The cover of 1989’s ‘The Betty Page 3-D Picture Book.’
Though I’m sure the first thing you will notice about this book of photos and illustrations by Hugh Fleming (and others) of Bettie Page is that her name is not-so-curiously misspelled as “Betty” and not “Bettie.” The alternative spelling of Page’s name as “Betty” is actually fairly common, and its use can likely be traced back to photographer Bunny Yeager who worked with Page in the mid-50s. We also see the alternate spelling of Page’s name credited to Dave Stevens, the illustrator behind early 80s comic The Rocketeer and a Bettie Page superfan. In the comic “Betty,” the girlfriend of “Cliff Secord” (the Rocketeer’s alter-ego) was modeled after Page. Then in 1987 a fanzine detailing the bombshell’s real-life exploits called The Betty Pages became hugely popular thanks to its founder Greg Theakston. There are also other, more modern publications that also refer to Page as “Betty” including this naughty fetish book by Dirk Vermin that we’ve previously featured here on Dangerous Minds.
According to the introduction written by Dave Stevens, the photos that were used in the book came to him through a man named Walter Sigg who had a stash of color photos of Page in what Stevens refers to as “3-D,” many of which had never been seen before. Stevens’ mention of “Walter Sigg” is also curious as the only Walter Sigg of note that I able to conclusively identify was a Swiss graphic designer from Zurich. While I was frustrated by the fact that is seems Walter Sigg might not even exist, as Stevens’ notes in the book’s introduction color 3-D stereo slides of Page do exist and sometimes pop up on auction sites on sale for as much as $500 bucks. When it comes to the book itself, you can find copies of it for anywhere from $10 to $100 depending on its condition on eBay. I’ve included a few photos from the book which is an absolute must-have piece of memorabilia for any Bettie Page fanatic, below. And since this is Bettie Page we’re talking about, they are NSFW.
It’s amazing when you consider what we might now view as quaint, familiar photographic imagery was once a serious no-no. We’ve all seen photos of Betty Page bound and gagged to the point where it’s no more shocking than a LIFE magazine cover image. When John Alexander Scott Coutts aka “John Willie,” publisher of the original Bizarre magazine and the author/ artist of the iconic art comic The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline started, excuse me, basically invented fetish photography as we now know it, it was a punishable crime.
Possibilities!, a massive 472 page coffee table book of John Willie’s photos, published by J.B. Rund’s Belier Press is the be-all, end-all last word from the world’s greatest expert on the subject.
Belier Press has been in existence since 1974 and the publisher’s own story is as interesting as the subject of the books he puts out. J.B. Rund was a young teen running around in the original rock ‘n’ roll era (1955/56) looking for second hand rock ‘n’ roll 45s to buy cheap from juke box distributors in Times Square. One of these stores also had “adult books” and this is where the author first saw a John Willie photo. The afterward of this book goes into great detail about this discovery period and the history of Belier Press. Belier Press has published all kinds of books, not just fetish photography, though I can say that the first time I ever saw a photo of Betty Page was on the cover of Belier’s Betty Page Private Peeks volume two. He also put out R. Crumb’s Carload o’ Comics, The Complete Fritz The Cat, all of the reprints of the Irving Klaw catalogs (Bizarre Katalogs), Eric Stanton and Gene “Eneg” Bilbrew and other fetish artists in Bizarre Komix (24 volumes!), The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline and the recent deluxe reprint. An amazing run.
Possibilities! has more than 1,360 photographs basically giving a visual history of John Willie’s fetish coming of age and, in fact, the birth of what we take for granted now as an art form, a style, a distinctive look and feel all which can be traced back in these photos to something that sparked excitement in one man’s mind (and loins) and the fact that he wasn’t afraid to act on that idea, even though for all he knew he may have been one of the only people on earth to feel this way.
John Alexander Scott Coutts (or JASC as the author refers to him) was born in 1902 in Singapore, the youngest of four children of William Scott and Edith Ann Spreckley Coutts. His father, wanting to go into business for himself moved the family to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, a northwest suburb of London in June 1903. As a very young child Coutts was drawn to a particular type of children’s fantasy literature called “Fairy Books,” where he developed an attraction for “damsels in distress” and the want to rescue these damsels. At around this time he also showed a talent for drawing.
To quote the author:
At about the age of puberty he became aware of another attraction—for women in high heeled shoes—which had a strong sexual connotation for him. In his fantasies John wanted these women in high-heels to be tied-up (in order to rescue them?).
