Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 34

One of the high points of THE BETTY PAGES came with my involvement with PLAYBOY magazine,  and it was also one of the low points.
Personal PB hist

It started with a phone call from PLAYBOY magazine’s fiction editor Alice Turner contacting Pure Imagination’s NYC offices in the summer of 1992. She wanted to talk to me about Bettymania and explained that an article was in the works for a coming issue of the magazine. Since I was the only person who seemed to know anything about her they decided to track me down and quiz me. I agreed to an interview and gathered everything I had on the Queen of Curves. Alice and I met for three and a half hours and I lead her through a guided tour of Bettie’s life and career. She was charming and recorded of all of it. This was followed up with another discussion, two hours in length.
The only thing that I asked of Ms. Turner was that at the end of the article PLAYBOY had to run subscription information to TBP. I reasoned that it would make dealing with the Rabbit Empire worth my time. A couple million potential customers would see the ad just as their interest was most piqued: it seemed like a fair trade.
Imagine my surprise when the December 1992 issue of PLAYBOY hit the stands. It certainly wasn’t what I had expected.
PLAYBOY’S article on Betty Page was mighty impressive. Eleven pages in length with great illustrations by Olivia, Stevens, Yeager, and myself. The kicker was the text part of the feature by Buck Henry. Buck Henry? The Saturday Night Live guy with the glasses? Where did he come from? I’d spoken to Alice Turner, the fiction editor. I’d heard that Henry had dated Brandi Case, another Klaw model, but that Buck had only bumped into Bettie, and I do mean bumped into her a couple of times, yet the article was so packed with facts that he could be considered an expert on Betty.
Early in the article THE BETTY PAGES is mentioned and subscription rates were mentioned, but without my address. The plug was good but it wouldn’t generate a single order from the uninitiated. Even worse, “Buck Henry” writes paragraph after paragraph of biographical facts as though he was remembering an old pal. In fact, the bulk of the article is based on my research. I don’t mind helping a journalist with the facts, but at least quote me a couple of times fercrisakes! No quotes. Not a one. Five years of rock-hard research was attributed to someone else’s fuzzy, warm memory. Right down to the observations I made in THE BETTY PAGES #2 about her slightly droopy eye. He “remembered” that Bettie was called The Dark Angel and The Queen of Curves, but those were names that I invented to keep from having to repeat Betty’s name every other line. The Tease From Tennessee. It added color, I thought, but nobody called her that prior to 1987. I’ve been forewarned that this will sound like sour grapes, or a crackpot claim, but I’m a firm believer in taking credit or blame for the things you say and do...or don’t do.
Harlan Ellison urged me to sue them, but PLAYBOY said that they’d make it up to me in the next issue. They made good their promise when THE BETTY PAGES got a mention with my address included. The plug generated 54 orders.
The final straw was presented for the camel’s inspection, then ceremoniously delivered to its spine.
The field rep for LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS (No, Robin Leech didn’t visit my hovel) was a fellow by the name of Bob Schapiro. He and the crew taped in my apartment for a few hours around the same time the PLAYBOY piece was in progress, and as the crew had broken-down the set and were moving the equipment outside. Bob sidled-up to me.
I knew what was coming, as it had happened a dozen times before. A crew contacts me, shoots their footage, and when the assignment is done the delicate question can be broached “Where is Betty, really? I know that you know, and we need to contact her.” Everybody and his brother thought I knew the secret-surely somebody’s told him, or she contacted him. Not at all. I never knew where Betty was until she contacted me in 1993.
And there comes this thing where they all did the same thing.
“Really. I know you know.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
“No, really, I don’t.”
“come on. It’ll be good for all of us.”
“Really. I don’t know.”
And the final last stab is the body language that says “Come on. I’m groveling here. Would you please give me Betty’s phone number?”
“I’m not holding out on you. I don’t have it. Okay?”
However, I had Jack Page’s number and gave that to Bob. Jack forwarded a tape recorder and list of questions and Betty narrated her answers into the recorder and returned it to Jack, and then to LIFESTYLES. They ended up with a great scoop, and it was clear that Betty didn’t mind discussing it.
It was a relief not to have been the one who tracked Betty down like a dog. All along I’d insisted that I was mostly interested in her professional career, and it was true. However, I’d exhausted all of my leads and the only story that was left to be told was the one that only Betty could tell.
Now, there was no reason not to contact Betty, and I immediately sent both Jack and Betty complete sets of TBP including the first Annual, and held my breath. Would she hate it or love it? How right had I been, and more importantly, how wrong had I been? I had that feeling you got just after you turned in your final exams. There was nothing left to do but let the teacher see your work, correct it. and get your grade.
