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Who is Betty Grable?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Betty Grable was an iconic figure in American culture during the 1940s, when she became the highest paid female star in Hollywood. Many people are familiar with Betty Grable's famous pin-ups, but she also starred in a large number of films and musicals. Like many stars in her day, Grable worked extremely hard on her films, often turning up in multiple productions in the same year.

Betty Grable was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in Saint Louis, Missouri on 18 December 1916. Her mother had high hopes that one of her three children would become an actress, and when it became apparent that none of her sisters would fit the bill, Grable's mother pressured her daughter to audition for various roles. The girl was accepted for several parts when she was underage, but did not really begin to be famous until after she married fellow star Jackie Coogan, separating herself from her mother and negotiating some of her own parts.

Among her many films were Down Argentine Way (1940), Coney Island (1943), Mother Wore Tights (1947) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). She became quite a box office draw, and was known as “Box Office Betty.” Like many film stars, Betty Grable lived a very demanding life which destroyed several marriages, but she also had two children who she was very attached to. Her biographers have indicated that Grable was deeply committed to her family life and friends, although she also enjoyed being a star.

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While Grable's films were quite popular in the 1940s, many people think of her more as a pin-up than an actress. Her career as a pin-up began to take off when a photographer took a now-famous image of Grable in a bathing suit, her back to the camera, looking flirtatiously over one shoulder. This type of bathing suit shot has now become archetypal, and this image alone appeared in countless publications all over the United States.

Posters of Betty Grable traveled abroad with soldiers during the Second World War, and she was considered to be one of the first and finest pin-up stars of the era. Grable was also known as the “Girl With the Million Dollar Legs,” thanks to a famous insurance policy filed with Lloyd's of London. Fox, Betty Grable's studio, was concerned that damage to Grable's legs could spell the end of her career, so they negotiated the then highly unusual insurance policy on her shapely legs.

On 2 July 1973, Betty Grable died of lung cancer. She was buried at the famous Inglewood Park Cemetery three days later, and will long be remembered for being the “Best Figure of 1941,” along with her many other accomplishments.

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