Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 32

During the six years that I published TBP, a conga-line of fans knocked on my door. The magazine had seemingly made it to the four corners of the globe, and I was getting responses from Brazil, Portugal, South Africa, and Australia. After the third issue hit the stands, I began to get the feeling like THE BETTY PAGES was my ambassador. People who’s work I admired knew me before I got there, and I was frequently surprised when people knew my work. Strangers, too.
At best, my editorship has earned me the status of semi-famous (a phrase that elicits a chuckle every time it’s uttered around here), and because my true value to society is dubious, I always tried to approach any kind of fame with great humility. At around that time I was spending moments with Jack Kirby, the World’s Greatest Comic Book Artist. We attended numerous comic book conventions together, and I was on hand to see him greet thousands of his fans. They gushed and he just blushed. If Kirby (who deserved a big ego more than anyone I know) could always approach life with humility, that was good enough for me. So, whenever I met the public, I was as gracious as possible.  Diamond Comics Distribution allowed me to sign Betty Page prints at two of their distributor conventions and I shook hands with thousands of retailers, personally thanking every one of them for stocking the magazine, or trying to convince them to stock it.
    While I wanted to extend my gratitude to any fan who showed up at my doorstep, there was a time I had to draw the line. During the first two issues of TBP I was pretty open to having visitors come into my home out of nowhere. I was producing THE BETTY PAGES out of my apartment and my address was listed in the indicia of every issue. People frequently wanted to come by and purchase the new issue, but they were usually directed to See-Hear Books in The Village. A guy named Ted ran it, if I recall right.
    One afternoon the doorman buzzed that a man was here to see me. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I walked down to the lobby one floor below. He was about 65 years-old, bespeckled, Coke-bottle bespectacled, and very well-dressed.
“I want to speak to you about some Betty Page photographs.” I figured I could “take him” if he got out of line so I invited him upstairs. I tried to make small-talk, but he was somewhat distant.
    When we got to the apartment he seemed pretty lucid, but in a very short time I realized he wasn’t quite right: strangely quiet, checking out everything with intense study. Was this guy some private dick? A nut-case?
    “Split-beaver Betty,” he eventually announced, and quietly waited for an answer.
“You have pictures of Betty Page where her vagina shows?” I replied.
“No, I want to buy some. But, only pictures where you can see the lips. You understand?”
 The guy gave me the Willies–reminded me of George “Mad Doctor of Market Street” Zucco. “Sorry, nothing like that here.” I tried to conclude, but he leaned toward me and spoke again “Money isn’t an issue here. Surely you have photographs of this nature not available to the public?”
He started to sweat.
Creeped-out. I suggested that I had to get back to work, and saw him to the door. He gave me his card in the event I found “special photos” of Bettie Page. His clammy hand shook mine, I tried not to appear repulsed, and he silently left the apartment. I threw the deadbolt hard and vowed never again to allow another stranger into the house on Betty business.
My only exception to the rule was visitors from foreign lands. Sometimes they called a few hours ahead to set up an appointment, but at least once a week for about four years, some stranger from some strange land found their way to my buzzer. More often than not my place was one of a dozen attractions tourists planned to see on their trip to New York: Radio City; St. Patrick’s; and the BETTY PAGES offices, just after the Statue of Liberty. Still, if I heard an accent come over the intercom the parties were always invited in. Most frequently they were Russians, Japanese, Dutch, Swiss, or English. Though there were dozens from the global community that just became a blur.
    Sometimes there was a language barrier, but our mutual interest in Betty made the meanings obvious. I showed the visitors rare photos and memorabilia, gave them all signed posters, and tried to make their visit to NYC a pleasurable as possible. In return they kept my enthusiasm up, when it faltered.
    Everyone was offered Pepsi and Doritos, the party flavors of choice at Pure Imagination.
    I had these Japanese fans show up, once, and I dished up rare pictures, attempted to communicate with sigh language, and served up Doritos and Pepsi.
Fingers jabbing, pantomime, in the general direction, over rare photos.
    I stabbed at a shadow appearing from the foreground. Stabbed again, and made an action like I was taking a picture.
    New friends smiled broadly, nodded heads gently, and we understood that the photographer’s shadow was in the picture. For some reason I’m more generous with people I can’t speak with, and the whole group exited with armloads of autographed stuff.
    I suppose they told their “very-impressed” Japanese friends about it, and while this kind of thing wasn’t really what I’d planned, in a way it was all part of the experience.
    A good time was had by all.

This weird chapter stemmed from a customer complaint. One of my subscribers called to see if he’d missed an issue, or had inadvertently been dropped from my mailing list.
No, his subscription was up-to-date and in order, look for it in a couple of days.
“By the way, I have an interesting story about Betty.”
“Go on,” I encouraged as typical.
It seems that in early 1960s Charles lived in a small town in one of the Carolinas, and remembered the regular family meals that he and his family ate at the main diner in town. During one such visit his attention was distracted by a beautiful woman in the front booth. She sat alone, and looked unhappy. It was eventually learned that she was a regular who always came by black limo, ate alone, gazed out the window for hours, then was picked up by the same black car. Something about her was familiar, and he told his mother as much. When he got back to his college dorm he double-checked a mens’ magazines that he had, and sure enough there she was in black & white.
    The next time they had dinner at the diner, this woman was also present. He pulled the printed page from his wallet and showed his mother. This caught the waitresses’ attention and she remarked to Charles. She confirmed that that was indeed the famous model that had lived in New York, then had gone to Florida, and had finally ended up in this tiny border town. The waitress went on to tell Charles and his family to mind their own business if they knew what was good for them, and that this woman had some pretty rough friends. “Only one kind of person drives that kind of car: The Southern Mafia,” she remarked.
That was Wednesday night,
Friday evening Charles’ father was late for supper. It soon became apparent something was wrong and his dad was listed with the police as “missing.” The family suffered through the weekend, but were relieved when he showed up at home on Monday morning. Charles remembers that his father appeared to have been through some terrible ordeal, and his mental state was poor. Pop needed several months to recuperate from the experience. Charles was never given any explanation as to what had happened to his father, but his mother took him aside and warned him that the family was never to eat in the town diner again, and that Charles must never cross in front of the building ever again. “I’d have to cut across the street if I was going in the direction of the diner. I saw her sitting alone a couple of times, but I was involved with college and lost track.” In 1992 I urged Charles to get the story from his ailing father if he could, and perhaps enough time had passed for the old man to tell the truth without fear of reprisal. After all, Pop was about to kick it.
    I never heard from Charles again, but this tantalizing story continues to dog at my Scorpio brain.
    In-person, Bettie denied it.
     As far-fetched as this all seems, one item stands out. How did the waitress know that Betty had run away to Florida?  I’d only discovered that fact shortly before the call, and Charles had only seen one issue of the magazine. He had more information than he should have, and this adds a note of credibility to the story.
    When I asked Betty she denied it.
    Strange story.

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