Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who Killed the PinUp Queen?

HANK: It's really difficult to go to a group appearance with Toni Kelner. She is SO FUNNY--and so droll and so soft-spokenly southernly hilarious, she has the audience in stitches (whatever that means) and they mob her afterwards, thronging for books. Her husband is a motivational genius, and her daughters are marvelous and hip and smart.

Bless their hearts. (Little southern humor I learned from Toni.)

Anyway--Toni is everywhere! Writing her own books, editing anthologies with someone named Charlaine Harris (heard of her?) and winning awards. She also is the absolute QUEEN of TV trivia! (We should try to stump her. Anyone? It's kind of impossible..)

But today, she's talking about another queen. A pin up queen.

The Mystery of Bettie Page

There were lots of pinup queens during the fifties, but only one Queen of the Pinups: Bettie Page. Her photos range from outdoorsy bikini shots that wouldn't even raise an eyebrow to seriously kinky bondage and domination pictures, and everything in between. But whether she was posed as a dream girl next door, a sultry vixen, a bound beauty, or a stern dominatrix, the camera loved her. Her photos were ubiquitous from 1951 to 1957--the best estimate is that she posed for half a million pictures and worked with almost all of the amateur and professional photographers in New York City. Then, at the height of her popularity, she left the modeling business.

That could have been the end of the story, but in the 1980s and 1990s, Bettie's photos started re-emerging, and artists based a multitude of drawings and comic books on her. As interest grew, the search for her began in earnest, and there were endless theories about her "disappearance." Had she been murdered by a mobster? Been abducted by a sheik for his harem? Gone into a convent? What could have happened to the so-called Dark Angel?

In 1993, Bettie finally came forward after having heard about the frenzied search. She was amazed that anybody even knew who she was, let alone cared. She'd been living in obscurity for most of her life, and was nearly broke at that point. For a few years, she would only give interviews by phone and if her likeness wasn't shown, saying that she wanted her fans to remember her as she had been, not as an old woman, but in 2003, she did allow her picture to be taken for Playboy, in which she'd last appeared as a Playmate of the Month for January 1955.

So what was the mystery of her disappearance? It was no mystery at all, really. She stopped modeling for a combination of reasons: she was getting older, the laws surrounding pinups--particularly where bondage was involved--were getting more strict, her acting career had never taken off, and she got religion. So she left New York and went on to live her life. She had some good times and sadly many bad times before fame found her again. Bettie died just over a year ago, but still continues to inspire artists, models, film makers, and even musicians (including Bob Dylan, who included an image of Bettie on the back page of the album booklet of his brand-new album, Christmas in the Heart).

More importantly to me, Bettie inspired this mystery writer to write Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in my "Where are they now?" series. My protagonist Tilda Harper is a freelance entertainment reporter who specializes in tracking down the formerly famous to write about them, so Bettie Page's story is right up her alley. Tilda interviews the once buxom Sandy Sea Chest, who has discovered late in life that there's still plenty of interest in her, and who has gone public with her story. When the former model is bludgeoned to death, Tilda sets out after the killer.

When I decided to use pinup queens for a backdrop for a mystery, I knew I wanted to draw on Bettie's story. But which story should I use? The story of the disappearance, and the fans' search for her years later? The real story of her life? Or the legends about what could have happened to her? I decided to use all three.

Sandy, the murder victim, takes pleasure in her pinup past and capitalizes on it with a web site from which she sells autographed photos and t-shirts. But another former pinup Tilda encounters is desperate that her past--which she considers sordid--stay deeply hidden. And a third has disappeared completely, even more thoroughly than Bettie did, creating a special challenge for Tilda.

Of course, none of these stories are exactly what happened to Bettie Page and none of these characters are exactly like Bettie herself. Despite all that's been written about her, and all the pictures, and the movies of her, and the movies about her, she's still a bit of an enigma. I suppose the irony is that even though Bettie bared all for the camera, she still kept her secrets.

Of course you can't wait to read the book--comment for a chance to win an autographed copy! And if you have a TV trivia question for Toni--let's see if she can answer..

Toni L.P. Kelner multitasks. In mysteries, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, the second in her "Where are they now?" series, is just hitting the shelves. In urban fantasy, she edits anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Death's Excellent Vacation is due out in August. In short stories, she has her first noir story coming out in March in Carolyn Haine's anthology Delta Blues. Kelner has won the Agatha Award and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, and has been nominated for two other Agathas, four Anthonys, and two Macavitys. She lives north of Boston with author/husband Stephen Kelner, two daughters, and two guinea pigs.


