One of the biggest winners in the Bettymania explosion was Paula Klaw. She’d photographed hundreds of shots of Bettie during the 1950s and was still selling them thirty years later. As interest in Betty heated up, traffic through their doors increased markedly.
We were reproducing Movie Star News photos in TBP and giving Paula advertising space for the usage. I created all of their ads, and they asked me to offer a tape compilations of some of their old 8mm loops, including some of Betty. They also wanted to offer photos of Betty. Though they’d only had just over a hundred shots available before TPB #1 Paula eventually had 2,000 in stock at all times. When I visited MSN a couple of weeks after TBP #2 was released Paula told me that they’d had a flood of orders and were going to do a Betty-only video collection and would I do an ad for that as well? I came up with the catchy phrase “Back to Back Betty” and when the next tsunami of orders crashed on their doorstep, people were asking for the compilation by my ad line. The next time I visited the store there was a rack of hundreds of BACK TO BACK BETTY tapes towering to the ceiling. Paula decided to go with the flow, and named the tape “Back to Back Betty” without my knowledge.
I was flattered.
They sold 1,000 tapes the first month at $29.95 each ($29,9500 dollars, U.S., very close to thirty). I can’t even guess how many they’ve sold since then. I do know that I was one of the few customers who Paula Klaw was good to.
Two Goth kids were in the store one afternoon, and between the two of them they’d bought $50 worth of Betty stills. I could hear eye-liner-boy say to the black–lipstick-girl “That’s her. She took these pictures.” It looked like he wanted Paula to autograph one or two, and approached her. “Are you Paula Klaw?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m Paula, and yes I took the pictures, now if you don’t want to buy anything else it’s time to go.”
Well, that’s what working with the New York City public for fifty years will do to you.
Now, it wasn’t just those words, it was the delivery. Paula had something of a New York accent, mixed with an estrogen-starved Lucille Ball, with a little Selma Diamond dashed in for good measure. I don’t remember if she smoked, but she sounded like she did.
On the other hand, her appearance was always immaculate. Sporty outfits which complimented a woman of her age, though frequently spiced-up by a scarf, or some hot jewelry. Paula’s tinted gray hair was always quaffed, and frozen to perfection with a liberal dose of Aqua-Net.
Now, I do like a woman who understands cosmetics, and Paula certainly did. There were moments when I was about to fork over fifty bucks, and all I could think of is the nice sculpting of the eyebrows, and the deft application of green eye-shadow. Tell you the truth, I complimented her on that more than once, Jeeze, if she went to that much trouble, speak up.
She was tough as nails, but if you told her that she looked pretty you didn’t have a friend for life, but you’d certainly scored some points with a stern mistress.
She was what she was, and that was that, and if you don’t want to make another purchase you have to go.
And I admire her for it.
File under “Colorful Characters.”
I was one of the lucky elite to be invited behind the counter, and given the full run of the place. Far more than any casual buyer. Certainly Bettymania had produced big revenues for the company and she was grateful, but I spent at least $50 there every time I went through the doors. Access to storage drawers meant rare publicity shots, one-of-a-kind candids, and items out of stock for thirty years. I rifled through ten thousand stills to find the material I used in TBP and THE MOVIE STAR NEWS STORY, and you and I saw the best the store had left to offer. So, a tip of the Theakston topper to Paula Klaw, thanks for letting me research in your store/other home.
By the way, you look pretty today.