March 24, 2006
Pinup icon makes long journey from Page to screen
By Tatiana Siegel
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although pinup icon
Bettie Page became an overnight sensation for her naughty girl
poses in the 1950s, her recent journey to the big screen has
been anything but facile.
Her story is chronicled in the sexy indie "The Notorious
Bettie Page," which indie distributor Picturehouse will give a
limited release April 14. But writer-director Mary Harron first
became intrigued by the story behind the raven-haired beauty
with her signature bangs way back in 1993. While working on the
short-lived Fox newsmagazine show "Front Page," Harron met a
young researcher named Sam Green (who later went on to
co-direct the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Weather
Underground"). Green suggested doing a segment on the
cheesecake model who inspired a generation of men as well as
U.S. Senate hearings investigating the role of pornography in
Harron, an on-the-rise journalist, started working on a
screenplay for a Page short with scribe-actress Guinevere
Turner ("Go Fish").
"At first we thought there wasn't enough material to make a
feature film," Harron recalls.
But then Green unearthed a trove of transcripts from the
Senate hearings, which gave the story a compelling new
dimension. "We decided the world itself was so interesting,"
Harron says of that era poised on the brink of change. "So it
became not only a story about a pinup model, but it became
about sex in the 1950s and those attitudes. And that became a
much more interesting and dynamic story."
The Page project, though, took a back seat to Harron's
suddenly hot helming career, which included the critically
acclaimed indies "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "American Psycho."
Even though Harron was at first fired from "Psycho" in favor of
Oliver Stone and later rehired, that big-screen adaptation of
Bret Easton Ellis' best-selling novel "came together very
quickly" compared to "Bettie Page," she says. The
Oxford-educated Canadian native also became a mother of two
with husband and fellow director John Walsh ("Pipe Dream").
Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese began developing a competing Page
biopic with Liv Tyler attached to star -- a project that later
Nevertheless, Harron couldn't shake her desire to make a
film about America's first bondage goddess. "I heard a lot
growing up about what it was like to be a beauty queen or a
starlet in the '50s," says Harron, whose stepmother,
model-actress Virginia Leith, was plucked from obscurity by
Stanley Kubrick. Leith, who was married to Harron's father
("Hee Haw" star Don Harron) for seven years during Mary
Harron's formative adolescence, was under contract at 20th
Century Fox and also played Joanne Woodward's sister in "A Kiss
Driven by the desire to explore the motif of objectified
beauty, Harron turned her attention back to "Bettie Page" and
hooked up with New York indie powerhouse Killer Films. Although
Harron lauded Killer founders Christine Vachon and Pamela
Koffler for their uncompromising support, sources close to the
production say the company's tightfisted approach left Harron
and Turner earning a mere $30,000 each for the screenplay, with
no chance for residuals. The director, however, would not
confirm terms of her contract.
Still, Harron insists Killer protected her artistic vision
-- which was ultimately her No. 1 priority. "I wanted to make a
film in black and white, with a certain kind of narrative,
casting Gretchen (Mol)," Harron says. "They supported me
absolutely in the kind of film I wanted to do."