         To say that the last six months have been like Mr. Toad's wild ride would be an understatement.
         Things began to heat up when writer Thomas Goldsmith, a writer for THE NASHVILLE TENNESSEAN, contacted Black Cat Central, early in 1992.  Bettymania had overtaken him and he wanted to do a story about the lovely Ms. Page.  I filled him in on all I knew and suggested that he visit the Hume-Fogg High School, Bettie's alma matter. Tom located a copy of her yearbook and began to contact members of her Senior class.  Somewhere along the way, somebody said "Hey, why don't you call her brother, Jack?"  Given that hot lead, Goldsmith plugged in with her only known relative (to the public).  Like any self-respecting brother, he spilled the beans on his sister.
         The extensive piece was published in the April 26, 1992 edition of THE TENNESSEAN, four days after her 69th birthday.  Jack offered some choice chunks of info, including the fact that "she knows all about the magazines about her, and all, but she doesn't want to get involved.  She just says 'No, I just want to forget.'  She's not bitter; she just doesn't want to bring it up again."
         Other tasty bits of data include the idea that Bettie almost lived at the movies, and at times it seemed like they were her whole life. The Page family lived in several North Nashville homes before they moved to a house on Dickerson Road just before World War II where Father Roy and mother Edna settled in with the kids.  This was at the tail-end of the Great Depression, mind you.  The parents split up, and Jack remembers "Mama raised us all.  There were six of us-- three boys and three girls.  We all went to East ((High School)), except Bettie, who went to Hume-Fogg."
         A number of her classmates remember her in glowing terms.  "She was a person you noticed" is a typical remark.  Then there was more great material on her trail immediately after high school, an area that I've always found difficult to investigate.  The paper reports that she did attend Peabody College, as I had previously believed.  I visited the historical wing of the college in 1992 and found no trace of her.  The subsequent search by the college staff also came up empty-handed.  She also taught school, as her old boyfriend, Mr. Lucky, reported.  Next she turned up in Los Angeles, lining up with the information supplied by The Swede, a sailor that she knew at the time.  Classmate Deney Kirby reveals that he and his bride were honeymooning in L.A. when they spotted The Tease from Tennessee in Pershing Square.  "Can you imagine the odds of seeing Bettie Page thousands of miles from home.?"  Bettie said that she was there training for a career in acting and dance.  Jack recalls the pit-falls that pretty aspiring actresses were likely to face. "..the producer of the movie would want Bettie to go to Lake Tahoe with him for the weekend and Bettie didn't like that."
         The TENNESSEAN also mentioned yours truly, Paula Klaw and Movie Star News, FOND MEMORIES and Bob Schultz, and Jack Boulware of THE NOSE.
         What happened to Bettie Page after her escape from New York is also offered.  Goldsmith reports that she moved to Miami and offers one of the reasons for her quitting the business at the height of her modelling career.  Tom says that "crooks" had faked photos of Bettie doing naughty things.  "She didn't come out with anything." brother Jack remembers.  "She always just has done secretarial work."  He added "She had to work all her life."
         THE TENNESSEAN also reports that Bettie moved to Miami in the late 1950s and got married.  The union didn't last  long, and shortly after, Bettie found God, confirming that long standing rumor.
         Jack says "Her (second) husband told me 'One day she told me"The Lord said to give all my time working for Him.  We're going to have to get a divorce."'
         In 1974, at 47 years of age, The Dark Angel packed her grip and headed west, stopping only when the land ran out.  Jack concluded by saying that she's doing fine,"writes witty letters", and is determined to ignore her fame.  Greta Garbo, move over.
         Well, so much new info on The Queen of Curves was great!  Even better to know that she is aware our admiration for her and is in good health.  On a personal level, I was relieved that someone else had done the deed.  I was as anxious as all of you to find out the answer to The Big Question, but refused to pursue it.  Last word from Bettie in 1977 was that she didn't want to be bothered, and I've always taken her at her word.  Bettie's modeling career was my focus, almost exclusively.  Though she never said so, I figured that it meant her family, too.  Tracking her down by hounding her family might have bothered her and might have made it more difficult to someday become her friend.
         The response to the piece in THE TENNESSEAN prompted producers at LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS to contact Black Cat Central and they quizzed us about the possibility of doing a piece on Ms. Page.  Convinced that it was a good idea, they sent a film crew to cover the story.  Four hours later, the crew departed for Paula Klaw's Movie Star News.  Just before they left, their supervisor, Bob Shapiro, pulled me aside and asked me how they could get in touch with Bettie.  I gave them Jack's phone number and wished them luck.

