Betty Grable


Actor
Betty Grable

About

Also Known As
Frances Dean, Elizabeth Ruth Grable
Birth Place
St Louis, Missouri, USA
Born
December 18, 1916
Died
July 02, 1973
Cause of Death
Lung Cancer

Biography

The biggest box office star of the 1940s and the most desired WWII pin-up girl, acting-singing-dancing triple-threat Betty Grable became the stuff of Hollywood legend after her studio reportedly insured her famously gorgeous legs for $1 million with Lloyd's of London - the same legs that were captured in one of the most iconic photographic images of the 20th century. After a decade of to...

Family & Companions

Jackie Coogan
Husband
Actor. Married in 1937; divorced in 1940.
Harry James
Husband
Trumpeter, bandleader. Married in 1943; divorced in 1965.

Notes

Grable's boxoffice potency (and durability) is proven by her record in the annual poll of exhibitors for their top ten stars: 8th place in 1942, 1st in 1943, 4th in 1944 and 1945, 9th in 1946, 2nd in 1947 and 1948, 7th in 1949, 4th in 1950, and 3rd in 1951. No other female star in the history of the poll (which began in 1932) has made the list ten years in a row (the female stars who come the closest are Doris Day and Barbra Streisand).

Biography

The biggest box office star of the 1940s and the most desired WWII pin-up girl, acting-singing-dancing triple-threat Betty Grable became the stuff of Hollywood legend after her studio reportedly insured her famously gorgeous legs for $1 million with Lloyd's of London - the same legs that were captured in one of the most iconic photographic images of the 20th century. After a decade of toiling with minor roles in dozens of films, Grable rose to fame with the musical "Down Argentine Way" (1940). From there it was on to a string of hits alongside leading men that included Victor Mature, Cesar Romero and Dan Dailey in such films as "I Wake Up Screaming" (1941), "Coney Island" (1943) and "Mother Wore Tights" (1947), respectively. So desired was the bubbly blonde that bandleader Harry James became the most envied man in America when he famously wed the pin-up queen in 1943. Grable single-handedly caused Twentieth Century stock to soar for a solid decade before the girl-next-door's Technicolor reign began to wind down. Even as the sun was setting on Grable's movie career by the early 1950s - as had her desire to continue to make movies - she enjoyed one final hit as she passed the torch to her successor and fellow Fox contract player, Marilyn Monroe, in "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953). Grable gracefully retired from film two years later and enjoyed a brief run in a hugely successful Broadway mounting of "Hello, Dolly!" in 1967 before her untimely passing six years later. While some of the films in her incredibly prolific canon may not have stood the test of time, there was no denying the joy Betty Grable brought to many fans, both at home and abroad, during that pivotal decade in American history.

Born Elizabeth Ruth Grable on Dec. 18, 1916 in St. Louis, MO, she was the youngest of three children born to parents Lillian Rose Hofmann and John C. Grable. Having set her sights on stardom for young "Betty" early on, formidable stage mom Lillian enrolled her daughter in ballet and dance lessons at the age of three. Ten years later, Lillian took Betty out West in search of fame, soon securing her 13-year-old a job as chorus girl in the musical "Happy Days" (1929). Being a minstrel show, the blackface Betty wore in her film debut helped to cover her age. However, after a forged identification card was discovered by the producers of her next film, Betty was let go. In a further effort to mask her underage daughter's youth, the wily Lillian dyed Grable's brown hair a striking platinum blonde. It was a signature look the entertainer would maintain throughout her entire career. Soon, more jobs came her way, with work as a Goldwyn Girl for producer Samuel Goldwyn in the Eddie Cantor Western musical "Whoopee!" (1930) - in which she led the film's opening number "Cowboys" - and "Kiki" (1931), starring former silent film star Mary Pickford. After being assigned the stage name of Francis Dean, Grable went on to sing and dance in a series of short projects that included "Crashing Hollywood" (1931) and "The Greeks Had a Word for Them" (1932).

