“I wish I had been a movie star.”
Transcribed from Nashville Citysearch’s Bettie Page Live Chat, held September 23, 1998 at 8:00 PM
Karen Essex (moderator): Welcome! My name is Karen Essex. I’m sitting here with Bettie – she’s excited to get started. I wrote Bettie Page, The Life of a Pin-Up Legend. Bettie, why don’t you say hello to the fans?
Bettie Page: Hello.
Karen Essex: Is there anything you wish you had done in your life, that you didn’t accomplish?
Bettie Page: I wish I had gone back down to Los Angeles after the screen test I had taken with 20th Century Fox flopped. I wish I had been a movie star. I had this opportunity with Jack Warner and I regret I didnt’ go back to LA. I had to go back to Nashville with my husband when he came back from the war.
I also regret that I was unable to have children. I wanted to have two boys and a girl. The doctor said I had a hormone imbalance so I was unable to have children. I did marry a man with a couple of boys and a girl, but the children’s mother ruined the marriage over jealousy.
Stacy asks: Bettie – how did you get into bondage photos?
Bettie Page: The only person I did bondage for was Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually they would shoot four or five models every Saturday. He wouldn’t pay for the regular pictures unless we did some bondage. So I did bondage shots to get paid for the other photos.
Bill Maxwell asks: What kind of movie would you like to be in?
Bettie Page: I would like to be in Errol Flynn’s swashbucklers. He and Burt Lancaster, when they were young.
John Foley asks: Are you still active?
“I didn’t isolate myself, I just thought there were too many pictures of me out there.”
Bettie Page: I have a goal to live to be 100+ and be in as good health as possible. If I have to bed-ridden I don’t want go on. I have bought every book on longevity and studied them and trying to do it. Just the thought of being 100 and being able to move around would be wonderful.
Kevin W asks: What was the event that made you decide to leave the spotlight to live in exile.
Bettie Page: All this hogwash about me disappearing and not contacting other people. I didn’t isolate myself, I just thought there were too many pictures of me out there. I decided I wanted to teach which was what I was trained to do in the first place.
Sexy Sadie asks: what was the best advice you were ever given?
Bettie Page: To have more pictures taken outdoors. In the water and on the beaches. They said I was happier then and I was. And I was. I like being outdoors. I like to go cavorting in the nude in the forests. It is just another world. To take sunbaths in the nude.
Karen Essex: Do you think that the photos taken of you outside- cavorting, romping .. are the best ones?
Bettie Page: I think so, especially Bonnie Yeager’s pictures. I wasn’t too fond of her style shooting. She wouldn’t let you pose.
Karen Essex: Have you ever consider being a blond?
Bettie Page: Yes, my younger sister was a blond until she was about 15 and then she lightened her hair. All her life she had blond hair and it looked good on her in the late 1950s I decided to try it and it was a disaster with my sallow skin it looked awful. I looked like a freak. I cut it off and wore a wig. Never again.
Ivanovich asks: Bettie, out of all the books written about you, which is your favorite? And which is the most accurate?
“I don’t think God disapproves of nudity. After all Adam and Eve were in the garden without clothes.”
Bettie Page: Your book Karen (laughs). Life of a Pinup Legend. Karen Essex did most of the writing and interviewing and stuck to what i said. She didn’t embellish. She quoted what I said and that is what I like in the book.
Romana Machado asks: Has the jealousy of other women been a recurring difficulty in your life?
Bettie Page: Yes I guess it has. I guess among models there is a lot of jealousy. I was Queen of the Food Industry in 1951 and the girl who came in second called me names.
Karen Essex: There are gentlemen Bettie’s age in Nashville whose wives get very angry if they mention Bettie’s name.
“I just know it is a delightful feeling to be in love and everyone should be in love once.”
Henry Rosenthal asks: Can you tell me anything you’ve learned about love?
Bettie Page: I just know it is a delightful feeling to be in love and everyone should be in love once. Especially when couples are together 40 or 50 years like my brother Jack and his wife Gladys. They still call each other dear and honey. I wish I had had that.