In September of 1921 Coutts entered Sandhurst (the Royal Military Academy), graduating in 1923 with a commission as Second Lieutenant and joined the Royal Scots regiment. In 1925 he married Eveline Stella Frances Fisher, a nightclub hostess who he decided needed “rescuing.” They were married without the required permission of his regiment and against his the wishes of his father (who cut him off), so he moved to Australia in late 1925 or early 1926. The marriage disintegrated soon after. One day in 1934 Coutts stumbled upon McNaught’s, a shoe store on King Street that had a sideline catering to shoe fetishists. He also discovered in that establishment the existence of a weekly British magazine called London Life.
London Life was, as Rund puts it:
...a weekly British magazine that openly dealt with a range of fetishes, but in a conservative manner that would seem quaint by today’s (lack of) standards. Suddenly John Coutts realized that he was NOT alone!
At this point he was introduced to a locally based organization for shoe fetishists, possibly called “The High-Heel Club,” run by a retired ship’s captain who went by the name “Achilles.” He then met Holly Anna Faram around 1934, a woman that shared his his interests in bondage & high heels. She became his first model, and his second wife.
“Coutts was frustrated by the refusal of London Life to print any of his letters on the subject of bondage and arrived at the conclusion–in 1936 or ‘37–that he could produce a superior and more liberal publication, which in 1946 would come to called Bizarre.
In the decade in between coming up with the idea of Bizarre magazine and getting the finances to put that project together, he came up with the idea of selling high-heeled shoes, though he actually wanted to market his photographs of women wearing those shoes and not the actual shoes themselves. But it didn’t work out that way.
In 1937 Coutts got access to “The High-Heel Club” mailing list and started his career as a photographer. He also acquired the right to use the name “Achilles.” At first, using the list, he offered rather pedestrian photos of women wearing high-heels. He then added Holly Anna Faram who turned out to be an amazing model and started offering bondage poses, but in a veiled manner. Like many artists, writers and musicians Coutts was not a good businessman and not very good with money, a problem that would follow him throughout his life.
Early in 1938 he placed a series of ads in London Life magazine for his sexy shoes, charging what he felt would be too much for any potential customer (wanting to push his more reasonably priced photos instead) and naturally people started to order them. Now he had to do something, or return the money. So Coutts added shoe maker/designer to his list of accomplishments. He also put the money together to make his dream magazine but World War II broke out and that ended that dream, at least for a while.
In 1940, John Coutts volunteered for service in the Australian Army (listing his religion as “Pagan”). In 1945 he decided to move to America to once again attempt to bring his Bizarre dream to life. At the end of that year he travelled to Canada on a merchant ship to subsidize the trip. In Montreal he found a printer that not only had an allotment of paper (remember this was wartime), but was willing to take on the job. At that moment both “John Willie” and Bizarre were born.
As far as Coutts’ new name was concerned and what it meant—“Willie,” of course, being British slang for the male sex organ—but “John Willie” was also a Cockney rhyming slang term for a little boy, so ummmm… take your pick! At last he was on his way. Willie moved to New York City in 1946 or ‘47, trying to work on Bizarre with not a lot of luck. He postponed publishing after four issues and started again in 1951. He sold the magazine to a friend in 1956 after publishing 20 issues. He also did business with infamous fetish photographer and mail order dealer Irving Klaw, famous for his Tempest Storm and Betty Page photos, bondage photos, fetish cartoon serials and of course, the photos by John Willie. Klaw made two color full length films (Teaserama and Varietease) which survived and can be seen on one DVD from Something Weird Video.
To quote Rund again:
In April of 1961, after moving to Los Angeles, Coutts/Willie was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, followed in May by a confrontation with a Postal Inspector concerning his photographs. He then decided to put an end to his activities as “John Willie” and destroyed all of his negatives as well as his mailing list sending this announcement to his customers:
“On this occasion I will forgo the usual editorial “WE” (which is more businesslike) and instead, as this is the last letter you will ever receive from me I am reverting to “I”. I got sick (it happened very suddenly) and had to undergo a major operation (of course I’d have no insurance). As a result, there will be no more “Gwendoline,” and the whole business will be closed as of June 25th. (I have a few weeks grace—I hope.) I would like to inform you that on that date everything, but everything, including the mailing list will be destroyed… It’s been nice to have known you and I wish you the very best in your games of fun and nonsense.”
This was followed by a quotation from John’s favorite book (his “Bible”), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he had also quoted at the beginning of each issue of Bizarre: “Ah, with the grape of my fading Life provide, And wash my Body whence the Life has died, And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt, So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.”
John Alexander Scott Coutts passed away on August 5th 1962, at a doctor friend’s house in Scottsdale Arizona, on the same day that Marilyn Monroe died.
Little could Coutts have known the impact his art and life would have on the future of human sexuality. This impact is mostly due to Bizarre magazine and his The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, both of which have been documented. According to author and publisher J.B. Rund:
The former (Bizarre) in the disappointing reprint of the magazine. The Latter (Gwendoline), together with a substantial amount of previously unpublished and uncollected artwork, in The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, (Belier Press, 1974 and 1999). And to a lesser extent, as a photographer, which heretofore has been poorly and disrespectfully done. The present work will expand on this other talent, and provide an extensive—but not a complete—record of his prodigious output in that medium.