Grable at last appeared under her own name with a small role in the film "Probation" (1932), and continued to appear in small roles for various studios in such projects as "What Price Innocence?" (1933) and the Academy Award-winning Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical "The Gay Divorcee" (1934). Broad acclaim and recognition eluded her, however, and during a period in which she continued to toil away with small roles in unremarkable productions, a 21-year-old Grable married former child star Jackie Coogan. Fortune smiled on the young actress, who at the time was considering an early retirement from show business, when her role in the 1939 Broadway production of Cole Porter's "Du Barry Was a Lady" brought Grable the acclaim she had doggedly pursued for so long. After the short-lived marriage to Coogan - with who she appeared in the aptly-titled "Million Dollar Legs" (1939) - ended in 1940, the actress' disappointment was counterbalanced by a leading role in "Down Argentine Way" (1940). A Technicolor musical extravaganza co-starring Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda, it became a smash hit and turned Grable into a bona fide movie star. Musical comedies like "Tin Pan Alley" (1940) and "Moon Over Miami" (1941) capitalized on her success, while projects such as the noir "I Wake Up Screaming" (1941) gave her the rare opportunity to tackle dramatic material.

Over the following decade, Grable became the top female star of the 1940s - and third overall, behind Bing Cosby and Bob Hope - in films that accentuated her hard-earned ability and fan appeal. "Song of the Islands" (1942), "Springtime in the Rockies" (1942) and, of course, "Pin Up Girl" (1944) capitalized on the star's iconic status as a photo favorite of millions of servicemen during the Second World War. It was during her reign that Grable posed for her famous bathing suit pin-up photo, which was taken by studio photographer Frank Powolny in 1943. It was later rumored that the particular pose and angle from behind were chosen to hide the fact that Grable was pregnant at the time by the most "envied man in America." That same year, she married for a second time to popular bandleader and trumpeter Harry James. Although this union would last for a substantial 22 years and produce two children, it was, by all accounts a marriage fraught with strife and infidelities.

Even in peacetime, Grable's success continued apace, with popular fare such as "Mother Wore Tights" (1947) - featuring her favorite co-star, Dan Dailey - "That Lady in Ermine" (1948) and "My Blue Heaven" (1950). Despite having fallen off the box office exhibitors list for the first time in 10 years two years earlier, Grable was still more than capable of holding her own on screen opposite cinema sirens Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall in "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953). As her once irresistible box office draw began to wane, so too did Grable's relationship with studio executives at 20th Century Fox, and by the mid-1950s she began a transition to television and stage work. Her final big screen appearance came in the form of the forgettable crime comedy "How to Be Very, Very Popular" (1955), a film most notable as being the picture Marilyn Monroe refused to take part in. It also gave Grable the excuse to retire from movies. She would go on to make a smattering of appearances on television programs such as "Star Stage" (NBC, 1955-56), and in 1967 took over for Carol Channing in the long-running hit Broadway musical "Hello, Dolly!" Having divorced from James in 1965 after years of heavy drinking, gambling and infidelity on both their parts, Grable entered into a relationship with Bob Remick, a dancer several years her junior. Although never married, the two remained together until Grable's death from lung cancer in 1973 at the age of 56.