ACE asks: Ms. Page do you keep your hair black still? if not when was the year you stopped?
Bettie Page: No, I stopped coloring my hair in October 1978. I was no longer working as a secretary, I was no longer working out in public. I didn’t color my hair, it is grey now. In fact I’m worried I’m losing it. Big gobs come out. Used to be it took me two hours to dry my big gob of hair.
Don Goddard asks: Who are your heroes and inspirations?
Bettie Page: My favorite actress of all times is Bette Davis in Dark Victory. I have seen it 6 or 7 times and I still cry. My second favorite is Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, it is very happy. My third favorite is Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. I also admire Billy Graham. If ever there is a man of God it is Billy Graham. I counseled at the Crusades. I would counsel 19 girls during the crusades. He is a real man of God and still is. I admire the man very much.
EricT asks: Would you recommend posing nude to a young want to be actress?
Bettie Page: If you don’t flaunt yourself around in front of people. I don’t think God disapproves of nudity. After all Adam and Eve were in the garden without clothes. But I don’t think you should flaunt yourself. I never thought I was degrading myself when I was posing nude.
Mike Peterson asks: Do you think as a society we are too permissive about sex, too uptight about it, or just about right?
“I think you should be in love with someone. Sex is a part of love. You shouldn’t go around doing it unless you are in love with them.”
Bettie Page: Yes I do, I think it is a shame that so many girls and even older women that will go to bed with every Tom Dick and Harry that they meet. I think you should be in love with someone. Sex is a part of love. You shouldn’t go around doing it unless you are in love with them.
Sideshow Bennie asks: Were you ever a hootchie dancer? Did you ever work the carnival circuit? There was a carnival dancer in the 60’s named Bettie Page – you, perhaps?
Bettie Page: No, I was never a hootchie dancer in a carnaval. I don’t even know what a hootchie dancer is. I think they mean a wiggle dancer. I like to go to carnivals though.
Sexy Sadie asks: What is the fondest memory of your time in the public life?
Bettie Page: I guess just posing on the beach and in the water for Bunny and other photographers. I was very happy doing that and carefree and playing in the water and the beach.
Demonica asks: Is it true that Ms. Yeager makes you pay for prints of your own pictures?
Bettie Page: Bunny Yeager is the stingiest woman God ever placed on the face of the earth. When I started posing for her she had been a pin up model herself. I posed for her 2 or 3 hours at a stretch. I posed for her for nothing. She said she would pay me when the photos sold but I never saw a penny. She has sold books, bought a house and she wouldn’t even give me one free picture for my book. She said “Bettie Page has to pay for them like everyone else!”
Shooter McCay asks: What really happened with Estes Kefauver?
“Irving Klaw was accused of pornography and never even did a nude shot of a woman. Sometimes we had to wear two pairs of panties so no shadow would show and nipples had to be covered completely.'”
Bettie Page: Irving Klaw was accused of pornography and never even did a nude shot of a woman. Sometimes we had to wear two pairs of panties so no shadow would show and nipples had to be covered completely. There was a story about a young boy killing himself because of my photos. They were going to make me testify against him. They made me go down to the courtroom from 9am until 1am the next night with one sandwich and no one told me the courtroom was cleared and everyone went home. No one told me. They were a bunch of dirty louses. I told them I would never testify to this. It ruined Irving’s life all because of what they did to him.
Karen Essex: The government hounded Irving Klaw and they never had a case against him.
Bill Maxwell asks: Will we ever see a picture of you now. Even if you make it to 100?
Bettie Page: No, I don’t think my fans want to see me old and fat. I’ve got to get another 20-25 lbs. off somehow–remember me as I looked when I was younger. I get sad when I see my favorite movie stars when they’re old. Who wants to see Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau now as the Odd Couple? Jack Lemmon is a fan of mine.
StacieHerndon asks: Bettie, do you wear glasses, and if so, what do they look like?
