Superstars of Burlesque: Bettie Page

This week, our Superstars series is celebrating one of the most famous and iconic stars of the Golden Era of Burlesque. She is still revered today as the perfect pin-up, the girl next door with the jet-black bangs, the good girl gone bad.
Back in her heyday, she blazed a trail of saucy, scandalous escapades, featuring in the infamous burlesque and fetish films of Irving Klaw and, in a similar way to Monroe, she has captured the hearts of contemporary burlesque and pin-up fans as the ultimate face of the classic art form. She is of course the one and only Bettie Page.

Who was Bettie Page?
Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1923, Bettie Page was one of the most successful pin-up models of the 1950s. She also performed burlesque and many modern acts pay homage to her.

Bettie Page: the epitomy of cheesecake.
Bettie Page: the epitomy of cheesecake.

How did she get into burlesque?
Bettie had hoped to pursue a career in acting, moving to New York City to do so. However, it was here that she caught the eye of a photographer and her career as a pin-up star was launched. She was popular with the camera clubs of the day and appeared in many of the saucy men’s magazines, including ‘Wink’ and ‘Titter’. In the 1950s she worked with Irving Klaw, appearing in several of his infamous films, thus cementing a place for herself in burlesque history.

What style of burlesque did she perform?
If you watch original movies of Bettie Page, she lacks the grace of Lili St Cyr and the wit of Gypsy Rose Lee. Instead, integral to her character is the innate ‘girl next door’ quality about her. In her burlesque dances, she often appears rather stilted in her movements compared to other dancers of the day, but her natural beauty and charismatic smile carry her through and define the very icon she came to be. Her burlesque dance routines were usually cute, simplistic, cheesecake numbers incorporating simple dance steps and bumps and grinds.

Some interesting facts about Bettie

Bettie Page & Irving Klaw.
Bettie Page & Irving Klaw.

*Bettie was one of the earliest models to feature as a Playboy Playmate, starring as Miss January 1955.

*As a teenager, Bettie and her sisters liked to practice fashionable hair and makeup styles of the day, something which served her well as her modelling career blossomed.

*At high school, Bettie was voted “Most Likely to Succeed’ in her year, graduating in 1940.

*Bettie holds the honour of being the first famous bondage model. Her work with Irving Klaw during the 1950s made her a household name in the world of fetish. The short films she appeared in featured herself and other female models in scenarios including domination, spanking, bondage and other similarly naughty situations, which were deemed as ‘pornographic’ back when they were produced.

*In 1958 Bettie left the world of modelling and burlesque and never returned. She relocated to Key West, Florida, where she became a born-again Christian and spent the rest of her life in service to her faith, until a nervous breakdown in 1979, which saw her incarcerated in a state hospital for almost two years.
Her life story is bittersweet, but even so, Bettie remains a worldwide icon in the world of pin-up. We hope you’ve enjoyed this titillating peek into the taboo world of one of the world’s most famous pin-up and bondage models.

If you’ve missed out on any of our Superstars series so far, you can check them out below.

Sally Rand
Gypsy Rose Lee
Imogen Kelly
Dirty Martini
Michelle L’Amour
Catherine D’Lish
Dita Von Teese