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Going Hollywood: The War Years (1988)
Herself
How To Be Very, Very Popular (1955)
Stormy Tornado
Three for the Show (1955)
Julie Stewart Lowndes
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Loco Dempsey
The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953)
Molly Larkins
Call Me Mister (1951)
Kay Hudson
Meet Me After the Show (1951)
Delilah Lee, also known as Kitty Lee and Sheba
My Blue Heaven (1950)
Kitty Moran
Wabash Avenue (1950)
Ruby Summers
The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949)
[Winifred] Freddie [Jones, also known as Hilda Swandumper]
When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948)
Bonny Kane
That Lady in Ermine (1948)
Francesca/Angelina
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947)
Cynthia Pilgrim
Mother Wore Tights (1947)
Mother, Myrtle McKinley Burt
Do You Love Me (1946)
Hollywood Bound (1946)
The Dolly Sisters (1945)
Yansci "Jenny" Dolly
Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe (1945)
Bonnie Collins
Four Jills in a Jeep (1944)
Pin Up Girl (1944)
Lorry Jones, also known as Laura Lorraine
Coney Island (1943)
Kate Farley
Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943)
Madeleine "Madge" Marlowe, formerly known as Rosie O'Grady
Footlight Serenade (1942)
Pat Lambert
Springtime in the Rockies (1942)
Vicky Lane
Song of the Islands (1942)
Eileen O'Brien
Moon Over Miami (1941)
Kay Latimer
A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941)
Carol Brown
I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
Jill Lynn
Down Argentine Way (1940)
Glenda Crawford
Tin Pan Alley (1940)
Lily Blane
Man About Town (1939)
Susan
The Day the Bookies Wept (1939)
Ina
Million Dollar Legs (1939)
Carol Parker
College Swing (1938)
Betty
Thrill of a Lifetime (1938)
Gwen
Campus Confessions (1938)
Joyce Gilmore
Give Me a Sailor (1938)
Nancy Larkin
This Way Please (1937)
Jane Morrow
Pigskin Parade (1936)
Laura Watson
Follow the Fleet (1936)
Chorus girl
Don't Turn 'Em Loose (1936)
Mildred Webster
Collegiate (1935)
Dorothy
Old Man Rhythm (1935)
Sylvia
The Nitwits (1935)
Mary Roberts
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Guest/ Performer in "Let's K-nock K-nees" number
Student Tour (1934)
Cayenne
By Your Leave (1934)
Frances [Gretchell]
Child of Manhattan (1933)
Lucy
Melody Cruise (1933)
Stewardess
What Price Innocence? (1933)
Beverly Bennett
The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933)
Probation (1932)
Ruth [Jarrett]
Hold 'Em Jail (1932)
Barbara [Jones]
Happy Days (1930)
Whoopee! (1930)

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Going Hollywood: The War Years (1988)
Other

Cast (Special)

The Fabulous Fordies (1972)
Twentieth Century (1956)
Lily Garland

Cast (Short)

Sunkist Stars at Palm Springs (1936)
Herself
Over the Counter (1932)

Life Events

1930

Signed by Samuel Goldwyn, who changed her name to Frances Dean; began playing bit parts in films, beginning with the Samuel Goldwyn-produced musical "Whoopee" starring Eddie Cantor

1940

Achieved star status in film with "Down Argentine Way"

1940

Appeared in first of four starring films opposite John Payne, "Tin Pan Alley", which also co-starred 20th Century Fox's other leading blonde female musical star, Alice Faye; Grable and Payne had earlier appeared together in "College Swing" (1938) but were not stars

1942

First made annual exhibitors' list of top ten boxoffice stars, placing eighth; would make the list for ten years in a row (the only female star ever to do so)

1942

Made first of four films in which Cesar Romero was one of her leading men, "Springtime in the Rockies"

1947

Made first of four films co-starring Dan Dailey, "Mother Wore Tights"

1951

Last appearance on exhibitors' top ten boxoffice list; placed third

1955

Made last film, "How to Be Very, Very Popular"