Bettie Page: No, I’ve been nearsighted all my life. In school, I wondered why I wanted to sit near the blackboard, but my eyes never got any worse. When I was driving, I had to have glasses for night driving. With all my supplements and vegetables, I think my vision has improved. I recommend taking lots of supplements and eating lots of vegetables.
Craig Churchhill asks: What was working with Paula Klaw like? What was her role and how valuable was her presence?
Bettie Page: Paula was one of the nicest women I’ve ever known in my life-bar none. Only Paula was allowed to tie us up. She was very gentle, caring and considerate. She never tied any ropes too tight. She was very sweet. She and Irving would take me to lunch – I liked them very much.
Chillic asks: Did you ever keep any of your outfits?
Bettie Page: I’m very sorry that when I turned my life over to the Lord Jesus in January 1959, I threw out all my netstockings, bikinis – some from Frederik’s of Hollywood. I had designed some myself. I did think that God did disapprove of things I had done as a model. But I don’t think that so much now – I’m sorry I threw them out.
Speaking of bikinis, I have people making dollars off of me… one of the last jobs I did in NYC was for a couple down in Greenwich Village. The wife wanted me to pose in all my bikinis – i thought it was strange. A while later, someone sent me an ad – they were selling Bettie Page bikinis – dirty trick – they had copied my bikinis.
“Bunny Yeager is the stingiest woman God ever placed on the face of the earth.”
Dave Holle asks: Do you ever wonder what the Kefauver Commission would have done with the Starr Report?
Bettie Page: He was trying to be President, you know, and he didn’t care who he hurt along the way… I’m glad he didn’t get through the door…
Shooter McCay asks: What do you think of the Clinton thing…
Bettie Page: I don’t keep up with it too much. the news depresses me – murders, rapists – I’m trying to be positive. I’d would rather not comment.
Kai asks: What do you do now since you are retired? Any hobbies?
Bettie Page: Oh yes. I like to sew. I like to watch good old movies on cable TV. I like to read. I’ve got every book you can think of on longevity, health. I like to go sightseeing. I like to take trips. I like to go to the Western Museum of California – near Griffith Park Everybody should go there – they have all the movie star costumes – you wouldn’t believe what they’ve got there
Xiola asks: Bettie, do you have any men in your life now?
Bettie Page: I have HAD it with men. H-A-D. Besides my brother Jack and Dave Stevens, the artist. Everyone thinks Dave Stevens is my son, but he sent me a mother’s day card last year. I thought that was cute.
StacieHerndon asks: Bettie, if you could do it all over again, would you choose the same life?
Bettie Page: I would not marry the man that I married. Harry Lear, my third husband, is an exception. We were very much in love. But right after I married him and came back from our honeymoon in Nassau, the children turned against me. The ex-wife turned them against me. I regret that. But not that I blamed Harry. He was a Mr. Milquetoast. He didn’t want to make waves.
Bettie Page: She would call me up and cuss me out and tell me to go to Hell — Harry didn’t do anything about it.
Karen Essex: When did you stop dating?
Bettie Page: I had enough of it after five years and letting it ruin my life about dating and when did I stop… one of the nicest things that happened in recent year, I lived in Santa Monica in the late ’80s and there was a band in Lincoln Park – the lead singer was singing “Lady.” He came up and got down on one knee and sang that song to me while holding my hand. That was one of the sweetest things that happened to me. He didnt know my age. Now I used to go to dances in Santa Monica. I used to dance all my life and was considered pretty good. I still dance around the house all the time — as a part of aerobics. I dreamed up my own set of aerobics.
Firewolf asks: Ms. Bettie – a few months ago I saw a story about how someone had a letter from you about your time in Flordia and that you were arrested. He’s writing a book about it…any truth to this or is it more lies?