The photos in the book are culled almost completely from just two sources, the author/publisher’s personal collection and that of the Kinsey Institute. It’s separated into three huge sections, geographically (Australia, New York, Los Angeles) which match his life’s timeline and it’s just incredible to see it all in one massive artistic survey. The notes, introductions and afterward are riddled with the most minute details that seem to leave no stone unturned. If you have even the slightest interest in pop culture, photography, women in distress, art, bondage, or the history of alternative culture, then you owe it to yourself to own this book—the only one you’ll ever need on this subject. Trade edition available from Belier Press for $70. Deluxe limited edition of 150 numbered copies each in a custom made cloth slipcase containing an ORIGINAL print of a photograph taken by John Willie in Los Angeles circa 1958-61, a different photo in each book, plus reproductions of two previously privately circulated photographs taken by Willie in Sydney circa 1938 (not in the book). Plus John Willie Speaks–John Willie Sings!?!, an audio CD, just under forty-eight minutes, consisting of a monologue from Within A Story, his only known speaking part in a motion picture from 1954, and excerpts from the only known interview with Willie from 1961-62, excerpts from A Bawdy Recital–Poems, songs and stories performed by John Willie in 1962. Whew! A serious bargain if you ask me, as only Belier Press could whip up.
One of the best parts of my gig working as a writer for Dangerous Minds is the fact that I get to share things that I love with all of you groovy readers. While I honestly don’t have a favorite topic (though it’s probably a toss up between Black Sabbath and vintage Van Halen), I really do love writing about vintage magazines. I’m still a huge connoisseur of tangible media and whenever I can I like to pick up old magazines—a trick I learned from a successful colleague of mine. It’s an exercise that almost always leads to me stumbling on something I can blog about.
Such is the case with today’s post about Eyeful magazine which got its start back in 1942 purporting to be a vehicle for the cause of “Glorifying the American Girl.” Publisher and journalist Robert Harrison, who would later launch “the most scandalous scandal magazine in the history of the world,” Confidential, promoted the magazine using the following words “Gals, Gags, Giggles.” Someone being a fan of at least one of those three things is a pretty sure bet. Harrison’s come-on worked and the cheeky magazine would have a nearly thirteen-year run under Harrison’s reign as one of New York’s most successful publishers. Another reason Eyeful was a hit was the fact that most of their models were burlesque dancers who clearly knew how to make the image of a housewife or “girl next door” be sexy and appealing without showing any actual nudity.
Of the numerous famous faces who graced the cover and appeared in silly sexist pictorials inside the magazine was the iconic Bettie Page who, according to the book Bettie Page Confidential by Bunny Yeager appeared on and in Eyeful while she was still working as a secretary on Wall Street trying to save money for acting lessons. Awww. I’ve included images of covers of Eyeful that feature actual photographs which were not as common as the classic illustrated covers that routinely appeared on front of the magazine. I’ve also posted some tongue-in-cheek humor pictorials from Eyeful such as “How Strippers are Hired” and “How to Train a Wife.” Har har har. If you are a collector of girl-centric magazines, copies of Eyeful are pretty easy to come by.
As I mentioned previously, although there is no actual nudity in the images that follow, they are still fairly NSFW. YAY!
I have to say this is one of the many times I’ve been proud to call my transplanted home of the last seventeen-years quite possibly the greatest place on earth. One of my favorite Seattle landmarks (which I drive by on nearly a daily basis) is a home with a giant mural of Bettie Page painted on it. She’s been joined by an equally humongous portrait of Divine all decked out in the famous red dress worn by the great Harris Glenn Milstead in 1972’s Pink Flamingos.
“FILTH IS MY LIFE!” The giant mural of Divine that now resides alongside Bettie Page on a house in Northeast Seattle.
The mural of a nearly two-story topless Bettie Page (whose naughty bits are obscured by the home’s rain gutters) has been visible from traffic on I-5 in Northeast Seattle for a decade. Then a few months ago some morons who just don’t get it vandalized the much loved mural with gray paint and even took the time to leave a nasty note on the home where the mural resides saying the following:
AUTONOMOUS SEXUALITY IS EMPOWERMENT. TELLING A WOMAN TO COVER UP IS OPPRESSION.