Photo Collections

Moon Over Miami - Movie Posters
Moon Over Miami - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Shocking Miss Pilgrim, The (1947) -- (Movie Clip) Changing My Tune Brunette and without visible legs throughout this feature, Betty Grable as fictional Cynthia Pilgrim, edgy professional typist, pleased at having found lodging with fellow “social outcasts” in 1874 Boston, offers her first solo from the eleven (!) George and Ira Gershwin originals composed for The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, 1947.
Pin Up Girl (1944) -- (Movie Clip) I Don't Tell Fibs! At this point we’ve no idea that Lorry (Betty Grable), most popular gal at the Missoula, Mo. USO, is given to fibbing, but we learn more when she catches the train with girlfriend Kaye (Dorothea Kent), early in the Twentieth Century-Fox musical Pin Up Girl, 1944.
Pin Up Girl (1944) -- (Movie Clip) Don't Carry Tales Out Of School Miffed New York night club star Molly (Martha Raye) calls Lorry (Betty Grable, with pal Dorothea Kent, from Missouri) on her claim she starred in a just-closed Broadway show, so owner Joe E. Brown introduces her for a number by James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon, in Pin Up Girl, 1944.
Pin Up Girl (1944) -- (Movie Clip) Once Too Often Now a New York star in her own right, Betty Grable (who plays a Missouri gal named Lorry) in a sexier number choreographed-by and featuring Hermes Pan, the song another original by James V. “Jimmy” Monaco and Mack Gordon, in Pin Up Girl, 1944.
Nitwits, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) You Opened My Eyes George Stevens with a clever opening, directing his third feature and his second Wheeler & Woolsey vehicle, with a song introduced by Joey Ray, Joan Andrews also singing, the tune by Felix Bernard and L. Wolfe Gilbert, Donald Kerr the lackey, Hale Hamilton the music company boss, and the stars, Bert and Robert, running the cigar shop (Betty Grable in the photo!), in The Nitwits, 1935.
Nitwits, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Music In My Heart If Betty Grable looks like she’s 18 it’s because she was, in one of her earliest credited features, as Mary, secretary to the boss upstairs at the music publishing company, who needs a murder song, so she can’t wait to tell her songwriting beau Johnnie (Bert Wheeler) down at the cigar shop, launching into a Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields original, in the Wheeler & Woolsey comedy The Nitwits, 1935.
College Swing (1938) -- (Movie Clip) Title Song (Betty Grable) Just the third scene and not essential to the narrative, at what must be the dining hall, an original tune for Paramount by Frank Loesser and Hoagy Carmichael finds Skinnay Ennis launching a duet with Betty Grable, who switches to Jackie Coogan for the dance, choreography by LeRoy Prinz, Raoul Walsh directing, in College Swing, 1938, starring George Burns, Gracie Allen and Bob Hope.
Four Jills In A Jeep (1943) -- (Movie Clip) Miss Betty Grable Could be some Betty Grable fans were disappointed with this reserved appearance, introduced in a USO-Radio show, Kay Francis acting as M-C, Jimmy Dorsey’s band, song by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, early in 20th Century-Fox’s Four Jills In A Jeep, 1943, also starring Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair.
Moon Over Miami (1941) -- (Movie Clip) You Started Something A duet with Robert Cummings to You Started Something by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger sets up a Betty Grable tap number with the brilliant Condos Brothers, in Moon Over Miami, 1941, from 20th Century Fox.
Moon Over Miami (1941) -- (Movie Clip) What Can I Do For You? Cute car-hops in buckskin, sisters Kay (Betty Grable) and Barbara (Carole Landis) are expecting a letter about an inheritance, in the opening scene from Moon Over Miami, 1941.
Moon Over Miami (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Is That Good? Dismissing the principals (Betty Grable, Robert Cummings, Carole Landis, Don Ameche), supporting players Jack Haley and Charlotte Greenwood perform Is That Good?, by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger in Moon Over Miami, 1941.
How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) -- (Movie Clip) Only One Cure For Loneliness Director Jean Negulesco has skipped the actual event at “The Oil Institue,” instead following gold-digging models Schatze (Lauren Bacall, with William Powell), Loco (Betty Grable, with Fred Clark) and Pola (Marilyn Monroe, with Alex D’Arcy) dining with the men they met, in How To Marry A Millionaire, 1953.

Trailer

Companions

Jackie Coogan
Husband
Actor. Married in 1937; divorced in 1940.
Harry James
Husband
Trumpeter, bandleader. Married in 1943; divorced in 1965.

Bibliography

Notes

Grable's boxoffice potency (and durability) is proven by her record in the annual poll of exhibitors for their top ten stars: 8th place in 1942, 1st in 1943, 4th in 1944 and 1945, 9th in 1946, 2nd in 1947 and 1948, 7th in 1949, 4th in 1950, and 3rd in 1951. No other female star in the history of the poll (which began in 1932) has made the list ten years in a row (the female stars who come the closest are Doris Day and Barbra Streisand).