By now, of course, all who would be interested in this blog shall have heard: Betty Page passed away in Los Angeles, Thursday, December 11, 2008.
Betty is one reason, directly or indirectly, that those of us who believe and/or practice anything out of the "norm" are able to express ourselves.
She was a simple Southern girl, and in many ways didn't understand the effect she had by simply having other people take pictures of her.
But her effect was impossible to ignore.
Are you old enough (like me) to remember the old adult bondage booklets sold in adult bookstores? (Well, you'd have to be old enough to even remember adult bookstores, so if you don't, that lets you out immediately.) I was *ahem* underage in a large, northeastern U.S. city, in the late '70's, away from home for the first time in life, at college. I wandered into a somewhat seedy section of downtown, and came upon a little hole-in-the-wall bookstore next to the comic book shop that I had intended to visit. But, no way was I going to pass an adult bookstore without trying to get in.
I slipped past (I guess I slipped past him...or maybe he just didn't much care) a cigarette-smoking older guy in his mid-40's, who looked to be in his mid-'50's, and started browsing. I had no idea that Bondage even existed as a genre of adult porn, until...
There was Betty. It was the iconic photograph of her, tied to the 4 legs of an ottoman, looking in distress, and pleading for you to release her. She graced the cover of one of those old bondage "booklets", about the size of the cheap paperback detective novels of the day.
And, inside -- in those days, customers could actually browse the inside of a magazine, before you had to buy it -- inside, there was page after page of a pretty girl in old-fashioned undies, being tied and gagged, or tying and gagging, other pretty girls in old-fashioned undies. PAGES of the stuff!
I had no idea that anyone could collect this stuff. I had no idea that anyone had produced it,...for PUBLIC consumption. I couldn't imagine a prettier, more sensual looking woman representing my own sexual desires than this black-haired girl in the black-and-white photographs...
After about an hour, the chain-smoking guy asked me if I was gonna buy it, or if I was just gonna keep "pitchin' a tent" over there in the corner. Truthfully, I wish I'd had the balls to spend the $4.00 it would have taken to have Betty Page in my personal collection, right now.
I had to research this woman, after seeing her for the first time in my favorite pose. Talk about a full adulthood: Hollywood starlet, Playboy mansion with Hef, the (in)famous Klaw studios ... but it wasn't always sweetness and light. There were arrests, harassment, land, later in life, mental instability and seclusion. You think we consume our celebrities and spit them out at our leisure these days? Well, Betty suffered some of that same stuff, over 50 years ago.
And, for those of you who aren't old enough to know who she was and what the big deal is, yet, ... just Google her name. You'll have almost 9 MILLION hits to choose from, to get started on your own road to understanding.
Because, you see, Betty Page helped make it possible -- even if she didn't mean to do it -- for millions of people to grow more comfortable about what they like, and become more accepting of who they are. And in this era of "openness" and "true expressions", it is appropriate to remember:
Betty lived in a more suppressed environment, in a day when free expression could cost you your livelihood, your family, your friends, ... in a day when sex was never talked about, because "good girls didn't", and only lowly scum men would ask for it, ... in a day when "sexual preference" wasn't even conceived of, by right-thinking, decent people ... in a day when anything out of the ordinary was considered as perverted, subversive, and probably punishable with imprisonment,...
...and, in that time and place, Betty Page's free spirited innocence helped mark the trail for those of us who now take for granted the freedom to live our own damned lives the way we want to live them.
Betty Page was an important figure in that societal revolution.
She was not the only figure. She wasn't nearly the most important. She didn't even know what she was doing at the time, and may not (in her later life) even have approved of it.
But, Betty Page was a pioneer, nonetheless. And, she may be one of the most remembered pioneers of her day.
R.I.P, Betty Page.