Betty Grable: The Young Pinup Queen Who Helped Win Wars

Fads | December 18, 2019

Actress Betty Grable's 1943 back shot in a one-piece swimsuit, with that playful over-the-shoulder smile, is the gold standard of pinups. It's not the greatest or sexiest pinup of all time -- well, such judgments are in the eye of the beholder. But it was an image that captured imaginations of its day, and that was plastered on surfaces all over the world, and that became the undisputed most popular pinup image of World War II. 

There were other sex symbols in the '40s (Rita Hayworth had a pretty well known poster of her own), and the '50s, '60s, and '70s had plenty of shapely icons of pulchritude. But it wasn't until 1976 that a pinup became as ubiquitous as Grable's had been -- that was Farrah Fawcett's famous red swimsuit poster.

The pin-up girl who helped win wars: Betty Grable (walmart)

War conceives many ugly stories, but every now and then, it gives birth to a gratifying juxtaposition. One such infamous contrast takes form in the shape of Betty Grable’s unforgettable legs. In the throes of a bloody conflict, even the smallest victories, like a pin-up of one of Hollywood’s leggiest starlets, can help the morale of troops fighting for the freedoms of Americans.

Betty Grable’s neverending limbs helped hundreds of thousands of enlisted men survive the horrifying realities of World War II. Grable’s “million-dollar legs” did more than offer a sliver of beauty in a terrible war but even served as credentials for proving a soldier’s allegiance. Here’s the story of World War II’s most famous pin-up girl.  

The Million Dollar Legs Seen By Every Soldier

The most famous legs in WWII history! (vintag.es)

The phrase million-dollar legs may sound like fun moniker but the term was meant literally. Betty Grable’s most famous extremities were insured for precisely one million bucks at the height of her fame. It makes sense since the singing, dancing, acting beauty, and her legs fueled over $100 million at the box office across 40 different films. The blonde bombshell was Hollywood’s highest-paid star between 1943 and 1951, making over $300,000 a year. That’s almost $4.5 million when adjusting for inflation.

World War II’s Dreamgirl

Grable inspired men at home and abroad (dawn-bettygrable.blogspot)

In 1942, World War II was raging and Hollywood worked frantically to create escapist films and pictures for the brave fighting men across the globe. Grable’s fresh-faced beauty and dreamy legs quickly made her the go-to girl for soldiers fighting to take down the Nazis.

Like any great American, Grable did her part in the war effort, auctioning off her nylons for thousands, jitterbugging with hundreds of soldiers, and sending off more than 54,000 autographed photos. An often said line from the fighting men of America was “I want a girl just like the girl that married Harry James.” That girl just so happened to be Ms. Betty Grable. 

A Piece Of Home While Fighting For America

The touchstone girl became a password of sorts in WWII (worthpoint)

Reportedly, roughly 5 million copies of Betty Grable’s infamous over the shoulder pose circulated through the hands of American soldiers during the war. Grable pin-ups were sanctioned by the military and found their way into cockpits, on the side of planes, and of course, plastered all over American barracks.

According to Doug Warren, “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." 

Her pictures became so famous that English speaking Germans were forced to answer questions about football and one Betty Grable to prove they weren’t spies for the Germans. According to the History channel, “General Omar Bradley himself had to prove his identity three times–by answering questions about football and Betty Grable–before being allowed to pass a sentry point.”

The Most Perfectly Inspiring Legs In History

Go get em boys! (dailygazette)

Not only did Betty Grable’s long-legged pinup help American soldiers in their darkest moments but also influenced the minds of many. One such mind was that of Hugh Hefner who partially got the idea for Playboy while staring at the eyes and legs of one Betty Grable.

Apparently hosiery specialist of the day deemed the dimensions of her legs, 18.5-inch thigh, 12-inch calf, and 7.5-inch ankle, as absolutely perfect. If you’d like to see a more concrete model for those perfect legs, check out the Hollywood walk which displays a mold of Grable’s legs on the walk of stars. Amazingly, despite all the hullabaloo about her legs, Grable kept a level head about all the attention. "They are fine for pushing the foot pedals in my car," Grable told LIFE.

Tags: Betty Grable | Ladies | Pinup | Swimsuits | What Did She Do?... | World War II

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!