Thursday, December 11, 2008

RIP, Bettie

She took such obvious joy in her body, it still sparkles across all of the years that have passed. Her life was quite troubled for many years. I hope she's found some peace. Good night, Bettie.

LAT obit

NYT obit (for "Ms. Page," don't you love it?)

There's a nice quote in the LAT's obit from artist Olivia de Berardinis:

It took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting -- it was part of the fun of being a woman.

And that's exactly the key to her charm. You never get the sense, in her photos, that anyone but her is in charge -- she never comes across as exploited, but as someone who's playing a game, wielding her sexuality because it's making her some money and heck, it's kind of fun. She grew bangs to cover what she thought was a weird-looking forehead, but other than that, she never concealed anything. Bettie herself is quoted as saying, in 2006: "I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people's perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form."

As the NYT correctly reports, Bettie was born in Jackson, Tenn. (not Nashville -- Jackson's down toward Memphis). Her pinup years were nicely immortalized in Mary Harron's movie "The Notorious Bettie Page," in which Gretchen Mol captures some of her vivacity (although that girl is awful skinny). She went through a religious conversion, a few unhappy marriages, and a decade in a mental institution, and ended up living out here in L.A. I always sort of hoped I'd run into her somewhere and we'd fall into a discussion about Tennessee, although she probably wouldn't have wanted to talk about Tennessee. Besides, it had been many years since she allowed someone to photograph her face; she wanted to be remembered as she was in her golden era. Which is kind of cool. She could have been any 85-year-old walking around out here.

There's a holiday angle to her story, as the NYT notes: "Her big break was the Playboy centerfold in January 1955, when she winked in a Santa Claus cap as she put a bulb on a Christmas tree." But I'll still be thinking of her this summer when I put on my Bettie swimsuit.

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