The most iconic pinup model in pop-culture history, Bettie Page -- with her winking face and gorgeous body -- has been loved by fans around the world for decades. But after abandoning the spotlight at the height of her underground career, in the late 1950s, Page all but disappeared...and took the story of who she was with her. Bettie Page Reveals All -- opening this Friday, January 10, at the Sie FilmCenter -- lays out the details of Page's life for the first time, as told by the model herself.
Though Page passed away in 2008, director Mark Mori was able to record in-depth conversations with the pinup queen that serve as narration for the documentary. Highlighted by hundreds of photos of Page -- some never seen before -- as well as by conversations with those who knew her best, Bettie Page Reveals All is a deep look at the sometimes tragic but perseveringly happy life of an elusive cult star. In advance of the film's Denver opening, Mori spoke with Westword about how he met Page and convinced her to share her life story.
Westword: You initially connected with Bettie Page through a mutual acquaintance, entertainment attorney Bob Darwell. She had remained an elusive figure for the majority of her decades of popularity. How did you get her to tell you her story?
Mark Mori: Well, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and be able to connect with her -- that may be the biggest part of it. She really kept the world at bay; only maybe a half a dozen people had direct contact with her. There may have been attempts to make films and contact her, and my impression is that these were unsuccessful. She and I became friends. I took her out to lunch a number of times, and she would regale me with the stories you hear in the film -- and many more that didn't make it into the film.
I did pay her -- I was one of the first people to pay her for her rights. I think between the friendship and the payment, that may have motivated her. I don't think she really cared or she couldn't even understand why someone would want to make a movie about her.
So even up until that point, she may have not been aware of how impactful her work had been?
This was in 1996; the impact was known. It was known even at that time and only increased vastly since. She was aware of it; it's all part of who she is and why she is so charming and authentic. But she couldn't understand it.
So the audio interviews with Page used to narrate the film were recorded in 1996?
There was one interview conducted in 1996 and another interview in 1999. These were really just research on my part -- I was convinced that I was going to get her to go on camera. These interviews were done when she was older, and I just wanted to get everything down officially. It was only later that I decided to use them as the narration for the film.
The narration by Page works well -- she is so well known visually, but to hear her voice! I don't think I'm alone in being surprised by her deep, sassy Southern accent.
That's a big surprise to everybody! (Laughs.)
You include a wide variety of commentary -- from people like Hugh Hefner, who knew her, to artists and models who were influenced by her. How did you come up with or connect with everyone who spoke about Bettie Page in the film?
Initially, I focused on people who knew her and worked with her. That's who I went after first, and it's good that I did that -- Paula Klaw (Irving Klaw's sister, who helped him run the photography studio that was pivotal in Page's career) passed away six months after I interviewed her. Art Amsie, the camera club photographer, passed away a couple of years after I interviewed him. In fact, I had to use another source for the [illustrator] Dave Stevens interview -- I didn't interview him myself. I found that interview and had to use it because he had passed away.
I later found this photographer who had never spoken publicly before who had been at the (camera club event) where Bettie was arrested, and those pictures had never been seen before. But once I had the people who knew her directly, then I went after people who could talk about her influence -- people like [painter] Olivia De Berardinis and [illustrator] Greg Theakston, who also knew a lot about her life.
The Bunny Yeager and Hugh Hefner interviews are so integral to her story -- until the film, I had no idea that Bunny was the one who shot some of Bettie's most well-known images.
Oh, yeah. Bunny had some of the best photos. There are 167 of them in the film. There are over a thousand still photographs of Bettie in the film.
There was a feature film made about Bettie -- The Notorious Bettie Page (in 2005) -- that wasn't particularly true to her story. Is there a plan for you to do a feature film in addition to the documentary? Well, there's no current plan. I mean, I do have a script from the days previously when we tried to make it happen. I think that the key would be finding an actress who can pull off Bettie's personality -- I think Liv Tyler could have possibly done that. But there is no specific plan right now. Hopefully, that would happen.
The people who wrote the script and directed (The Notorious Bettie Page) didn't know Bettie. They had a certain take, which was not really getting to the essence of who Bettie Page is -- which is not easy to do. I think I was only able to do it because I had Bettie tell it herself.
If you think about the fact that Bettie's reputation and iconography was made purely on photographs... There was never any publicity, there were never any movies, she was never in the news. It was just people looking at the photographs.
Bettie Page Reveals All opens this Friday, January 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Sie FilmCenter. The Saturday, January 11 screening at 7:30 p.m. will also feature a performance by Lady Shanime from Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret, and the 9:45 p.m. showing will feature a performance by Victoria Pneumatica of Cora Vette's RestoMod Burlesque at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. For more information or to purchase tickets to any of these screenings, visit the Sie's website or call the box office at 303-595-3456.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.