Betty Grable (December 18, 1916 – July 2, 1973) was an American dancer, singer, and actress.
Her sensational bathing-suit photo, with her head looking over her right shoulder, became the number-one pin-up girl of the World War II era. It was later included in Life magazine 100 Photos that Changed the World.
Grable was best-known for her shapely legs, which were showcased in all of her 20th Century Fox Technicolor musicals and were famously insured by her movie studio for $1,000,000 per leg at Lloyds of London.
She was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri to John C. Grable (1883-1954) and Lillian Rose Hofmann (1889-1964). Betty was the youngest of three children.
Most of Grable's recent ancestors were American, but her distant heritage included Dutch, Irish, German and English. She was propelled into acting by her mother, who insisted that one of her daughters become a star. For her first role, as a Chorus line girl in the movie Happy Days (1929 film), Grable was only 13 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 Lillian soon gave her a make-over which included dying 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-nominated The Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In 1937, she rebelled against her controlling mother and married another famous former child-actor, Jackie Coogan, but Coogan was under considerable stress from a lawsuit against his parents over his earnings, and the couple divorced in 1940. During this period – after small parts in over fifty Hollywood movies throughout the 1930s – Grable finally gained national attention on stage for her role in the Cole Porter Broadway theatre hit Du Barry Was a Lady (1939).
The same year that she divorced Coogan, Grable obtained a contract with 20th Century Fox, becoming their top movie star throughout the decade, with splashy 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, and her most popular film Mother Wore Tights (1947), with favorite costar Dan Dailey.
It was during her reign as box-office champ (in 1943) that Grable posed for her iconic pin-up photo, which (along with her movies) soon became escapist fare among GIs fighting overseas in World War II. The image was taken by studio photographer Frank Powolny, who died in 1986. Despite solid competition from Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Lamour, Veronica Lake, Carole Landis and Lana Turner, Grable was indisputably the number one pinup girl for American soldiers. She was wildly popular at home as well, placing in the top ten box-office draws each year for ten years. By the end of the 1940s Grable was the highest-paid female star in Hollywood.
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 number one star with expensive Technicolor films, but also kept her busy — Grable made nearly twenty-five musicals/comedies in thirteen years. Grable's last big hit for Fox was How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe.
In 1943, she married jazz trumpeter and big band leader Harry James. The couple had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica. They endured a tumultuous 22-year-long marriage that was plagued by alcoholism and infidelity. Betty finally divorced Harry in 1965. She soon entered into a relationship with a dancer, Bob Remick, who was less than half her age. Though they didn't marry, their romance lasted until the end of Betty's life.
Grable's later career was marked by feuds with studio heads, who worked her to exhaustion. At one point, in the middle of a fight with Darryl F. Zanuck, she tore up her contract with him and stormed out of his office. Gradually leaving movies entirely, she made the transition to television and starred in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1967, Betty took over the lead in the touring company of Hello, Dolly, and in 1973 starred in a new musical called Belle Starr in London. The British public had loyal sentiments about Betty that went back to her World War II pin-up days, but after the play was savaged by the critics, it soon folded.
She died of lung cancer at age 56 in Santa Monica, California. Betty had been a heavy smoker, and often smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Her funeral was held July 5, 1973, thirty 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 is interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
Grable has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6525 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA. She also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine noted on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on April 23, 2007, in an interview with Terry Gross that Betty was his inspiration for founding the Playboy empire.
Grable was known by many nicknames including "Box-Office Betty" and "The Girl With The Million Dollar Legs."
- Betty Grable appeared in YANK magazine on 26 November 1943
- Betty Grable at the Internet Movie Database
- Betty Grable at the Turner Classic Movie Database
- Betty Grable at the Internet Broadway Database
- Betty Grable at Vintage People
- Betty Grable Photo Tribute
- Betty Grable Portraits
- St. Louis Walk of Fame
- Suspense: Betty Grable 1949 appearance
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