Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 25

Keep in mind all of this is my first draft.


A 1987 visit with Joe resulted in a skull-session that produced the idea for THE BETTY PAGES. For each of us, it was the moment when a whole new world of possibilities opened up. For Joe it would be his first excursion into publishing, and for me it was the chance to mine a huge chunk of Pop Culture that hadn’t been claimed. We weren’t just interested in Betty, we liked Torchy, and Tina Louise, Candy Barr, Pin-Up artists, and lots more. Betty would be the focus, because she was our favorite, but TBP would always focus on the bigger picture.
Anderko had purchased a large collection of Humorama Publishing’s digest-sized joke books for men, and these had dozens of pictures of Bettie throughout. Since they were our best source for public domain material I decided to cull most of our first issue from them. The images wouldn’t look very good blown up to 8 1/2”x11” so I decided to publish the new magazine in a digest format, just like the original mags.
The size was intimate, and I liked the idea of continuing the digest mens’ mag tradition. It was easier to print, too. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was an added benefit to the digest format. Bookstore owners were fearful that TBP would be easily stolen, and kept their supply near the cash register. The result was that everybody who bought anything got to see my enterprise, and lots of impulse purchases resulted. While a digest format isn’t viable on the newsstands, it was the perfect size for the direct market.
Dave’s Bookstore always got the scoop on the rest of the nation.
We prepared the first issue with a little help from Dave Stevens, Detroit-area illustrator Glenn Barr, and the legendary artist Bill Ward. I watched as 2,000 copies rolled off the back of my Multilith 1850 press, and the pages were shipped off to the binder. Much to my surprise THE BETTY PAGES #1 sold out within two weeks of its debut, and Joe and I had a hit book.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Even in the direct market, hit books are hard to come by. I’d had a few successful Comic Art books, but THE BETTY PAGES clearly had a much larger audience. At the time, it was the only place you could get pictures of Bettie, unless you knew where Movie Star news was. It was my first crossover book, and I’d clearly crossed over into bigger territory.
The some-what half-hearted effort had struck a note. See, I wasn’t sure If THE BETTY PAGES ws going to fly or not, and really didn’t do the kind of job I could have. Frankly, I think it’s a pretty crappy effort, and I should have done far better. Still, it proved that there was a market for this type of material, and the obvious plane was to move immediately to the next one.
The second issue was planned, and as the editor I began to seek out material to fill it. Not surprisingly the task of locating eligible writers proved a difficult one. I asked several people if they were up to the job, and all of them agreed to try if I could supply some biographical notes about her. Since there were only a hand-full of facts available, none of them were equipped to do much more than wax poetic about her images. I wanted hard facts, and there seemed to only be one way to get them–do it myself.
I’d been doing Comics research for almost twenty years and felt confident that I could apply those techniques to research Betty. It was a great challenge, and territory where no journalist had journeyed. At the time, only a few things were known about the Tease From Tennessee: She was from Nashville, but it was believed that she’d been born in Kingston, nearby: She had a brother and sister; had taken acting lessons in NYC, and didn’t want to be bothered. The last word anyone had from Bettie was in the late 1970s. Noted Pin-Up photographer Bunny Yeager was helping author Gae Talese research his amazing book THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE (xxxxx, 197x) and had agreed to try to find Bettie Page. Bunny took an advertisement in the Miami Herald and was shocked when Bettie actually answered the query. Allegedly, Page told Yeager that she was through with that part of her life and that God wouldn’t like her getting involved again. For the time being it was the period that ended the paragraph on the Bettie Page: an enigmatic beauty who posed for men’s magazines in the 1950s. She certainly had a cult following who never forgot her, but if the story had ended there I wonder if the general public would ever have discovered her.
Taking my cue from Betty’s last message, I was determined to discover her story without directly contacting her, or her family. Certainly there would be notes on her personal life, but I’d have to get those from the friends and work-mates that had surrounded her. In all of the years researching her story, I never tried to reach Betty directly: that was my number one rule. At first it was a matter of principle, but it eventually became a matter of pride–I didn’t want to be remembered as the man who tracked down an old lady like a hound-dog, and brought the world to peer through her blinds, and crash her front door into splinters, sweaty hands grasping. Each new scrap of information represented another peddle in the growing bouquet of affection I had for her, and yet a woman I didn’t want to speak to.
I started the search for Bettie because I liked her work and it seemed a good challenge, but as I poured my heart into the project my approach changed. People have suggested that I was obsessed with my subject, and that I must have been her number one fan. For the first couple of years of THE BETTY PAGES, that might not have been true, but it developed into a far more personal quest as time passed.
It was called THE BETTY PAGES, not THE BETTIE PAGES to underline the idea that we were most interested in her professional career rather than her private life. Irving Klaw discovered her and listed her in his catalogues as “BETTY” and that’s how her fans remembered her. Bettie Page’s stage name was Betty Page.
The second issue of THE BETTY PAGES featured the first in what I believed would be a good ongoing series entitled “Case of the Missing Pin-Up Queen.” My conclusions and theories as channeled by a hard-boiled NYC private investigator. Un-nammed, but clearly a cross between Nick Charles and Sam Spade, with text in my best cheesy hard-boiled detective patter. A writer friend of mine once told me “You can only do that P.O.V. from the hard-boiled dick once, so choose that moment wisely.”
As this appeared to be on par with figuring out what happened to Emelia Arhardt, where Judge Crater got to, and the exact location of Jimmy Hoffa’s bones.
As a Scorpio, I have to know the answers, and this looked like a lot of fun while getting them.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I make a magazine about one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.”

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