The sexy Jean Harlow type of Hollywood leading lady had given way, with with the implementation of the Hays Code in 1934, to a more ethereal type of screen female, typified by the "Goddess" Greta Garbo. The 1940's and WWII brought a need for a more homely type of screen diva, and the answer was the 'sweater girl'; wholesome girls-next-door whose healthy, outdoor life just happened to require them to wear tight sweaters and shorts.
Betty Grable's unique sexy appeal fulfilled the new archetype perfectly, and more completely than any other star. Her iconic "looking over the shoulder" photo in bathing suit graced armed forces lockers the world over and made her a household name. It was included in a feature by Life Magazine entitled "100 Photos that Changed the World". It is ironic that the reason it was posed in such a way was because she was several months' pregnant when the picture was taken.
BiographyShe was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri on December, 1916. She had an older sister Marjorie, born in 1909, and her brother John Karl was born in 1914, but died before Betty was born.
Her mother, Lillian, was one of the original 'Showbiz mothers' and she was determined to push one of her daughters into showbusiness. It was her second daughter, Betty, who had the talent and when she was just three her mother enrolled her in dancing and singing lessons. In 1929 the family went on vacation to California and Betty and her mother stayed on.
Betty went to the Hollywood Professional School in California where she developed a double act with fellow student Emlyn Pique, who became a movie actress with the name, Mitzi Mayfair. Within less than a year Betty's mother had obtained for her her first professional role, as a chorus girl for Fox Films in 'Happy Days'. She was still only 13 and when the studio found out her true age she was released from her contract.
Goldwyn GirlsIn 1930 she became one of the original 'Goldwyn Girls', a musical stock company of female dancers employed by Sam Goldwyn. She started in Whoopee!', starring Eddie Cantor and continued in other Cantor movies, 'Palmy Days' and 'The Kid From Spain' together with fellow Goldwyn Girls Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard amongst others.
RKO 1932In 1932, she joined RKO Radio Pictures who assigned her to a succession of classes in acting, singing and dancing at their own school. Her first film for RKO was 'Probation' in 1932, and with it she gained her first credited screen role.
She then worked in a succession of uncredited minor roles in a series of films including 'Cavalcade' in 1933, and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, 'The Gay Divorcee' in 1934, in which she had a feature role dancing "Let's K-nock Knees" with Edward Everett Horton. During this time she continued her singing career and fronted several bands.
ParamountBetty signed with Paramount Pictures in 1935 and was lent to 20th Century-Fox to co-star with Judy Garland in the comedy 'Pigskin Parade'. Paramount then cast her in leading roles as a dizzy blonde in a series of college movies including 'This Way Please' in 1937 and 'College Swing' the following year.
First marriage 1937Her popularity increased in 1937 when she married Jackie Coogan, the former child star of Chaplin's 'The Kid' and they appeared together in 1939 in 'Million Dollar Legs'. Coogan had serious financial problems which put a strain on the marriage and they divorced later that same year.
By the end of the 1930's Betty had appeared in over 50 movies and was now a seasoned performer. She projected just the right jaunty image for wartime America and she gained much critical praise for her stage performance in 1939 in the Cole Porter Broadway hit 'Du Barry Was a Lady' which ran for 408 performances.
Hollywood StardomThe following year 20th Century Fox gave her a movie contract and she rewarded them with a string of hit films through the 1940's and becoming their top performing star. Using the new color technology of Technicolor she appeared at her dazzling best in movies such as 'Down Argentine Way' in 1940, 'Moon Over Miami' in 1941' (both with Don Ameche), 'Sweet Rosie O'Grady' in 1943 with Robert Young, 'Pin Up Girl' in 1944, and 'Mother Wore Tights' with Dan Dailey in 1947.
By the end of 1942, Betty was ranked 8th among Hollywood's most popular stars and the following year she was reported to be the highest paid woman in the United States, earning $300,000 a year. Between the years 1942 to 1951 she was the number one female box office earner in Hollywood.
Second MarriageShe married for the second time in 1943 to band leader and trumpeter Harry James, and the couple had two daughters, Victoria in 1944 and Jessica in 1947. They divorced in 1965 after a tempestuous, alcohol fuelled, twenty year marriage, with accusations of infidelities on both sides.
After the marriage ended Betty began seeing younger dancer Bob Remick and although they never married, the relationship continued until Betty's death.
Postwar CareerAfter the war she continued working hard although her appeal and success markedly declined. Her movies were mainly musicals and included 'That Lady in Ermine' in 1948 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., 'When My Baby Smiles at Me' in 1948 again with Dan Dailey, 'My Blue Heaven' in 1950, and 'Meet Me After the Show' in 1951. In her last major role, she was every bit as good as her co-stars, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe, in the hit movie, 'How to Marry a Millionaire' in 1953.
In July 1953 Betty walked out from Fox after being suspended for refusing to allow herself to be loaned her out to Columbia for 'The Pleasure Is All Mine'. She was coaxed back briefly for the disappointing 'Three for the Show' with Jack Lemmon and 'How to Be Very, Very Popular' with Sheree North, both in 1955, and with that her movie career was over.
Betty made the transition to being a television and nightclub performer. She appeared in many TV shows during the late 1950's including 'The Jack Benny Show' and 'The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour'. She appeared in New York's Latin Quarter and in a variety of shows in Las Vegas including a production of 'Guys and Dolls' in 1962 and in 1967 she took over the lead in 'Hello, Dolly!' on tour. Betty's last role was in 'Born Yesterday' at the Alhambra Theater in Jacksonville, Florida in 1973.
DeathIn 1972 Betty was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had been a lifelong heavy smoker. As she had no health insurance she had to work to be able to pay the cost of her frequent hospitalisation. She had several hospital treatments in St. John's Hospital in Los Angeles but on July 2, 1973 Betty Grable died. She was 56. After cremation her ashes were interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Los Angeles.
Betty Grable Academy AwardsNo Nominations:
Betty Grable Filmography
Let's Go Places
Movietone Follies of 1930 (uncredited)
Palmy Days uncredited)
Once a Hero
The Greeks Had a Word for Them
Lady! Please! (unconfirmed)
The Flirty Sleepwalker (unconfirmed)
The Age of Consent (uncredited)
Hold 'Em Jail
Over the Counter (uncredited)
The Kid from Spain(uncredited))
Child of Manhattan
Melody Cruise (uncredited)
What Price Innocence?
Girl of My Dreams
School for Romance
Elmer Steps Out
Business Is a Pleasure
The Gay Divorce
By Your Leave
This Band Age
The Spirit of 1976
A Night at the Biltmore Bowl
Old Man Rhythm
A Quiet Fourth
Follow the Fleet
Screen Snapshots Series 15, No. 11
Sunkist Stars at Palm Springs
Don't Turn 'em Loose
Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 7
Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 10
This Way Please
Thrill of a Lifetime
Swing, Teacher, Swing
Give Me a Sailor
Screen Snapshots Series 18, No. 4
Man About Town
Million Dollar Legs
The Day the Bookies Wept
Down Argentine Way
Tin Pan Alley
Moon Over Miami
A Yank in the R.A.F.
Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 2
Song of the Islands
Springtime in the Rockies
Sweet Rosie O'Grady
Four Jills in a Jeep
Pin Up Girl