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Bettie Paige: A Burlesque Pioneer

Betty Mae Paige was the second of six children born to humble beginnings in Nashville, Tennessee on April, 22, 1923. She spent her childhood helping to care for her younger siblings and performing household chores. After her parents divorced, Bettie’s mother worked two jobs in an attempt to provide for her family. But, at one point she and two sisters were sent to a local orphanage.

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Bettie Paige posing on motorcycle, photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

Bettie learned to cook and sew and later, would design and create her own costumes. She was not just another pretty face, as Bettie excelled academically in high school, graduating Salutatorian after accomplishing many achievements. Desiring a career in education, the honor roll student attended college with the help of a scholarship and acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree; though for many years she dreamed of a career in acting.

Her modeling career began in San Francisco where she modeled fur coats for customers. She moved to New York in 1950 and was approached by an amateur photographer. The pictures taken by the policeman/photographer evolved into her pinup portfolio. During this time, Bettie was introduced to numerous photographers and became a model for the camera clubs.

In 1953, she pursued her love of acting in addition to modeling, by working with the Sea Cliff Summer Theater. Bettie appeared in some off-Broadway productions and made a few TV appearances. Her naughty girl next door personna made Bettie popular with the burlesque scene and during this time, the model appeared in 3 burlesque movies, “Striporama”, “Teaserama”, and “Varietease”. The movies provided the opportunity to act in short skits, perform exotic dance routines and contained a minor speaking part.

The pinup girl often traveled to Florida, where she was featured in numerous outdoor photo shoots, posing with watercraft or on the beach. A photographer submitted her poses to the budding Playboy magazine, which made Bettie Paige the centerfold in January 1955.

Bettie retired from modeling in 1957 and moved to Florida. She traveled to numerous states and held various occupations. During this time the ex-model became a Christian and a full-time employee for Billy Graham. Her face and figure gained icon status and a popularity resurgence began in the 80’s when her likeness was featured in numerous fictional characters including “The Rocketeer” , later a Disney movie. She also allowed her image to be incorporated onto 100 limited edition guitars.

Her raven hairstyle which sported bangs, is believed to have inspired Katy Perry’s signature appearance. Bettie’s bondage photographs are thought to have influenced Madonna, and her leather and lace costume designs have been replicated by female recording artists including Rihanna. Though her name is relatively unknown, her images continue to fuel fans. Numerous fan sites have developed, sharing Bettie’s story, her fashion and photographs.

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