The message was written entirely in capital letters so I guess the roving gang of confused “feminists” wanted to be sure they knew how angry they were. The good news is that the owner of the house, Jessica Baxter didn’t let the incident get under her skin. And even when donations came piling in so that Baxter didn’t have to take on the expense of having the mural (and her house, mind you) restored, she declined and instead asked that people wanting to donate send their money to RAINN (the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network). So why did Baxter pick Divine to keep Bettie Page company for the long foreseeable future? Here’s one of my favorite residents of Northeast Seattle on that:
Really it’s just people who inspire me and make me happy that they existed, and were individuals who didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought, and who were just themselves. I’m going to feel inspired every time I look at it.
The mural was just finished this past Tuesday by Two Thangs (aka Seattle artist Matthew Brennan IV) and it is nothing short of fucking glorious. Brennan, a self-professed John Waters devotee felt very strongly that the Page and Divine belonged together especially since the vandals who tried to ruin Bettie felt that the image was “exploitive.” According to Brennan (via Two Thangs FB page) the addition of Divine makes a clear statement about choice—specifically making a decision to present yourself “how you choose.”
I love you Seattle. Never change.
The famous Bettie Page mural on the side of a house in Northeast Seattle.
See the defaced Bettie Page mural—and the note left by ‘SOME FEMINISTS’ after the jump…
In 1953, Bettie Page posed for a guide to striptease entitled “This is as far as you can go,” in the Christmas issue of Carnival magazine.
Carnival was “a magazine of excitement” and Bettie P. was photographed to help its readers understand the laws pertaining to what they could or could not see, or rather what a stripper could or could not show when it came to stripping. Seven states permitted striptease, each with its own code, though there was often considerable leeway over what was permitted in a strip show depending on local ordinances.
In America striptease can be traced as far back as the carnivals that traveled across country. The earliest striptease star was Charmion, who had a famous “dis-robing” act from around 1896 in which she stripped on a trapeze. This was later filmed by Thomas Edison in 1901—see below.
Here’s Bettie Page’s seven state guide for strip-teasers—“This is as far as you can go.”
You’ve got to be covered from thigh to shoulders, but you don’t have to use a horse blanket. To strippers, knowledge of local ordinances is vital.
Coverage must resemble bra and panties whenever possible. What happens in the heat of summer is fun, too.
Bettie Page reveals more rules for stripping, plus Thomas Edison’s film of Charmion stripping, after the jump…
This marvelous bit of playful fetish art comes from the skillful hand of Dirk Vermin, who tossed off this comic book in 1992 in a limited run of 1,000 copies. Vermin is a tattoo artist who works out of Las Vegas and I can think of no better endorsement of his work than this comic. Today he is probably best known for the A&E reality series Bad Ink.
Over the course of 20-odd pages, Bettie (whose name is rendered as “Betty” throughout) flirts with, is spanked by, threatens to whip, and generally cavorts with many of the highly recognizable figures from 20th-century pop culture, including James Bond, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates, Marvin the Martian, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, King Kong, Adam West’s Batman, and so forth.
All I can say is “Wholly not safe for work, Batman!”
With her coy smile hiding as many secrets as the Mona Lisa and her iconic bangs which are still emulated by wanna-be pin-up queens the world over, Bettie Page was and is America’s Sweetheart.
Here’s a Christmas treat, just like Grandpa used to peep out in the shed on a cold Winter’s day: a gallery of lowbrow art photographs from the mid-20th Century depicting Bettie, celebrating the most wonderful time of the year.
If you keep up with my posts here at DM, you know I often put together cool photo-sets featuring famous people doing things that we all like to do like hitting the beach or lying in bed. This time around I’ve pulled together something fun for you to kill time with this Friday - images of people way cooler than us on roller skates.
Bettie Page and Gus the Gorilla roller skating, mid-1950s
Some of the images are from the wide variety of films with either roller skating themes or scenes in them such as Raquel Welch tearing it up on the derby track in the 1972 film, Kansas City Bomber. Others are from the late 70s and 80s when Roller Disco was all the rage. There’s even a few that go way back in time that I slipped in because they were just too cool not to share.
I’ve also included a video that features Dutch girl band, the Dolly Dots roller skating around in leotards lipsynching to their 1979 track, “(They Are) Rollerskating.” Because, like I said, roller skating RULES!
I had never seen these mugshots of Bettie Page—looking just a little less glamorous than we’re used to seeing her—until recently. The iconic 50s pin-up model was arrested in Hialeah, Florida—-following a wild domestic dispute with her ex-husband Harry Lear.
Bettie was arrested on the 28th October 1972 when Police answered a call placed by Harry, when they arrived on scene that found him and Bettie out on the front yard with Bettie hitting Harry, repeatedly punching and verbally attacking him.
Bettie would stay at Jackson Memorial hospital, a state mental care facility for six months spending most of the time under suicide watch. Harry would come and visit her regularly reassuring her that there would be a place for her to come back to if she wanted it. When she finally left the hospital she left a changed woman, she took up Harry’s offer and moved back in.