Bettie Page: Let me tell you about the man. In 1992, I think it was, I got a fan letter from Richard Foster. He claimed he was a student at the University of Virginia. He had been a fan since 16 and had a lot of questions. I was in the mood to respond and answered his questions. In addition to publishing the questions, he dug up things on me I didn’t want public this creep Richard Foster put out this book called the “Real Bettie Page.” He’s got all kinds of lies in that book that are not true, that are nobody’s business…that I tried to kill myself in a police car with a coat hanger you-know-where – how crazy! He said I was in a mental institution for many months in Miami…He claims that if he hadn’t dug up that information on me about my shady past, that somebody would have dug it up, and put me in a worse light that he did – well, I don’t know how they could!
Bettie Page: He’s even got a movie producer ready to do a movie on his book of lies – i wont get a penny of money and makes me mad that people will believe it.
Stacy asks: What do you think of breast implants – and would you have gotten them if you could?
Bettie Page: No, I would not have gotten implants. I don’t think God meant for anything artificial to be put in the body. I would rather have no breasts than something artificial like that.
bruno asks: did you travel outside of USA Bettie?
Bettie Page: I like to travel. I regret that I never got to Paris. In October 1978, I had saved money and wanted to go to Hawaii – to see the islands. People told me that Paris would have been my style of living.
I did live in Haiti – for 4 months. I was ready to go to work as the secretary to the ambassador to the US, but they were angry because the US president wouldn’t give them a loan – they started rioting and talked of killing all Americans. I left. But I like the Haitian people. I lost all of my prejudice against black people – growing up in the South, you know. When I was 13, I would collect photos of baseball stars – I had a crush on one of the Nashville Vols, in particular. These two black girls grabbed by baseball cards and shoved me to the ground.So I didn’t feel good about them, but Haiti changed me. I fell in love with a Haitian man there, but found that his wife was about to have a baby on the other end of the island!
Martha asks: Do you see people on the streets copying your style or wearing your shirts?
Bettie Page: I know that models have on the runways. They claim that I’m an instigator of a lot of the styles. I never kept up with the fashions. I believed in wearing what I thought looked good on me. Do you know that I have a good friend, I’ve never met her — April Stevens — she won a Bettie Page look-a-like contest. She always sends me pictures and videos, but she doesn’t look a bit like me. the black hair and bangs is the only thing. If she reads this, she’ll feel bad. I just though of that. oops.
“I think Madonna is highly overrated if you want my opinion. She has a very nice figure and is a good singer but has something to be desired with her looks in the face.”
Stacy asks: What do you think of Madonna? Why do you think sex sells?
Bettie Page: I think Madonna is highly overrated if you want my opinion. She has a very nice figure and is a good singer but has something to be desired with her looks in the face. Sex sells…it’s been selling for years and years, again, it’s highly overrated. There are other things in life besides sex. You lose your desire for it once you reach a certain age. though I still love to look at pictures of beautiful bodies -men and women.
Hannah asks: Have you seen all the questions on this message board? Do they make you feel good — that so many people still care for you?
Bettie Page: It makes me feel wonderful that people still care for me… that I have so many fans among young people, who write to me and tell me I have been an inspiration. You would think they never think about 50’s pinup models. I have had 11 songs written about me – the best is by a song by BR-549 from my hometown, Nashville – called “Bettie, Bettie.” I wonder what he means by, “if I had known you-I would have been a better man,” in the lyrics?
Bettie Page: I once was in love with a man named Carlos from Peru. He showed me a picture of a blond woman and a little boy. He told me it was his sister. One night I had a cold — we were making love — his sister was his wife. this night, she knocked on the door and accused me of being a homewrecker. I told her I did not know he was married, but as I was going down the stairs, she was calling me these names and felt like a snake…I didn’t have anything to do with him after that.
Karen Essex: What were your favorite places to go in Nashville?
Willow Plunge, it was in Franklin outside of Nashville. It was a big swimming pool with willows all around it. You would ride the inner urban, a small train, that clanked along to go to Willow Plunge. I have happy memories of that – I took my boyfriends there.
Blake asks: Bettie, have you been recognized on the streets in recent years?
