ACTRESS, PERFORMER, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS
“There are two reasons why I am successful in show business. And I am standing on both of them.”
World War II will forever be remembered for a myriad of events and images, some of which are the pictures of a famous Missourian performing for the soldiers at the most remote locales. Betty Grable is an American movie icon and a piece of Americana as the voluptuous pin-up girl with the million-dollar legs.
THE EARLY YEARS
Ruth Elizabeth Grable was born on December 18, 1916, to a family on the south side of St. Louis. Her father was a successful businessman, which allowed the family to live in relative luxury in the Forest Park Apartment Hotel. Her family’s stature also allowed the girl to attend the prestigious Mary Institute prep school. Her mother was intent on training the young girl for stardom, which included enrolling her in dance classes and encouraging her to take saxophone and singing lessons.
The family went to California on vacation when Betty was about thirteen years old. Shortly after the trip, her mother decided it was in the family’s best interest for her and her daughter to move to Tinseltown so the young girl could pursue an acting career. Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, Betty enrolled in performance classes at the Hollywood Professional School, the Albertina Rosch School, and the Ernest Blecher Academy. She was still young, but casting directors noticed her amazing talent.
RISE TO FAME
Betty’s first professional job required her to break the law in order to perform. The law in California stated that performers had to be at least fifteen years old
to perform in the chorus, but she was only thirteen when she landed a role in “Let’s Go Places.” When producers found out that she falsified documents, she was terminated and forced to wait a few years before taking any more chorus jobs.
In the meantime, she continued to take classes and refine her talents. The same year, she also landed a role in Whoopee! under the leadership of Hollywood icon Sam Goldwyn. The movie proved to be a big stepping-stone for the actress. Numerous opportunities followed, including roles in two movies with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
In 1937, Betty was in her early twenties and had a new husband and a new job as the leading lady in Down Argentine Way. The movie made her an international star about the same time World War II was beginning to break out around the globe. She continued to perform, only now for American troops. Her famous pose in a white swimsuit graced the walls of barracks all over the world and on the ships that carried soldiers to the front lines. She also became an unofficial symbol of what was waiting for the men at home when the war was over.
Over the next several decades, Grable became one of the most prolific and successful actresses of all time, performing in hundreds of films. She solidified her place in Hollywood lore with outstanding performances in Pin Up Girl, How to Marry a Millionaire, and Guys and Dolls. Her career came to a sudden halt when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1972. She died less than one year later.
*In 1943, Twentieth Century Fox had Betty’s legs insured with Lloyd’s of London for the record $1.25 million.
*The treasury department recorded Grable as the highest earning American woman in 1946–1947, earning about three hundred thousand dollars annually.
*Grable was listed as one of the top ten box office stars for twelve years.
Famous People from Missouri!