Everyone knows Bettie Page for her, shall we say, aesthetic. But very few seem to associate her with having any sort of substance behind her physicality. In Mark Mori's documentary, Bettie Page Reveals All, we're given a more cerebral insight into her life story--and, of course, a visual one as well. Unlike anyone before or since (except Madonna), Page had this way of enjoying her own sexuality that didn't make her come across as an object the way, say, Marilyn Monroe does. Narrated by Ms. Page herself (who died in 2008, four years before the film came out), the documentary is a much needed glimpse into the myth of this infamous pinup.
With a lothario/pervert of a father, Walter Page, it makes sense that Bettie would turn to the pinup life. The early trauma of being molested by her father was compounded by her mother, Edna Page, admitting to not wanting to have her. In spite of these setbacks in her formative years, Page maintained a positive attitude and excelled in school. Just a few GPA points shy of being the valedictorian of her high school, Page was the salutatorian at her graduation ceremony. It would be the first of many in Bettie's life of dichotomous perceptions.
After completing a degree at George Peabody College with the intention of teaching, Page decided to try her hand at acting. Although she had married her high school sweetheart (the first in a long series of failed marriages), Page's husband had been drafted into the Navy. Thus, she was free to go to San Francisco without much protestation from anyone. Once she had bummed around that town without any success, Page headed to the next logical progression: New York City. Here, she dealt with another scarring experience after being abducted by a group of men and forced to give fellatio to each of them. In spite of this emotional strain, she continued to work as a secretary until a police officer named Jerry Tibbs noticed her at Coney Island and offered to create a modeling portfolio for her. It seemed that Page's own bisected nature attracted others like her--how else could one explain a police officer with an erotic photography side hobby?
Page quickly gained fame in the pinup circuit, and became known for being easy to work with. Her ease and comfortableness in front of the camera was evident in every sex-soaked photograph. Her meteoric rise continued when she began to do more bondage/S&M-oriented work. As Page narrates this portion of her life, she is unapologetic about this particular part of her career, asserting that, as long as what you do doesn't hurt anybody else, you should feel free to do what makes you happy. At the height of her popularity, Page left New York. The year was 1957.
It was at this point in Page's life that she took a more spiritual turn, seeking meaning and solace through religion. She also got married again in 1958 to a man named Armond Walterson (perhaps subconsciously drawn to someone whose last name contained the first name of her father). After her divorce from Walterson, she married her first husband again and then went on to marry Harry Lear. Her desperate search for true love was manifest in these rampant divorces and in her devotion to Christianity (she worked for Billy Graham at one point).
Page's struggle with her identity ultimately resulted in a nervous breakdown, and she was admitted to a mental facility in San Bernardino. She had previously stated that she often heard voices in her head, one of them being the devil's, and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She was institutionalized until 1992. In the documentary, Page's current image is never shown. The most recent photo we are given a glimpse of his her mug shot from the early 70s when signs of her insanity first surfaced. Her final quote in the film is: "I would like people to remember me how I was in the photos." As the stuff of legend, Page's mystery throughout her later years is part of her business acumen, knowing full well that people would prefer to remember her as she was at her physical peak.