Actress Betty Grable once said, “There are two reasons why I am successful in show business and I am standing on both of them.” She was referring, of course, to her legs. “The Girl with the Million Dollar Legs” was one of her nicknames, and with good reason; at the height of her career, her movie studio insured her legs for $1 million each.
Betty Grable was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1916. Her mother wanted her youngest child to be an actress, and at the age of 13 Betty got her first movie role, playing a chorus girl in the 1929 film “Happy Days.” She was legally too young to work as an actress, but her mother had lied about her age. Her true age was discovered and her contract was terminated. It wasn’t long before Betty was back on screen and with a new look, including the platinum blonde hair that her mother had chosen for her.
Fame came to Betty Grable via Broadway. Her role in the musical “DuBarry was a Lady” in 1939 got the attention of 20th Century Fox, and in 1940 they offered her a movie contract. In the 1940s, Grable became a major Hollywood star and box-office draw. She was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, and according to the U.S. Treasury Department, she was the highest paid woman in America in 1946-1947, earning $300,000.
The Pinup Girl
During World War II, several Hollywood actresses posed for photos that became popular as pinups for American and European soldiers. Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Veronica Lake were popular “pinup girls,” but it is a photo of Betty Grable that is considered to have been the most popular WWII pinup. The photo shows a bathing suit-clad Grable with her back to the camera, looking over her shoulder and smiling. This photo was reportedly owned by one of every five American servicemen including Hugh Hefner, who later claimed that it inspired him to start Playboy Magazine.
The famous pinup showcases Grable’s legs, which were said to be of “ideal proportions” by hosiery specialists: thigh 18.5”, calf 12”, and ankle 7.5”. Specific measurements aside, the popular opinion was simply that she had the best legs in Hollywood. So important were her legs that 20th Century Fox reportedly insured them with Lloyds of London for $1 million. While this may have been a publicity stunt, the actual insurance policy is documented by various sources, though the reported amounts vary.
Betty Grable appeared in more than 80 films. Her movie career ended in the 1950s, but she continued to work in television and on the stage. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as one on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Her autograph, handprint, and a print of one leg are immortalized in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. She died of lung cancer in 1973 at the age of 56. Though her life was short, she made a tremendous mark on American culture.
Brian Hornsby writes on a variety of topics such as finance, life insurance, car insurance, automobiles, auto gadgetry, and other matters.