  1. See...and I think it's really easy to do a group event with Toni because she's fun to hang out with and yes, the kids are cute ;-)
    I was intrigued by the whole Bettie Page story some years back when a coffee table book about her came out. What a great idea for a mystery.
    I was at Toni's Bouchercon session on tv trivia. The woman's knowledge of The Brady Bunch and The Addams Family is truly scary. I don't have a prayer of stumping Toni..

  2. Wow, what a terrific premise for a mystery. I had never heard of Bettie Page before, but she sure must have had an interesting life.

    dlodden at frontiernet dot net

  3. Well, Ro, exactly.

    Toni, you didnt start as a mystery writer, correct? HOw did that happen?

  4. Okay...I got one. There was a failed teenage soap opera that my sister used to watch in the sixties. (I waas already watching Masterpiece Theatre ;-) It was set in California and starred two guys who had been child stars. What was the title, who were the actors and what were the two earlier legendary tv series that they co-starred in as children? of the earlier series really starred a dog.

  5. Just finished The Curse of the Kissing Cousins and loved it (and it did keep me guessing), so I can't wait for the next one.

    I don't have any questions, but I note that a recent NYT crossword puzzle included clues such as "which night was Wagon Train on in the first two years of its run?" Interesting what those puzzle-makers assume we might remember from our misspent youth.

  6. Hank, I started out trying to write science fiction and fantasy. But I wasn't very good. As in bad, bad, bad. Then one day, as part of a writing exercise from Lawrence Block's book WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE! , I started on a piece that seemed to have more vim and/or vigor, and I wanted to keep it going. It was present day, and no fantasy elements, so I figured I'd try to make it a mystery. I'd already read a lot of classic mysteries, and I started reading modern stuff like crazy to catch up with where the field had come. And somehow, it worked. So I'm staying with mysteries. Mysteries are my friend.

  7. Rosemary, you got me. The only dog shows that spring to mind are Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, and I don't know that either Timmy or Rusty were ever regulars in a teen soap.

    And honestly, while I retain a fair amount of trivia, the rest is stuff I look up very quickly. ( is great for it, too.) It was that same in my Laura Fleming series, where Laura's husband Richard quoted Shakespeare. He knew the quotes by heart--I looked 'em up.

  8. Got it! NEVER TOO YOUNG with Tommy Rettig (later Tom Rettig) who was in LASSIE and Tony Dow from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. I looked up Timmy from Lassie, when I should have looked up Jeff. (From his IMDB page, Timmy really did fall down a well...

    And FYI, I googled "child star teen soap dog." I love the web.

  9. Okay, I don't know why that previous post didn't have my name attached, but it was from me.

  10. I really enjoyed Toni's first book in this series--in fact, I almost read it twice because they changed the name of it and I thought it was a new one (please don't let them do that again)! Hope I win.

  11. Margie,

    Sorry about that. When I moved the series the Berkley, they requested the title change because they'd already published a book entitled WITHOUT MERCY, and didn't want people confusing mine with Jack Higgins's book. Which made sense--people get me mixed up with Jack all the time. No other title switches are in the works.

  12. OK, I'll play. What director of the "Danger Island" segments of "The Banana Splits" (la-la-la la-la lah lah) went on to direct big-budget Hollywood films?
    (and no peeking on imdb)


  13. Toni, what a terrific idea for a book. I look back on the "shocking" pinup photos of yesteryear and they seem surprisingly mild now.

  14. Toni, you are the capo de tutti capos..

  15. Lynn,

    I loved Danger Island, but no idea bout the director. I can say that Jan-Michael Vincent starred in it, except he was only Michael Vincent then. And I do have the Banana Splits theme song on my iPod.

    So now that I have admitted my ignorance, I'm off to IMDb to find the answer...

  16. Oh. NO. Now the Banana Splits theme is playing and playing and playing in my head. Thanks, Gang.

  17. Love your books, Toni! Can't wait to read this one.

    Now I must go find the Banana Splits song on iTunes. I had a poster of them on my wall!

    Easy TV trivia: Can you name the daughters of Petticoat Junction? (Now I have that song in my head too!)

