Thursday, April 5, 2012 | 7:31 p.m.
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She was America’s original and naughtiest pinup queen. Bettie Page, with her saucy stockings and curvy corsets, became the veteran who enjoyed a 50-year career, even though she hid herself from view as a recluse the last 35 years of it. Her image remained in public view, though, as a cult figure with dozens of products featuring “the look.”
Now the black-haired, banged bikini beauty who died in 2008 at age 85 is back to life in the new film “Bettie Page Reveals All” that gets its world premiere Friday at the Orleans as the highlight of the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival.
The film features Bettie, her original pinup photographers Bunny Yeager and Paula Klaw, Playboy fans Hugh Hefner and Olivia De Berardinis and striptease aficionados Dita Von Teese and our hometown Tempest Storm. Known as the Tease from Tennessee, Bettie gave Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Mark Mori her blessing to make the documentary, and she narrates most of it telling stories never heard before.
Mark said: “She emerged from decades of seclusion to reveal her secret past. She tells the inside story of the world’s greatest pinup model with her razor-sharp wit. Her joyous free spirit as seen in her photos, and as I discovered in my conversations and interviews with her, have influenced two generations of women all over the world.
“She herself recounts how her unabashed sexual expression and sexually provocative fetish poses set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution and ushered in a new era of fashion.
“Pop music icons such as Madonna, Katy Perry and Beyonce, fashion designers and artists still follow Bettie’s lead and joie de vivre. She authorized what has become the only film bio on her life, and it’s the first and only time she has told her life story rather than having it told by others.”
Dita told me: “I have admired her and have studied her really closely. When I first started in 1990, I wanted be a Bettie Page lookalike. I studied up on her and wanted to be a famous fetish star like she was. It wasn’t the black hair and the bangs that made her so memorable. For me, it was that playful sense of humor, it was that she was adventurous.
“There are some really racy pictures of her, some triple X-rated stuff -- pictures of her with no underwear and her legs spread, tied up, laid out, full Penthouse-style. It’s intense. “
The documentary, which also features appearances by model and actress Rebecca Romijn, her ex-husband Joey Arias and ex-boyfriends, highlights previous unpublished rare photos and film clips. “She still has a global community of fans -- many of them women -- and I was able to tap deep into that and archive some 60,000 images,” Mark added.
Bettie Page lookalike and 2011 Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair flew in today for the premiere. She hosted an autograph signing and fashion show this afternoon at the first Bettie Page retail store in Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile. On Friday, she will join me at the Orleans for a Bettie Page lookalike contest and then the premiere of “Reveals All.”
Many have given me the credit as the first to find Bettie after she went into a Greta Garbo-type seclusion. When I hosted and produced “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” in the 1980s, I was intrigued with her continuing popularity and wondered if she ever saw money or royalties from the longtime use of her image.
At that point, I didn’t even know if she was still alive. But she was, and eventually we tracked her down living anonymously and nearly broke in a trailer park outside L.A. after years in a state psychiatric hospital and an assisted group-living home.
I’ll tell that story Friday night before the movie is screened for the first time. I couldn’t persuade Bettie to go on camera. She wanted the memory of her vivacious looks and flirty personality to be remembered -- and not the elderly, overweight individual she’d become. Eventually, she agreed to do a sound-only interview over her early days footage and photos. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t receiving one penny from anybody for the massive worldwide use of her image!
The segment brought instant reaction. She was reunited with long-lost relatives with a family attorney who started getting finances and income in order for her. Bettie was on her way back from the depths of despair, and she began losing weight and dressing fashionably again. A year or so later, she agreed to make her first appearance at a coming-out party at the Playboy Mansion, and I joined her and Hef for the party. Even today, her trust estate that was set up shortly after we aired the “Lifestyles” story is still earning income.
It was out of that return to the living that Mark began his documentary project, and I’m so pleased that we get the first look and listen here Friday.
He summed up: “There are thousands of her fans around the world still to this day. The cult of Bettie will never die. She was that incredible a figure. Very few people ever got to hear her voice, so this is a unique situation where she tells her own life story, which was practically unknown. Bettie still in the years after her death inspires young people worldwide and still attracts so much attention. She’s more popular today 60 years after she first became popular -- even more so than the biggest 1950s movie star, Marilyn Monroe.
“I saw her in the hospital a week before she died. If she were still alive this weekend, I would say to her, ‘I hope you like the film.’ I think she’d say what she always said: ‘Why keep on making a fuss about me?’ She never took what she did that seriously, and she always did it for pure fun.
“I think she would say she still doesn’t understand why people are interested in her. But her personality turned her into a pinup phenomenon, and she’s remained that right to today and will go on for years to come.”
Vegas DeLuxe salutes the immortal icon.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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