Fifties pin-up Bettie Page is very, very ill.
Despite what you hear, I was about...ummm...one year old during BP's original popularity. My only interest in her would have been for, shall we say, nourishment potential...although Bettie is quite, and delightfully, "average" in that respect, without the inhuman mammillary opulence that a certain playboy in a bathrobe and pipe would soon make de rigeur for ecdysiasts.
No, I came across the infamous Bettie in the 1980's, when Dave Stevens (who drew the lovely Bettie at left) let his inner fanboy out and splashed her across the pages of several of his graphic works including the "Rocketeer". Perhaps it's just a wierd concidence that Stevens died this spring; it seems more like kismet. I'm not sure he would have wanted to live in a Pageless world.
Her story is fascinating and awful in the way that carnival sideshows are awful and yet fascinating.
It goes the whole magilla: fame, beauty, youth, exuberance, conversion, flight, despair, even madness...Bettie was hard done by, but she could be any of the young girls in the harsh spotlight of the skin trade. She made next to nothing from the men who wanted to imprison her on cellulose or slick paper. She spent years in obscurity and poverty, again getting nothing from the men she married in search of security, comfort, love, maybe even something she herself didn't understand.
And all the time, rising serenely over the real woman's hardscrabble life, are the images stolen from her youth; lovely, vital, lush...an impossible rival for women, a teasing fantasy for men. I can't help but think that part of her vanishing was the impossibility of living as "Bettie Page", of having that inhumanly glossy siren's empty paper eyes on her every minute. Hard to take for anyone, let alone a smalltown Depression kid from Tennessee...
So I was sorry to hear that it looks like the time is drawing short for Bettie. Her lights are dimming, and life hard or smooth isn't going to be a problem for her soon.
But it does make me hope that today's twenty-something Betties of 2008 are learning from Bettie herself; being smart and getting lots of lovely money for showing us their boo-tay, converting it into Krugerrands or something and building themselves a safe place out of that sleek skin and glossy hair, so they can live doucely into their "sunset years", serene white-haired old ladies smelling of vanilla, smiling sweetly and horrifying their granddaughters with raunchy tales of their spicy youth.