"The Girl With The Million Dollar Legs"
Betty Grable was well known for her beauty and was widely popular in the 1940's as a pin-up girl. Although she was not the first pin-up girl (that was Dorothy Lamour), Grable’s popularity soon overtook Lamour’s, especially with her famous 1943 image (the image of her in a bathing suit looking back over her shoulder, in the center-right of the collage below).Grable was born in 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother strongly encouraged her to start dancing and get into vaudeville at an early age. In 1929, Grable and her mother moved to Hollywood where Grable soon became involved in multiple movies, rising to official stardom in 1939. She eventually became the No. 1 female box office attraction in 1942, 1943, 1944 and remained in the Top 10 for the next decade (9).
“In 1942...‘World War II was raging around the globe and escapist films were being manufactured in Hollywood as quickly as possible. Betty's ingratiating freshness and beauty appealed strongly to the American G.I.s stationed overseas and her films were eagerly requested by the lonely servicemen. Although she never toured outside the United States for the U.S.O., Betty actively participated in War efforts, appearing at Camps across the country and at Bond Rallys where she auctioned off her nylons for thousands of dollars. Volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen, a club for servicemen staffed entirely by film stars and studio workers, she 'Jitterbugged' the night away with hundreds of soldiers, sailors and marines....' Her fan mail often reached 10,000 letters per week, and in 1942 she sent 54,000 autographed photos to the soldiers at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, who had sent her 54,000 letters. She…married the bandleader Harry James [on] July 5, 1943. A popular GI slogan during the war became ‘I want a girl just like the girl that married Harry James’” (9).
The pin-ups of WWII were out in the open and sanctioned by the government; photos were allowed to decorate airplane cockpits and army barracks. Life magazine had coined the term "pin-up" [a (usually female) model whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal as pop culture (10)] in the July 7, 1941 issue, and the name stuck.
According to Doug Warren, “About 5 million copies of the famous pose were in GI hands during the war, and the over-the-shoulder pose was the only one that was used for this purpose. It is believed that the term 'pin-up' was truly born with this Betty Grable photo. Betty was a representation of the girl-back-home for thousands of homesick young lads. For some, she may have been their only infatuation, the last girl they had ever lusted for, loved, or adored. She was company on a cold night, comfort at times of pain. Betty had an idea that she was admired by the GIs, but had no way of knowing exactly how much. It was more than the sexy picture that enamored them of her; there was a magical wholesomeness and substance they saw beyond the curves of her figures. It was her very essence that was loved’" (9).
The girl's picture on the side of this plane (with the name "Go Gettin' Gal") well exemplifies how much women, and especially pretty women, were thought about and cherished by servicemen during the war.
Grable’s contract with Fox ended in 1953, just as Marilyn Monroe was rising in popularity. In the 50's, Betty moved to Las Vegas and made appearances on television and in nightclubs, and on stage in the early 60s. She divorced Harry James in 1965. Betty Grable continued working on tours and stage shows, and doing TV commercials until her death from cancer in 1973 (9).
Click here to watch a video about WWII troops & their pinup girls; it also involves part of an episode of Bob Hope's show and its trademark song, "Thanks for the Memory."
Click here to watch a video of Betty Grable in "I'll Be Marching to a Love Song" from a scene from "The All-Star Bond Rally" (1945).