Starting Page: Play exposes the Coney Island origin of a burlesque icon

Bettina May

She’s the pin-up queen from Coney!

A new musical opening this weekend will unpack how one of the world’s most iconic pin-up models found stardom on the Coney Island boardwalk. “Becoming Bettie Page” will open on May 25, just a few blocks from the spot where a chance encounter with a police officer in 1950 made the star’s career, according to the show’s creator.

“It’s inspired by the true story that Bettie Page was discovered on the beach in Coney Island,” said playwright Dick Zigun. “It was such a Brooklyn story — they did not have any kind of love relationship, just struck up a conversation.”

Cop Jerry Tibbs, an amateur photographer, spotted the Nashville-born model while he was on an off-duty stroll of the seaside neighborhood, and he offered to snap some shots of her. Tibbs also suggested that she adjust her hair-do, creating an iconic look that, according to Zigun, set Page on her path to fame.

“He offered to do a photo portfolio of her as a model, and that very same day it was he who suggested to Bettie that, as gorgeous and photogenic as she is, that her high forehead was too bright in photos, and she should change her hairstyle to bangs,” he said.

Zigun used his knowledge about the history of the Sodom by the Sea and its nightlife to fill in the rest of their day together, with help from his co-writer and director Chicava Honeychild, founder of the Brown Girls Burlesque company.

“My knowledge of Coney Island led me to reverse-engineer what her day was probably like,” said Zigun. “I’ve decided that they probably headed to an unusual night club in Coney Island called the Bluebird Casino, an integrated rhythm and blues club.”

In the show, that nightclub visit kick-starts Bettie’s career as the scandalous “Queen of Bondage.”

“That leads to Bettie in Coney Island perhaps being exposed to stripping and with a bit of S&M, mix in song-and-dance numbers that involves lingerie and whips — it is Bettie Page after all,” he said. “That’s our version of the day in Coney Island.”

The play focuses on day Page, played by actress Seedy Edie, met Tibbs, but it also delves into her darker times later in life, said Zigun.

“It does cover Bettie’s later life, when she is investigated by the United States Senate for indecency, her mental illness, her religious conversion, a gang rape she experienced in Brooklyn,” he said. “So it covers Bettie’s whole life but with a focus on the day she was discovered.”

Zigun has big hopes for his play about Page, he said.

“Bettie is a huge icon in American pop culture, so I expect a lot of interest and anticipation for the play. I hope it ends up as a musical on Broadway,” he said.

Becoming Bettie Page at Coney Island USA (1214 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, www.coneyisland.com). May 25–26, June 1–2, June 8–9 at 8 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Pin-up queen: Actress Seedy Edie will star as the title character in “Becoming Bettie Page,” debuting in Coney Island on May 25.
Bettina May

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