Bettie Page: Since I got so fat in the last 4 to 5 years, not so much. Every now and then, before I cut my hair eight months ago, people would recognize me.
Karen Essex: Bettie is not really overweight! She just thinks she is, and she looks wonderful!
Bettie Page: If I want to live as I long as I do (100 years), I’ve got to lose it.
Bruno asks: Did you see “Titanic”?
Bettie Page: I thought it was fascinating. Those scenes were so real. The closing scenes with that couple so much in love. . . that is love. If ever there was an example of true love, that is it.
Dean asks: What were you like as a kid?
Bettie Page: I was very studious – I studied all the time, while others were out playing. I got the reputation, if nobody knew the answer, Bettie Page did. I was trying to be valedictorian in high school, because the valedictorian would win a four year scholarship to Vanderbilt University. I was beat out by one quarter of a point – all I got was a $100 scholarship to George Peabody school in Nashville. I did go to George Peabody and worked for Dr. Leland Crab – he is a well-known civil war historian in the South. When others were out dating and galavanting – I had to work for Dr. Crab to pay my way through Peabody. I was going to be a teacher and wanted to – but when I had to do 6 months of practice teaching, the boys in the class were about as old as I was. With all the catcalls, I didn’t want to teach. Although I did teach after leaving New York City in the 50’s in Miami and Key West – 5-6 grade. I remember one boy who had been demoted and always disrupted the class – I said I never wanted to teach again after having to deal with him.
Robert Kotrola asks: How do you feel about being a cult icon?
Bettie Page: I don’t know what they mean by an icon. I never thought of myself as being that. It seems strange to me. I was just modeling, thinking of as many different poses as possible. I made more money modeling than being a secretary. I had a lot of free time. You could go back to work after an absence of a few months. I couldn’t do that as a secretary.
Jammy asks: What kind of music do you listen to?
Bettie Page: I recommend KLAC 570 on the AM dial — 24 hours a day they play the good old music of ’40s ’50s and ’60s — Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsy, Harry James. The songs made sense back then. The rock songs now don’t make sense. I have a lot of cassettes. I have a friend who sends me the good old musicals with Gene Kelly, Doris Day. I play them all the time.
Stereo3d asks: Were there any poses you refused to do?
Bettie Page: I refused to do strip sets. There are a couple pictures of me out from this one night. But I never did an open pose that the models do now. But one night I went to a party and there a lot of models, I have never been drunk in my life, but I liked sweet May wine and I must have gotten drunk. I remember posing. I don’t even remember. And one guy sold the photos at those sleazy shots. I had him arrested when I found out. He said he sold them because he owed his bookie.
There are a few pictures out that I have done that they weren’t supposed to sell, they still didn’t have releases.
Stereo3d asks: Do you think Lucy Lawless of TV’s Xena patterns her look after you?
Bettie Page: She is one of my favorites. To be as big as she is, when she can do flips, she is something. No other woman can do what she does. I have heard she patterned her look after me. But she doesn’t have long hair like I have. I like that show.
Karen Essex: That’s all the time we have. Thanks to everyone for participating tonight. We had a great time.
Bettie Page: Thanks to Ace, Blondie, Bruno, Dean, Demonica, Sexy Sadie, Firewolf, Michael J, Shooter, Brooke, Sideshow Benny, Jaimecito, Jammy, Elaine, Kevin, Martha, Paul Hanson, Renny, Stereo 3d, and everyone else for coming.
Bettie Page: I hope you fans don’t look down your nose at me because of the breakdown, the busybody landladies. I didn’t want that known because it should have been private. I’m sorry Foster made it known in the book. It is something that could have happened to anyone. I know they don’t think the same today as they did years ago when they locked you in a dungeon. It is something that could happen to anyone when you have enough problems. I hope it never happens to you. I thank your for your love and concern. It makes me feel good knowing you’re out there. Kisses to all of you too and hugs too.
(All rights reserved. Text @ Nashville Citysearch. Images @ the Estate of Bettie Page.)