Betty Grable was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable on December 18, 1916 in St. Louis Missouri to John C. Grable and Lillian Rose Hofmann. The youngest of three children, Grable was pushed into acting by her mother. She landed her first role at the age of 13 as a chorus girl in 1929’s Happy Days. At the time, Betty was underage to act but because the chorus line performed in blackface, it was impossible to tell her age.
Betty was able to obtain a contract after her mother provided false identification however when her age was discovered, Betty was fired. It was also Betty’s mother who, while giving her daughter a make-over, decided to dye Betty’s hair platinum blond, for which the bombshell maintained for the remainder of her career.Over the next several years, Betty played small roles such as a Goldwyn Girl in 1930’s Whoopie! as well as the Academy Award winning Gay Divorcee in 1934.
In 1937, Betty Grable married Jackie Coogan who had been a famous child actor. The marriage was short lived however, and the two divorced in 1940. In 1939, for the first time, all eyes were on Betty. Her Broadway performance in Du Barry Was A Lady earned her national attention and a contract with 20th Century Fox a year later.
Throughout the 1940’s Betty Grable was 20th Century’s top star and made Technicolor hit movies such as Down Argentine Way (1940), Moon Over Miami (1941), Coney Island (1943), the appropriately titled Pin Up Girl in 1944, and The Dolly Sisters in 1945 with June Haver. Her most popular film is Mother Wore Tights (1947) filmed with Betty’s favorite co-star, Dan Dailey. Betty Grable remained in the top ten box office draws for ten years and by the end of the decade, was the highest paid female Hollywood star. It was also reported, by the Treasury Department, that during 1946-1947, Betty Grable was the highest paid American woman, earning $300,000 a year.
It was also during this period that Betty posed for the famous pin-up photo worshiped by G.I.’s across the globe in World War II, and is an icon for American culture today. The photo was taken in 1943 by Frank Powolny and though other pin-ups such as Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, and Lana Turner were popular at the time, hands down Betty Grable was pin up girl #1 for American soldiers.
In 1943 Betty also married for the second time. She married the band leader and trumpeter Harry James with whom she had her two children, Victoria and Jessica, with. Though their marriage lasted for 22 years, it was a rocky road for the star couple who endured issues of infidelity, alcoholism, and debt before divorcing in 1965. Betty later began seeing younger dancer Bob Remick and though the two wouldn’t wed, the relationship would continue until Betty’s death.
Betty’s post-war movies were composed mainly of musicals such as The Lady in Ermine (1948), When My Baby Smiles At Me (1948), My Blue Heaven (1950), and Meet Me After The Show in 1951. In total, Betty made 25 musicals in 13 years! Her last big hit for Fox Studios was 1955’s How To Marry A Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. The next few years were full of feuds for Betty Grable and the executives at Fox Studios. It’s been reported that at one time during a fight with Studio Chief Darryl Zanuck, Betty tore up her film contract and stomped out of his office. Betty slowly began to make the transition from the Big Screen to television and also began starring in Las Vegas.
Grable Goes On
On July 2, 1973, Betty Grable died of lung cancer in Santa Monica, California. She was 56 years old. Her funeral was held three days later on July 5, 1973, and she is interred at Inglewood Cemetery in Inglewood, California. Over thirty years from her death, Betty Grable is far from forgotten. The eighty plus films she made in her thirty year career as a box-office bombshell continues to introduce Betty Grable to a whole new set of audiences generation after generation. She is the original pin-up girl, a Hollywood legend, and an American icon.