    Kathy Sweeney

  18. Hi Toni,
    Welcome to JRW.
    You'd have been right at home in my family. On long car trips we had TV theme trivia in which we hummed theme tunes to every TV show--Banana Splits included, Hank!
    We could all name that tune in about four notes (Luckily my kids could all sing in tune, in fact 2 wound up as professional singers--one opera, one jazz)

  19. Rhys, Steve and I went on a cruise on our honeymoon, and one of the many activities was a theme song trivia contest. I walked away with the trophy, including correctly identifying the theme for The Donna Reed Show.

    People were impressed, but it was kind of a cheat. For some reason, The Donna Reed Show is a favorite of people who write trivia quizzes, so when a song that was clearly of that era was played, I took a stab at it.

  20. All the girls in Petticoat Junction? Their names were in the theme song, right? But all I can remember is:

    And there's Uncle Joe, he's movin' kinda slow at the junction..

  21. Petticoat Junction...

    Betty Joe
    Bobby Joe
    Billie Joe (or maybe Billy Joe)

    There were several cast changes with the daughters, but I think the one who stuck around was the daughter of the guy who produced the show. I did some research into Petticoat Junction for Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, but ended up going with Westerns instead of country shows.

  22. I checked my Petticoat Junction answer and I spelled the names wrong.

    Betty Jo & Billie Jo & Bobbi Jo

    Did you know that show is part of the same fictional universe as The Beverly Hillbillies and there were crossover shows. Both are great shows for trivia because they ran so long and had so many guest stars.

    Going out for a while, but will be back later today. This is fun!

  23. Just scrolling through the comments and for a second I thought that Rhys, Steve and Toni all went on the honeymoon together. I thought, wow...I didn't know they were that close.

  24. great blog, Toni!

    Don't forget Green Acres! Petticoat Junction shared characters and a township--most notably Drucker's general store--with the Green Acres crew.

  25. That last anonymous post should've been signed,


  26. I have a good friend who has followed Bettie's career through the years. Ms. Page was an interesting lady. Now I have to add your book to my WIN list (Want It Now)!

    Trivia...what were the names of the four non-human "costars" in THE ROY ROGERS SHOW?

  27. Trigger. Buttermilk. got me..

  28. Thanks Carla. I had Green Acres in my head as another cross-over, but I wasn't sure enough to say so. That Sam Drucker got around pretty good for an old guy.

  29. Silver, all I've got is Trigger. Off to IMDb. Because when I don't know a TV trivia, I must needs find it out. I'll be sure to want to know at some point.

  30. Rosemary, I would never take Rhys on a honeymoon. Have you seen her? I couldn't take the competition!

  31. Hmm... I did find out that Richard Donner, who went on to direct Lethal Weapon and its sequels, plus Ladyhawke, which is one of my personal favorites is the director Lynn asked about. Before he hit it big, he directed for The Banana Splits.

    No luck on the horses from The Roy Rogers Show. I got the aforementioned Trigger and Buttermilk, and added Bullet, but haven't found a fourth equine star. I'll keep hunting. This stuff haunts me.

  32. Whoops. I messed that up. Bullet was Roy Roger's German Shepherd. I did find mention of Phineas, who was Pat Brady's horse. (And Pat Brady's Jeep was named Nellybelle.)

    I'll keep looking for that fourth horse unless Silver comes back to put me out of my misery.

  33. IMDB is your friend, Toni. I had in mind Trigger (Roy's palomino), Buttermilk (Dale's buckskin), Bullet (Roy's German Shepherd), and Nellybelle. Actually. I didn't know that Pat had a horse. Phineas. *grin* Now I know. And yes, I do know all the words to "Happy Trails" but trust don't want me to sing it! LOL

  34. Margie B! You win Toni's book! Email me and sned your snail mail address.

    And Plastic Santa! You win a copy of Quarry, the new and wonderful collection of short stoires from New England writers (okay, including my On The House.)
    Send me your snail mail!

  35. I'm so looking forward to reading Who Killed the PinUp Queen!
    I can't think of any tv trivia questions at the moment, but I can almost guarantee ten will pop into my head the minute I send this message.

  36. this is a great site about the new mystery religion!

  37. Toni, congrats on PINUP QUEEN! I loved it and think the cover is super.

    And everyone is correct: you are a scene-stealer on a panel, but bring glory to us all!