         Hot on the heels of the LR&F piece THE BETTY PAGES went on the road for the summer convention circuit.  First stop was the Chicago Comics Convention (July 4th weekend) where we premiered the BETTY PAGES ANNUAL V2 poster.  Good friends, and long-time Betty fans,  Herb Lichtenstein and Raymond Cuthbert stopped by to say hello.  As usual, the convention was a blast.
         Next stop was the Dragon Con, held in Atlanta, Ga.  This is one of my favorite conventions, and it was very natural to get involved with the programing of the show.  Three years ago they held their first Bettie Page look-alike contest, and shortly after, invited us to sponsor the second edition.  The 1991 edition of Dragon Con featured a look-alike competition that featured no less then 16(?) contestants all strutting their stuff.  The crowds loved it. The 1992 contest was an even bigger success.  The Bettie competition was scheduled for 10:00 pm following the Forrest J Ackerman roast on Saturday night.  As planned, LIFESTYLES had arrived to cover the festivities and had been terrorizing the dealer’s room for the better part of the afternoon, digging for Bettie related items, getting quotes and generally stopping traffic in the process.  Later, while Julie Schwartz, Susan Barrows and other noted personalities insulted Ackerman, the LIFESTYLES crew regrouped in the lobby outside of the ballroom.  At the same time, I was quizzing each of the women about their knowledge of Bettie (large points in the total competition).  Once that was out of the way, Bob Shapiro outlined what he wanted the faux-Betties to do.  They were each given a moment to strut for the cameras, invited to speak briefly and do their best to tease the crowds with some impromptu cheesecake poses.  The girls and lights had attracted a large group of convention goers who decided to make it a photo opportunity, and flash-bulbs erupted by the dozen.  Shapiro was obliged to tell them to cut it out, lest they spoil the LSR&F shoot.  After almost two hours of Bob putting the girls through their paces, the look-alike contest was ready to roll.  Ackerman, a Bettie fan since the early-1950s, had gladly accepted the duties of Master of Ceremonies.  Alice Turner, fiction editor for PLAYBOY had agreed to judge the contest with me, and she was also ready, notepad in hand.
         Of all of the Bettie related things I’ve been involved with, The 1992 contest stands out in my memory.
         Next up was the San Diego Comic Art Convention, held over the August XX XX weekend. THE BETTY PAGES #8 arrived prom the printer in the early afternoon on Saturday.  Better late than never.  Brinke Stevens was on hand to autograph her feature, and flashbulbs were popping all day.  Other guests included  artist Russ Heath, REN AND STIMPY's Bill Wray, FILM TREAT editor and all-around bad-boy Chris Gore, and Bettie fan Forrest J Ackerman who came by to sign autographs and promote our new project WONDERAMA.  Drop-by pals included TBP supporters Bob Schultz, Chris Ng, David Alexander, GOOD STUFF!'s Ken Kaffke, and dozens too numerous to mention. We were pleased to act as a temporary oasis from the ocean of 17,000 people.  It was also great to say hello to Joel Beren and Olivia, monster model master Ray Harryhausen, animaniac John Krisfaluci, XENOZOIC TALES' Mark Schultz, MARSHALL LAW's Kev O'neil, and more creators than we could count.  Den Mother, Susan Barrows made sure everything was running smoothly and delighted the crowds with her snappy patter.
         We also announced our new publication TEASE!, but more on that later.
         The next big Bettymania event was the feature article in the December issue of PLAYBOY.  The piece hit the stands during the first week of November and generated world-wide interest in the Bettie story.  Thirty eight years after her first appearance, Bettie was back in PLAYBOY.  The piece was penned by Buck Henry and with pictures ran a staggering eleven pages.  Though not much new information surfaced, the pictures alone were worth the price of admission.  I was delighted to see the cover to the first ANNUAL reproduced in as a full page illo.
         The following week, LIFESTYLES aired the program that solved the mystery of Bettie Page.  The piece was a ten minute segment, packed with facts, pictures and interview clips.  Great visuals included shots of the Dragon Con look-alike contest, shots of the convention and dealers, the Hume-Fogg School, Bettie memorabilia and photos of Bettie from 1970!  She looked great.  The most amazing part of the program was the audio taped interview with The Queen of Curves herself.  Though she refused to be shown on camera, she did provide an audio tape commentary.  "I'm old..." she insists in her deep Southern drawl, "I'd rather be remembered..."

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