Bettie Page (1923-2008) was an American who was the first famous bondage model, and also acted in fetish films.
Career in Kink
She was one of Irving Klaw‘s early fetish models. From late 1951 or early 1952 through 1957, she posed for him for mail-order photographs with pin-up and BDSM themes, making her the first famous bondage model. Also in the 1950s Klaw began weekend home-movie sessions where he produced scores of silent 8 mm and 16 mm black-and-white film loops. These featured striptease acts and an assortment of fetishistic subjects based on special requests from his clientele. Some of these films featured Page; at least two of those (Rumble Seat Bondage and Jungle Girl Tied to Trees) were shot outdoors at secluded locations.
Exotique, a magazine published by Leonard Burtman and entirely devoted to fetish fashions and femdom fantasies, which ran from 1955 to 1959, featured photos and illustrations of women, including Page, wearing exotic leather and rubber ensembles, corsets, stockings/garters, boots, and high heels.
In 1957, Page gave “expert guidance” to the FBI regarding the production of “flagellation and bondage pictures” in Harlem.
The Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1957 branded Klaw as a degenerate pornographer and ushered in a new wave of media censorship. Page was summoned to the hearings but was never called to testify; she retired from modeling soon afterwards. Because of the political, social and legal pressures he faced, Klaw closed his storefront business and burned many of his negatives. It is estimated that more than 80% of the negatives were destroyed. However, his sister Paula secretly kept some of the better images, which can be seen today.
To further avoid prosecution, Klaw’s Nutrix publishing imprint was restricted to a mail-order-only business. For several years he published a number of small illustrated bondage/fetish photo-booklets, a typical example of which is Girl Psycho Handled with Restraint (1960), which includes old photos of Page. Eventually he sold this business to Ed Mishkin, who changed the company name from Nutrix to Mutrix, adding the first initial of his last name.
Influence on Kink Culture
By the mid-1980s, artist Olivia De Berardinis noted that women began to frequent her gallery openings sporting Bettie bangs, fetish clothing, and tattoos of Page. She described “black bangs, seamed stockings and snub-nosed 6-inch stilettos. These are Bettie Page signatures…. Although the fantasy world of fetish/bondage existed in some form since the beginning [of] time, Bettie is the iconic figurehead of it all. No star of this genre existed before her. [Marilyn] Monroe had predecessors, Bettie did not.”
In 2006, Folsom Street Fair introduced a women’s area, first dubbed “Bettie Page’s Secret” then changing its name in subsequent years to “Venus’ Playground”.
According to MTV: “Madonna’s Sex book and fascination with bondage gear; Rihanna’s obsession with all things leather, lace and second-skin binding…and the entire career of Dita Von Teese [who among other things was a fetish model]” would not have been possible without Page.
Due to the revival of interest in Bettie Page that began in the 1980s, various compilations of Irving Klaw’s films have been released on video and DVD. Background music and narration were added to the silent fetish loops for the two-volume video Irving Klaw Bondage Classics (1984) by London Enterprises. In 2005, Cult Epics released both volumes on one DVD under the title Bettie Page: Bondage Queen. Also in 2005, Cult Epics put out Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen, a DVD compilation of her burlesque performances from Striporama, Varietease and Teaserama, plus six black-and-white film loops of dancing and a cat-fight.
More of Klaw’s bondage film reels, including one with Bettie Page, are in DVD format in Bizarro Sex Loops (Volumes 4 and 20). These are compilations of vintage fetish films released by Something Weird Video (2008).