Hand color tinted photo of Betty Grable, Halloween
Betty Grable (December 18, 1916 – July 2, 1973) was an American dancer, singer, and actress.
Her iconic bathing suit photo made her the number-one pin-up girl of the World War II era. It was later included in the Life magazine project “100 Photos that Changed the World”. Grable was particularly noted for having the most beautiful legs in Hollywood and studio publicity widely dispersed photos featuring them. Hosiery specialists of the era often noted the ideal proportions of her legs as: thigh (18.5″) calf (12″), and ankle (7.5″). Grable’s legs were famously insured by her studio for $1,000,000 with Lloyds of London.
She was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri to John Conn Grable (1883-1954) and Lillian Rose Hofmann (1889-1964). She was the youngest of three children.
Most of Grable’s immediate ancestors were American, but her distant heritage was of Dutch, Irish, German and English stock. She was propelled into the acting profession by her mother. For her first role, as a chorus girl in the film Happy Days (1929), Grable was only 12 years old (legally underage for acting), but, because the chorus line performed in blackface, it was impossible to tell how old she was. Her mother soon gave her a make-over which included dyeing her hair platinum blonde.
For her next film, her mother got her a contract using a false identification. When this deception was discovered, however, Grable was fired. Grable finally obtained a role as a ‘Goldwyn Girl’ in Whoopee! (1930), starring Eddie Cantor. Though Grable received no billing, she led the opening number, “Cowboys.” Grable then worked in small roles at different studios for the rest of the decade, including the Academy Award-winning The Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, where she was prominently featured in the number “Let’s K-nock K-nees”.
In 1939, Grable appeared with her then husband, Jackie Coogan (married in 1937), in Million Dollar Legs, from which her nickname is taken. They divorced later that same year (October 1939).
After small parts in over 50 Hollywood movies theough the 1930s, Grable finally gained national attention for her stage role in the Cole Porter Broadway hit Du Barry Was a Lady (1939).
In 1940, she gained a contract with 20th Century Fox, becoming their top star during the decade. Grable appeared in Technicolor movies such as Down Argentine Way (1940), Moon Over Miami (1941) (both with Don Ameche), Springtime in The Rockies (1942), Coney Island (1943) with George Montgomery, Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943) with Robert Young, Pin Up Girl (1944), Diamond Horseshoe (1945) with Dick Haymes, The Dolly Sisters (1945) with John Payne and June Haver. Mother Wore Tights (1947), her most popular film, was with her favorite costar, Dan Dailey.
It was during her reign as box office queen (in 1943) that Grable posed for her famous pinup photo, which (along with her movies) soon became escapist fare among GIs fighting in World War II. The image was taken by studio photographer Frank Powolny. It was rumored that the particular pose and angle were chosen to hide the fact that Grable was pregnant at the time of the photo. Starting in 1942, Grable was named in the top 10 box office draws for 10 consecutive years. For seven of those ten years, she was top female-box office star. In 1943, she was named the #1 movie box office attraction. By the end of the 1940s Grable was the highest-paid female star in Hollywood, receiving $300,000 a year.
Grable was the heroine of a novel, Betty Grable and the House with the Iron Shutters, written by Kathryn Heisenfelt, published by Whitman Publishing Company in 1943. “While the heroine is identified as a famous actress, the stories are entirely fictitious.” The story was probably written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as “Whitman Authorized Editions”, 16 books published between 1941-1947 that featured a film actress as heroine.
Her postwar musicals included: That Lady in Ermine (1948) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948) again with Dailey, Wabash Avenue (1950) (a remake of Grable’s own Coney Island) with Victor Mature, My Blue Heaven (1950), and Meet Me After the Show (1951). Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck lavished his star with expensive Technicolor films, but also kept her busy — Grable made nearly 25 musicals and comedies in 13 years. Her last big hit for Fox was How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe. Grable next starred in Three for the Show (1955) with Jack Lemmon; this film was one of her last musicals.
Grable’s later career was marked by feuds with studio heads. At one point, in the middle of a fight with Zanuck, she tore up her contract and stormed out of his office. By 1953, Zanuck was grooming Marilyn Monroe to replace Grable as the Fox’s resident sex symbol. Far from feeling threatened, on the set of How to Marry a Millionaire Grable famously said to Monroe, “go and get yours, honey! I’ve had mine”. It was at this point that Grable lost her father ‘Conn’ Grable in 1954, at age 71.
Grable returned to the studio for one last film, How to be Very, Very Popular (1955) with Sheree North. Following this, Grable hoped to secure the role of Miss Adelaide in the film version of the musical Guys and Dolls. However, when producer Samuel Goldwyn learned that Grable skipped a meeting with him because one of her dogs had taken ill, he became incensed and removed her from consideration. Vivian Blaine, who had originated the role on Broadway, was ultimately cast.
Having left movies entirely, she made the transition to television and starred in Las Vegas. It was in these transition years to stage, when Betty lost her mother Lillian in 1964, at age 75. By 1967, she took over the lead in the touring company of Hello, Dolly!. She starred in a 1969 musical called Belle Starr in London, but it was savaged by critics and soon folded.
Grable’s last role was Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida in February, 1973.
In 1937, Grable married another famous former child-actor, Jackie Coogan. He was under considerable stress from a lawsuit against his parents over his childhood earnings and therefore the couple divorced in 1939.
In 1943, she married trumpeter and big band leader Harry James. The couple had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica. They endured a tumultuous 22-year marriage that was plagued by alcoholism and infidelity. The couple divorced in 1965. Grable entered into a relationship with a dancer, Bob Remick, several years her junior. Though they did not marry, their romance lasted until the end of Grable’s life.
Grable died July 2, 1973, of lung cancer at age 56 in Santa Monica, California. Her funeral was held July 5, 1973, 30 years to the day after her marriage to Harry James — who, in turn, died on what would have been his and Grable’s 40th anniversary, July 5, 1983. She was interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California, in the Mausoleum of the Golden West, Sanctuary of Dawn section, with her mother Lillian, alongside her father ‘Conn’ Grable. Sister Marjorie Grable-Arnold joined them in their family crypt, after her death at 71, in 1980.
Among the Who’s Who of Hollywood attending her funeral were Harry James, Dorothy Lamour, Shirley Booth, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, Cesar Romero, George Raft, Alice Faye and Dan Dailey. “I Had the Craziest Dream,” the haunting ballad Betty introduced in “Springtime in the Rockies” was played on the church organ.
Grable has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6525 Hollywood Boulevard. She also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in 2009.
Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy noted on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on April 23, 2007, in an interview with Terry Gross that Grable was his inspiration for founding the Playboy empire.