One of the most beautiful (and hottest) women I’ve ever seen in my life was the iconic pin-up model Bettie Page. She died in 2008 (for those who don’t know) at the age of 85. Bettie Page’s pictures from the early 1950s are responsible for sparking the fetish and bondage scenes, which live on to this day. Trust me, there’d be no Suicide Girls, Dita Von Teese, or any other like-minded scene if it wasn’t for the popularity of Bettie Page. She will remain the queen of these genres, probably, till the end of human existence.
Which brings me to the inset photo above, of the black police officer. His name was Jerry Tibbs. Worked the Harlem beat, as they used to call it. His interests: weightlifting, and photography. It turns out, Tibbs also knew how to make a woman look good in a photo.
As it’s been mentioned in the book The Real Bettie Page, by Richard Foster, and many other published articles through the years, it was Tibbs, according to Bettie Page, who is responsible for her wearing her traditional bangs. (A hair style she continued to wear until the day she died.)
Why is this piece being written? Two reasons really. The first being that whenever a bio of Bettie Page is written, they kind of rush over the fact that Page was discovered on the beach of Coney Island by a cop, who liked to do photography on the side, as a hobby. Sometimes they say he was a black cop, but they usually rush through it at the speed of light.
No one today can imagine how taboo it was in the 1950s, for a black dude to be seen photographing a white woman from Nashville, Tennessee (in a bikini or in the nude) in public, let alone dating or marrying one, walking together or whatever. (The relationship between Page and Tibbs was platonic however.) The amount of cojones it took for both of them to pull this off is immeasurable. The word “drama,” doesn’t adequately express the kind of madness this kind of thing usually caused in our society. There was a film recently done on Bettie Page, called The Notorious Bettie Page. Don’t know how much they focussed on this particular aspect, but it is an important piece of Americana to remember, nevertheless. (By the way, a lot of reviews of the film took the same speed-of-light rush through approach of Tibbs’ race. Most of them didn’t mention it at all.)
Secondly, this piece serves as a thank you letter, to Tibbs. Although Page’s most important photographers were brother and sister Irving and Paula Klaw (who gave us the heels and bondage shots), and Bunny Yeager (one of the only female pin-up photographers of her day) who gave us a lot of her outside shots with animal skins and such, it must be remembered that it was essentially Jerry Tibbs, who launched her career with those first portfolio shots he gave her. Thank you Jerry Tibbs for having the eye (and the balls) to give us something we could marvel at and appreciate for so many years.