Betty Grable (December 18, 1916 - July 3, 1973) was an American actress, singer, dancer, and pin-up girl whose sensational bathing-suit photo became an icon of the World War II era. Grable was best known for her shapely gams (legs), which were showcased in all of her Technicolor musicals and famously insured by her studio 20th Century Fox for one million dollars.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri to John C. Grable (the son of German and Dutch immigrants) and Lillian Hoffman (who was of Dutch, Irish and English descent), she was propelled into acting by her mother, who insisted that one of her daughters become a star. For her first role, as a chorus girl in the film Happy Days (1929), Grable was only 13 years old (legally underage for acting), but because the chorus line performed in blackface, it was impossible to tell how old she was. For her next film, her mother tried to get her to sign a contract using false ID, but when this was discovered Grable was fired. Grable finally obtained a role as a 'Goldwyn Girl' in Whoopee! (1930), starring Eddie Cantor, and had played in some 20 films by 1939, including the Academy Award-nominated The Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In 1937 she married another famous former child-actor, Jackie Coogan, but Coogan was under considerable stress from a lawsuit against his parents over his earnings, and the couple divorced in 1940. During this period Grable gained national attention for her role in the Cole Porter Broadway hit Dubarry Was A Lady (1939).
The same year that she divorced Coogan, Grable obtained a contract with 20th Century Fox, becoming their top star throughout the decade, with splashy Technicolor films such as Down Argentine Way (1940), Moon Over Miami (1941) ( both with Don Ameche ) , Springtime in The Rockies (1942), Coney Island (1943) with George Montgomery , Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943) with Robert Young , Pin Up Girl (1944), Diamond Horseshoe (1945) with Dick Haymes , The Dolly Sisters (1945) with John Payne and June Haver, and her most popular film Mother Wore Tights (1947), with favorite costar Dan Dailey. It was during her reign as box-office champ that Grable posed for her famous pin-up photo, which (along with her films) soon became escapist fare among GIs fighting overseas in World War II. Despite solid competition from Dorothy Lamour, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner, Grable was indisputably the number one pinup girl for American soldiers. She was wildly popular at home as well, placing in the top ten box-office draws each year for ten years. By the end of the 1940s Grable was the highest-paid female star in Hollywood. Her post-war musicals included That Lady in Ermine (1948) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948) again with Dailey, Wabash Avenue (1950) (a remake of Grable's own Coney Island ) with Victor Mature , My Blue Heaven (1950), and Meet Me After the Show (1951). Studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck lavished his number one star with expensive Technicolor films, but also kept her busy ---Grable made nearly twenty-five musicals/comedies in thirteen years. Grable's last big hit for Fox was How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe.
In 1943 she married jazz trumpeter and big band leader Harry James, by whom she had 2 children; they divorced in 1965.
Grable's later career was marked by feuds with studio heads, who worked her to exhaustion. At one point, in the middle of a fight with Darryl F. Zanuck, she tore up her contract with him and stormed out of his office. Gradually leaving movies entirely, she made the transition to television and starred in Las Vegas.
Grable has her own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Betty Grable died of lung cancer at the age of 56 and was buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.