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Bettie Page died last night at eighty-five. Former Nerve editor Lorelei Sharkey (of Em & Lo fame) interviewed the publicity-shy icon in 1998. In remembrance, we've reprinted that interview here. — Ed.
Bettie Page's humility has always gotten the best of her. Figuring that at age thirty-four her modeling days were over, she graciously stepped down, dropped out, found God and enrolled in Bible school. Unaware of her overwhelming — and ever-growing — impact on collective American sexuality over the years, she lived simply and quietly, as always. Although some of Page's more obsessed fans have recently brought the extent of her popularity to her attention (hence all the mystery about her whereabouts), she doesn't pretend to understand it, nor has she exploited it.
For the most part she responded to each question with relaxed ease, innocent simplicity, and an unconscious disregard for the nuances of sexual politics. Her answers suggested that the images of her frolicking along the beach wearing a wide, inviting grin and not much else — rather than clad in black, wielding whip and rope — capture the true spirit of Bettie Page, an accidental American icon. — Lorelei Sharkey
I'm still baffled by it all, to say the least. I have never heard of any pin-up model, fashion model, actress or what-have-you who, after forty years or so, has gotten more popular, more publicity and more money than when they were doing the modeling.
I really can't explain it at all. I have many fans — even among teenagers, even among young girls — who claim I'm their inspiration and I've changed their lives and everything. It's very flattering and uplifting and I enjoy it.
The only thing I find upsetting [is that] over the years, especially in the last ten years, they keep referring to me in the magazines and newspapers and everywhere else as the Queen of Bondage. The only bondage posing I ever did was for Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually every other Saturday he had a session for four or five hours with four or five models and a couple of extra photographers, and in order to get paid you had to do an hour of bondage.
And that was the only reason I did it. I never had any inkling along that line. I don't really disapprove of it; I think you can do your own thing as long as you're not hurting anybody else — that's been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl. I never looked down my nose at it. In fact, we used to laugh at some of the requests that came through the mail, even from judges and lawyers and doctors and people in high positions. Even back in the '50s they went in for the whips and the ties and everything else.
No, I never had any inkling toward it. The only other reason I agreed to do it was because the men were never allowed to tie any of the girls up. Only Paula was allowed to tie us up, and she was very gentle and took her time. I just had one bad experience where I was tied spread-eagled between two big [beams] with my arms up and out and my legs spread and my feet were about six inches off the ground and before they got through taking what seemed like umpteen pictures, I thought it was gonna pull the sockets right out of my shoulders. And I started hollering, "Hurry up, I'm hurting." That's the only bad experience I had during the bondage. And guess what? Later, Irving Klaw told me that those pictures of me spread-eagled off the ground sold more than any pictures he ever sold in all of his years of selling pin-ups and even movie-star pictures, those things of me in agony [laughs].