She was Playboy's" Miss January" in 1955. I was two years old. In the era of the "sweater girls," it would be years before I became aware of Bettie Page and what a "pin-up" was. Mangham, Louisiana in the early '50s was about as sexually liberated as Victorian England. Mr. Harper's corner drug store had comic books displayed on spinner racks. All the other magazines were lying in stacks on top of a nearby counter. I didn't see magazines displayed like we have today until I was in high school. Somewhere along the way, the "Santa's Helper" shot from Playboy filled my eyes and I fell for an icon.
Back in the early '60s, I didn't know much about Bettie Page other than her irresistible appeal and charming good looks. For me, an important aspect of her appeal was her confidence and comfort showing off for the camera. Over time, the more I learned, the more we had in common. We both grew up in rural farming communities, she in Tennessee and I in Louisiana. Small towns, small Protestant churches, strictly disciplined childhoods connected us as well. However, it would be almost 30 years before I broke free of the Victorian bonds from my childhood. Bettie fared much better.
Bettie Page was the salutatorian of her class, got a BA in 1943, and soon was in New York City working as a secretary with the desire to become an actress. Camera clubs had sprung up as a way of circumventing pornography laws and as soon as Bettie got in front of those guys with her lack of inhibition, the dominoes began to fall faster and faster. From the time I was born until I started kindergarten, she was in the prime of her modeling career posing for pin-up shots and performing in motion pictures, sometimes nude, but never sexually explicit. Like most farm girls of that era, she had learned to sew and was responsible for much of her own wardrobe, particularly the leopard skin outfit seen in the famous "Jungle Bettie" shoot. By the time I was in first grade, the most famous pin-up model, the uninhibited, fun-loving Bettie Page, had returned to Christianity and was posing professionally no more.