Weegee Bettie Page and the FBI The Last (?) Unpublished Photographs and What Weegee told the FBI about Bettie Page


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images


What if you could put Bettie Page, the most influential pinup model of the last 50 years in the same room with Weegee, certainly one of the most famous photographers in the world...and he had a camera in his hands? I'd say it would be so juicy even the FBI would be interested. And it appears they were!

Search for a photograph of Bettie Page taken by Weegee. One appears on the International Center of Photography website, which is appropriate as Weegee's widow Wilma Wilcox donated his extensive archive to the museum in 1993. The photo actually appears on Fans in a Flashbulb, the museum's exceptional blog.

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) was personal friends with the model, for years living only three blocks apart from each other just off Times Square (Weegee on West 47th Street and Ms. Page on West 46th Street), a walk one can do in less than five minutes, even Weegee with a cigar. There is a story reported that Weegee once climbed into a bathtub fully clothed with Bettie hoping for a better photo until she literally kicked him out. But until now, very few of the photographs Weegee took of his beautiful acquaintance have ever been publicly shown.

Cass Carr, Harlem jazz musician and promoter of amateur camera club outings also had a space in the very same neighborhood at 218 West 47th Street (a mere two blocks from Weegee's house) which he called the "Concorde Camera Circle" with a rudimentary studio. I believe the revealing studio shot here showing other participants snapping away was taken at Carr's place. It is typical of Weegee to create his own particular view in a photographic setting. The one thing you do NOT want to see in a photo of Bettie Page is other men, but there you go. Leave it to Weegee to turn the camera on the cameramen.

(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

Carr also arranged outings to local farms and parks for camera club participants prior to forming the Concorde Club (previously known as the Lens Art Club) but he changed the club's name after being arrested along with others for promoting an outing in South Salem, New York. Some accounts have Weegee arrested at a camera club outing along with Ms. Page, if so it probably would have been the South Salem, New York shoot on July 27, 1952.

One thing I can confirm is the outdoor photographs here were taken at Headley Farm in New Jersey, as the gas pump has figured in other photographer's pictures. Also present at the shoot, which took place on September 9, 1956, were photographers Art Amsie, Arnold Kovacks, Don Baida, and an unknown woman photographer seen here on the left holding her own camera with the boys.

As far as I know, this unknown woman's pictures of Bettie have not turned up, but we can now say Bettie was photographed by at least three women, the others being Paula Klaw (Paula Kramer) and Bunny Yeager (Linnea Eleanor Yeager)

(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images


The Weegee photographs (and there are more) are beautiful pictures of the model in her prime. Striking poses of a young model obviously both aware of her talents and enjoying the session. That they were taken by one of the most interesting and talented photographers in history adds to their charm and importance.

The photographs Weegee took of Bettie Page have never been shown, and it is an honor I do not take lightly. It is also the reason the copyright notice I have placed under each image is not to be ignored.

One of the Weegee photos of the model taken in a studio is notable primarily for the unusual bikini Bettie wears which she would have made herself! It was a talent she was proud of, but maybe she should have stuck with store-bought. It also appears in a cropped version on a website or two, but in poor and possibly purloined quality.

(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

The other Weegee image from the ICP collection which has appeared on the web is a cropped print showing Ms. Page in virtually the same pose taken at the same day by four different photographers.

Another Weegee photograph here shows Ms. Page in a make-shift studio not as yet identified. It could be either of their own apartments, as Page was known to pose individually on request and for her standard modeling fee. It is not known (to me anyway) if Weegee was in the habit of hiring individual models, but he did sell and publish other cheesecake photographs in news digests and quite likely some joke and gag publications. I would like to think Bettie gave him a freebie on this one!


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

But what of the FBI? Recently the FBI released several documents on Bettie Page, likely in response to repeated requests. As we know, the model was harassed and hounded by zealots and government agencies during her modeling years. Once being called by the Kefauver Committee in conjunction with their investigation of Irving Klaw, and earlier in relation to an obscenity bust in 1956 Harlem (in which the amateur bondage model was asked about "ping pong paddles" and a riding crop. She denied being involved, and also denied knowing of any photographs of the sort being produced in Harlem.




CLICK TO ENLARGE


In the the newly released FBI document pictured here I noticed a most interesting story hiding in the redacted print! Half way down, note the passage enlarged here which indicates photos of the model were "turned over on 5/25/60...by (name omitted) also known as (name omitted) a photographer who resides at (location omitted.) Now I do not know of any other New York City photographer working with a short pseudonym who took pictures of Bettie Page! So there you go... it now looks like we can add Weegee to the long list of artists who have been pestered by the long arm of the law.


CLICK TO ENLARGE

Now if I were writing this for a tabloid in the 1950s, when the neighborhood all three principles called home was known as "Hell's Kitchen" I would have titled this 'WEEGEE SQUAWKS TO FEDS" but to be fair, anyone with the slightest connection to "dirty" pictures was vulnerable to such puritanical procedures, when the laws attempting to define obscenity were far more strict than today. So let's call them all pioneers rather than pigeons.


(c) Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

I would like to thank the International Center of Photography for allowing me to use the above unpublished photographs from their archive to help illustrate this discovery and story. If you are not an active member or supporter of the museum, please take the time to join.



Jim Linderman is author of Camera Club Girls: Bettie Page and her Friends: The Work of Rudolph Rossi available for preview or purchase from Blurb.com.

He will release a book titled "Times Square Smut" later this year which will cover the same time period as the above in detail and publish numerous works by African-American artist Eugene Bilbrew unseen for over 50 years. Times Square Smut will tell the story of denizen and mobster Edward Mishkin, who printed and sold proto-porno soft-core books using the artist's work on 42nd Street at the same time Irving Klaw was publishing photographs of Bettie Page. In the meantime, Linderman writes a daily site VINTAGE SLEAZE which reveals a similar story every day.


4 comments:

  1. Amazing, interesting post! You never dissapoint.

    ReplyDelete
  2. yep 'great post' Jim
    in fact I just made a comment on Joey's blog about his posts for June 2011, what a wonderful realm we divide our time in!
    Cheers from downunder
    mal E

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing this great story!

    ReplyDelete