A pioneering '50s pinup queen gets the royal treatment on the Web.

By Ben Spier
Updated August 16, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

One of the most alluring women on the Web disappeared 45 years ago. In 1957, Bettie Page, whose bikini ‘n’ bondage pinup pics provoked a Senate inquiry, dropped out of sight. But four decades on, her beckoning smile and trademark bangs are pop-cult mainstays, peeking out from posters, album covers, and trading cards. Her imitators include Madonna and Xena’s Lucy Lawless; designer Todd Oldham and comic-book artist Dave Stevens (The Rocketeer) are among her devotees. Even Hollywood is intrigued — Martin Scorsese and Liv Tyler are reportedly developing a Bettie biopic.

Why the enduring interest in a ’50s bombshell? To Eisenhower-era males, Bettie Page embodied wholesomeness coupled with naughtiness — romping au naturel on the beach or playfully bound in Irving Klaw’s shocking (for the time) S&M pictorials. And for younger fans, especially women, Bettie is a sexual pioneer/role model: ”She’s kind of empowering, which seems odd, because she’s most known for bondage photos, but she just made fun of sex,” says Bonnie J. Burton, webmistress of The Bettie Page. Additionally, Bettie’s retreat from the public eye — now 79 and said to be living in Southern California, she has rarely been photographed since 1957 and has given only sporadic audio interviews — has deepened her cachet.

Young, old, male, or female, Bettie fans have taken to the Net, catapulting her into Lycos’ top 50 search list and landing her on some 33,000 Web pages. Here, a sampling of the most pinup-worthy:

THE BETTIE PAGE (grrl.com/betty.html) Chockablock with articles, art, and biographical info, this in-depth fansite is simultaneously sweeping and intimate. Like many fans, Burton lived out her obsession, competing in Bettie look-alike contests and joining Uzi, a Denver-based, fetish-fashion performance troupe who danced at rock concerts and raves in the early ’90s. Now residing in San Francisco, Burton has populated her six-year-old site with rare amateur photos, magazines, and comic-book covers, many gleaned from eBay and other online auction sites. Also of interest to fans: Tosh Berman’s lengthy, perceptive essay on the taboo-busting pinup mogul Klaw.

BETTIE PAGE, A TRIBUTE AND GUIDE (home.xnet.com/~dav/bp) Though less intimate than Burton’s site, cartoonist Dave Holle’s Bettie shrine boasts a well-designed layout and a wealth of special features. Check out the Bogus Betties look-alike pageant, the whimsical fan-art collection, and RealPlayer clips of Bettie’s smoky Tennessee drawl.

BETTIEPAGE.COM On the official Bettie site, fans are greeted by a likeness of the pinup legend herself. Yet the slick-but-skimpy page feels oddly impersonal: The large online store and ubiquitous fan-club promos overshadow the cursory biography, which glosses over Bettie’s troubled post-1950s life, replete with bouts of mental illness and financial woes. If you want a Bettie fix, click on the lavish photo gallery; if you want insight, go elsewhere. Or is this all part of the sex goddess’ mystique? Ah, that obscure object of desire…