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Remembering FORREST J. ACKERMAN and BETTIE PAGE
 

Here’s an odd combo: Forrest J. Ackerman, the famously genial editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, and the infamous pin-up queen Bettie Page.  Both left us in December of 2008.  Heart failure marked Ackerman’s end on the 4th, while Page suffered a series of heart attacks and passed on the 11th.  I won’t try and connect these two, other than the fact that both were quite old: Ackerman was 92 and Page 85.

      Let’s start with Ackerman.  I’ll admit I was never too jazzed about FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, and nor did I ever visit the fabled “Ackermansion,” but I do acknowledge Ackerman’s influence on the field of horror, and feel duty-bound to mourn his passing.  The consensus seems to be that Ackerman is the godfather of horror fandom, so that means he influenced me--and you--whether I read his mag or not!

     People also seem to agree that Mr. Ackerman was an all-around good guy.  That was something I’d heard long before all the laudatory obituaries that have filled the web in the past week, so the adulation is very likely true.  Yes, I’ve read some less-than-kind things about the man--Harlan Ellison had a run-in with him, and there’ve been charges about Ackerman borrowing items for his memorabilia collection and not returning them--but they’re less than convincing, with an abundance of “I heards” and “Must haves” in place of hard evidence.

     So here’s paying tribute to a giant in the horror field--and a damn nice guy!

     On to Miss Page, whose case is far more complicated.  Most of us know Bettie Page as the legendary Tennessee-born pin-up queen who was big in the fifties and retains a rabid following.  At least two movies have been made about her, the most recent being 2005’s THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE.

     What neither that film nor most accounts of Page’s life cover is her long period of mental illness, during which she allegedly stabbed three people and was institutionalized for a long state.  In her final years she kept out of the public eye (the reason she wasn’t trotted out to help promote THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE), living in seclusion somewhere in So Cal.

     During her prime Miss Page was quite something, appearing in a series of still photos and porno loops that are still highly prized by poon hounds the world over.  The funny thing is that few people are able to articulate why she remains such a big draw--one analysis ascribes her continuing allure to the fact that she was “extremely pretty.”  Well, yeah, but so was Vampira, a sex goddess back in the day who hasn’t amassed a tenth of the cult fame Bettie Page has.

     To be sure, Bettie Page seems like an enigma today.  In the fifties she was known as the “Girl with the Perfect Figure,” which only shows how standards of beauty have changed.  Her measurements were 36-24-36½, which would put her in the plus-size category nowadays.  Gretchen Moll, who played Bettie in THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, reportedly gained 20 pounds for the role, yet still didn’t come close to filling Page’s frame.

     And yet it’s precisely Bettie Page’s frumpiness that makes her such a refreshing contrast with today’s boney babes.  A former schoolteacher, she truly was the girl next door, an unassuming gal whose innocence and sheer ordinariness gave her an allure which remains unique.  Note her unmistakable smile, which wasn’t that of a lascivious or slutty gal, but a nice lady having a good time.

     Quite a few sexpots have worked the naughty-and-nice combo over the years, but few have defined those extremes like Bettie Page, whose sultry innocence remains downright surreal. 

     In summation, Forrest J. Ackerman and Bettie Page remain one-of-a-kind individuals whose likes we’ll never see again.  Both have left an indelible impression on our culture, and both will be sorely missed.

 

--12/15/08
 


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