Entertainment Tonight produced a segment on her. Page, who was living in a group home in Los Angeles, was astounded when she saw the E.T. piece, having had no idea that she had suddenly become famous again. Greg Theakston contacted her and extensively interviewed her for The Betty Page Annuals V.2.