“I’ve loved Bettie since I was 13 years old,” says Michael Flores. “I was at a comic book convention and I saw my first photographs of Bettie Page, and she was looking straight into the camera, at me. That was her secret. She treated the camera like it was a guy she wanted to pick up.”

Page spun her girl-next-door charisma into a lucrative career until she was charged with indecency, and the thousands of photographs of her then in circulation were (unsuccessfully) ordered destroyed. Devastated, she fled from the public eye, joining the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago before secluding herself in California, where she is believed to still live.

Flores, best known as a founder (along with improv-comedy pioneer Del Close) of the Psychotronic Film Society, sees Page as a feminist icon. “What happened to Bettie Page, the way the government tried to destroy her, was the way they reacted to women who tried to be independent,” he says. “Now it’s hard to imagine….When I thought more and more about what happened to her, I wanted to make her a valentine, and tell her she can’t be blamed for being 15 years ahead of the curve.”

Bettie Page Uncensored, Flores’s 1999 play, ran on and off at the Playground Theater for 43 weeks. Two weeks before it closed, Flores began turning it into a screenplay. Shot mostly in the middle of the night over the last year or so–when his volunteer crew had time off from paying work–the movie stars Sarah Masters, who played Page for a time in the stage production. It’s not making the festival circuit; instead, Flores is selling DVD and VHS copies for $28 on the Psychotronic Web site. But a rough cut was screened in June at the Pickwick Theatre as part of the second annual Flashback Weekend Horror and Sci-Fi Convention. “When I couldn’t get out of my seat, because so many people were crowded around me,” says Flores, “I knew we were on to something.”

Page’s fan base is still growing. There are hundreds of Bettie Page shrines on the Web, calendars and collectible cards bearing her likeness are still being produced, and Flores says he’s received 7,000 advance orders for the film. Such enduring fame wouldn’t have come about, he argues, had it not been for the scandal and secrecy that marked Page’s life.

“There are models from the 20s to the 50s–some of them were big names then, none of them are remembered now,” he says. “So why is Bettie Page remembered 50 years after she left modeling? Partly because she went into hiding. All these legends started about her, people wondered what happened to her. She is the last fantasy.”

Flores will show the final version of Bettie Page Uncensored at 8:30 on Thursday, September 25, at the Liar’s Club, 1665 W. Fullerton. It’s free; call 773-665-1110 or see www.psychotronic.com for more.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.