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10 Surprising Facts About Bettie Page

Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer

10 Surprising Facts About Bettie Page

Bettie Page is more popular today than she was during the 1950s. Her trademark bangs and effervescent smile have inspired people for generations. In many ways, she was ahead of her time. But though she’s seen as an icon today, her real life was far from perfect. As we remember her, we share 10 facts you may not know about the “Queen of the Pinups.”

1. She was an excellent student.

Page was crushed to come in second in her high school graduating class because it meant that she missed out on a four-year college scholarship. As salutatorian she had to settle for a $100 scholarship to a teacher’s college.

2. She was no Joan Crawford.

During her early 20s Page had a Hollywood screen test. The studio’s stylists made her up to look like Joan Crawford, which did not flatter her features. To make matters worse, she later found out that a man she’d refused a date with was in charge of evaluating her test. She did not get a studio contract.

3. She was rejected by a major modeling agency.

The voluptuous figure that made Page such a successful pinup model also kept her off the runway.  Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency, said Page was too short and her hips were too wide for high fashion modeling.

4. You can thank a cop for her trademark bangs.

An off-duty police officer (and photography enthusiast) approached Page at Coney Island to ask if she’d pose for him. After their session he suggested that bangs would look good on her high forehead. She went home and cut them herself, then wore them that way for the rest of her life.

5. She was a late bloomer and an early retiree.

Page didn’t begin modeling professionally until she was 27. Writers and editors always assumed she was younger, and for years, she was listed as being 22. Feeling she was getting too old to model at 34 (and that the market was saturated with her pictures), she quit the business and left New York City. Overnight, one of the most photographed women in the world simply disappeared.

6. She was unlucky in love.

Married and divorced four times, Page sometimes had difficulty even getting a date. During her modeling heyday she found that men would shy away and were often too afraid to approach her.

7. She was a gifted designer.

Many of her most famous bikini and lingerie outfits were designed and crafted by Page herself. One unscrupulous couple hired her to model for a session and then copied her designs from the photographs. They sold the swimwear line as “Bettie Page bikinis.” Page realized years later that she should have sued.

8. She was very religious.

After Page quit modeling, she became a born-again Christian and attended Bible college with the goal of becoming a missionary. However, the mission board she applied to wouldn’t take her because she had been divorced. She eventually began working as a secretary for Rev. Billy Graham.

9. She suffered from mental illness.

While attending bible school, Page began to hear voices. Her mental health deteriorated to the point where she became violent. After attacking her landlady, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized for 10 years. Embarrassment and shame over her illness made her an even more private person.

10. She was reborn in comic books.

Artists – especially comic book illustrators – became fascinated with Page while she lived in obscurity. The Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, who based his female lead on Page, eventually found out she was living nearby. He befriended Bettie, ran errands for her and introduced her to Hugh Hefner who in turn helped her gain financial compensation for her likeness. She was thrilled that people still enjoyed her pictures and was amazed to make more money in her final years than she ever did modeling in the 1950s. Both Stevens and Page died in 2008.