Bettie Page Reveals All director Mark Mori discusses how he got the pinup to talk
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.