When I wrote the song, Welcome to the Jungle (The Fabulous Bettie Page) it was late at night after copious amounts of wine. My husband (and writing partner) began playing a blues intro and I started to improvise with the singing – very badly at first – since I had never sung a blues song, let alone written one. But a few things started to gel and we kept going – entertaining only ourselves. I got the digital voice recorder and tried to preserve what I knew could ever so easily be forgotten the next morning.
When I played it back the next day, I hardly recognized my own voice. I knew logically that it was me, but it reminded me of someone from another time – almost like my grandmother. And for some reason, the song kept coming. Songwriters may tell you that there are a million melodies in the brain, but only some of them persist into becoming full songs. Those songs can only be seen as a gift. And this gift became a realization of my desire to be a fly on the wall during the famous jungle photo shoot when Bettie was shot by Bunny Yeager (pin-up turned photog) right here in South Florida.
About this time, I discovered the movie trailer for the film about Bettie Page’s life: Bettie Page Reveals All. I had never heard the sound of Bettie’s voice before, and when I played the trailer for this new film, which she essentially narrates, I had this haunting feeling – as though the voice coming out of me was hers.
I should qualify this by saying that when I began writing the script for Art of the Pin-Up Girl, I really was not interested in writing about Bettie. I felt that her story had been told and what more could I say that would still be engaging to a pin-up savvy audience? And also, my premise was to see the fantasy of a piece of art coming to life – not a girl that we knew as “real” already. That was solved by the fact that Bettie had been painted plenty – and most extensively by one of my favorite artists, Olivia DeBerardinis.
And you may say, “How can you even think about writing a play about pin-up without paying homage to The Queen?” Perhaps that is why the messages started coming through loud and clear. If you wonder where my inspiration came from, well, I would tell you from Bettie herself. She came in dreams on a nightly basis for quite a while. The song kept playing in my head every single time I took a shower and I felt this sense of urgency to finish the song, to write the lyrics line by line and finally to record it. Believe me when I say, Bettie was very specific about what she wanted. This song should be a show stopper!
As we continued recording the other thirteen original songs, I kept procrastinating Bettie’s song. I knew that I must do it justice and in many ways it was a monumental undertaking. As a result it was the last song we recorded for Art of the Pin-Up Girl, and many of my dear friends who are familiar with this work have said that it is their absolute favorite.
On October 14, I was honored to be one of the first to see the sold-out work-in-progress screening of Bettie Page Reveals All at The Jacksonville Film Festival. To say that it was an emotional experience for me would be an understatement. So much of her life resonated with me. The people who knew her had wonderful things to say about her, that she was a lovely person with a zest for life and a wicked sense of humor – just as her photos convey. But then there were the tragic parts, such as the sexual abuse at the hands of her father and later in life the mental illness that brought her to a screeching halt. Still, she lived her life with a sense of purpose and had a strong sense of self. She radiated beauty and sensuality, but also struggled like we all do – perhaps she had more than her share of struggles. The thing about Bettie Page is that she is every woman – extraordinary and complex, beautiful and mysterious, both naughty and nice. Perhaps she is what every woman aspires to be in one way or another. I can see how she has become an icon of feminine empowerment – ironically by doing an art form that was supposed to be for the pleasure of men. I really cannot wait for all of Bettie’s fans to see her film and have the experience of knowing her more deeply. She is, in my opinion, an American treasure.
And naturally, when Art of the Pin-Up Girl – a musical romp through the history of American Pin-Up - is staged it will be thrilling to see a young actress embody Bettie Page and with this song accomplish what our beloved Bettie deserves: To stop the Show!!
Bettie Page Reveals All is directed by Mark Mori.