The term pin up girl was first used in the early 1940′s. The now famous pin up girl images were originally published in magazines, newspapers, calendars and postcards. As they became more popular, pin up girl posters such as the one of Betty Grable were mass produced This famous print of Betty Grable was taken in 1943 by Frank Powolny. Five million copies of this print were distributed to GI’s during WWII.
Pin Up Girls gave the GIs of WWII something to dream about and a reason to come home. The ever increasing popularity of the movies in the early 40′s kept them well supplied with pictures of a multitude of young starlets to hang up in their lockers. The perfect Pin Up Girl wasn’t necessarily beautiful, but was more a sexy version of the girl next door. These women and the movies they made, gave the fighting GIs a brief distraction from the war they were fighting.
Born in St. Louis, MO, Betty Grable was pushed into show business by an overbearing mother who moved her to Hollywood at the age of 13. By lying about her age, Mother manage to land her daughter several small parts. But it wasn’t until Betty played the role of Glenda Crawford in Down Argentine Way in 1940, that the public started to notice her. Sweet Roisie O’Grady and Coney Island, both released in 1943,made her a star.
Her famous pin up made her popular around the world and she soon became Hollywood’s highest paid star, prompting 20th Century Fox to insure her legs for a million dollars. Betty remained a favorite until the mid-50′s and the decline in the popularity of musicals. Her last film was How to be Very, Very Popular in 1955. She died of cancer in 1973, but the image of her famous legs lives on.
Born and raised in the rural south, Ava was signed to a Hollywood contract at the age of 18, based solely on a photograph her photographer brother took. She spent three years doing bit parts until 1946, when she stared in Whistle Stop. Though she didn’t leave a big legacy of great films, she did give several great performances in movies such as The Killers in 1946, Mogambo in 1953 and Night of the Iguana in 1964.
Unhappy with Hollywood, she moved to Spain in 1955 and made several movies abroad. in 1995 she was chosen by Empire Magazine as one of the 100 sexiest stars in film history, rank at number 68.
Marie was born in Kentucky, the daughter of a former Ziegfeld Girl and granddaughter of opera singer. At the age of 15, Marie became a Powers model and dropped out of school so she could enter beauty pageants, winning the title of “Miss Yonkers” and “The Queen of Coney Island” on the way to becoming “Miss New York” in 1939. Soon after, she moved to Hollywood and became a singer with Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra, but could only land movie roles in the chorus line or small one line parts.
Lacking the talent to really make it in Hollywood, she sought attention through scandal. She eventually turned to drinking and drugs, and suffered from several nervous breakdowns. Never able to find the notoriety that she longed for, she ended her life at the age of 42 with an overdose of pills.
Bette debuted on Broadway in 1929 in Broken Dishes. She was hired by Universal Studios in 1930 and moved to Hollywood. She then went on to work for Warner Bros and her role in The Man Who Played God, in 1932, made her a star. She went on to make great films like Of Human Bondage in 1934 and won the Best Actress Oscar for Dangerous in 1935 and Jezebel in 1938.
Though she made many films during the 1940′s, the roles and the quality of the films began to decline by the early 50′s. Securing an Oscar nomination for All About Eve in 1950, gave her a bit of a revival, but by 1960′s she had reached a career standstill. Bette died of cancer in 1989 and her tombstone states – “She did it the hard way.”
Norma Jean, raised by a single mother who suffered from mental illness, spent her youth in and out of foster care. At the age of 16 she married and began modeling swimsuits with her new look, bleached blond hair. Her photographs made their way to Howard Hughes, head of RKO pictures, and he offered her a screen test. Turning down his offer, she instead signed a 6 month contract with 20th Century Fox making $125.00 a week. She spent the next several years in minor roles, subsidizing her income with modeling.
It wasn’t until her roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, both in 1950, that the public began to notice her. Her roles in the early 1950′s cemented her sexy yet innocent persona that became her trademark. Gentlemen Prefer Blonds in 1953 made her a box office draw. By the mid-50′s, Marilyn was gaining the reputation of being hard to work with. Constant tardiness, continuous health complaints and a general unwillingness to corporate resulted in a slow decline of roles.
Her final film, The Misfits was made in 1961. She took her own life at the age of 36, leaving a legacy of the breathless, voluptuous blond that will never be surpassed.
Jane was interested in drama from an early age and took part in high school productions as well as learning to play the piano. Though she had to work to help support the family, she also modeled on the side. After attending drama school, she signed on with Howard Hughes and secured a role in The Outlaw in 1941. Due to the film’s emphasis on Jane’s figure, it wasn’t released until 1943. Held back by the strict censorship board, it wasn’t widely released until 1946, becoming a box office success.
Many of her succeeding films continued to showcase her physical assets rather than her acting abilities. It wasn’t until the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds in 1953, that her skill as a comedian was revealed. But Hollywood continued to cast her in sexy roles, ignoring her acting abilities and during the 1960′s she only made four films. She retired from the spotlight after her last film, Darker Than Amber in 1970. Bob Hope once introduced Jane as “the two and only, Jane Russell.”
Born in Kansas, Jean ran away from home at age to get married. The couple moved to Los Angeles where she soon found work as an extra in the movies. Her first small role was in Moran of the Marines in 1928. Howard Hughes gave Jean her first big break in 1930 in his epic film, Hell’s Angels.
She became known as America’s new sex symbol after her role Platinum Blond in 1930. The following year she stared opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust and went on to make five more films with him. Jean’s career was skyrocketing, but her career and her life were cut short. She died at the age of 26 from uremic poisoning. Her final movie, Saratoga with Clark Gable was finished with the use of a double. The film was a hit, with fans pouring into see Jean Harlow’s last picture.
Retro Cool – the tradition lives on
The allure of the pin up girl continues today. She may not grace calendars or the inside of lockers, but she has found a new home and a new form of artwork, pin up girl tattoos. This may be the greatest tribute yet to those beauties of the 40′s and 50′s, permanently inked onto the bodies of their fans.