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Elizabeth Ruth "Betty" Grable

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John Conn Grable and Lillian Rose Grable
Ex-wife of John Leslie "Jackie" Coogan and Harry James
Mother of Victoria Elizabeth James and Jessica James

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Betty Grable

Elizabeth Ruth "Betty" Grable (December 18, 1916 – July 2, 1973) was an American actress, dancer and singer.

Her iconic bathing suit photo made her the number-one pin-up girl of the World War II era. It was later included in the LIFE magazine project "100 Photos that Changed the World". Grable was particularly noted for having the most beautiful legs in Hollywood and studio publicity widely dispersed photos featuring them. Hosiery specialists of the era often noted the ideal proportions of her legs as: thigh (18.5") calf (12"), and ankle (7.5"). Grable's legs were famously insured by her studio for $1,000,000 with Lloyds of London.

Grable appeared in several smash-hit musical films in the 1940s like, Down Argentine Way (1940), Moon Over Miami (1941), Springtime in the Rockies (1942), Coney Island (1943), Pin Up Girl (1944), and The Dolly Sisters (1945). However, she is best noted for her 1947 film Mother Wore Tights. By the 1950s, Grable was still making films like, Wabash Avenue (1950), Meet Me After the Show (1951), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955), her last film. She retired from the movie industry in 1955, and never returned.

Betty Grable had several nicknames during her career like: "the girl with the million dollar legs," "the quick-silver blonde," "the queen of the Hollywood musical," and "the darling of the forties." Grable died in 1973 at age 56 of lung cancer.

Early life

She was born Elizabeth Ruth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri to John Conn Grable (1883–1954) and Lillian Rose Hofmann (1889–1964). She was the youngest of three children.

Most of Grable's immediate ancestors were American, but her distant heritage was of Dutch, Irish, German and English stock. She was propelled into the acting profession by her mother. For her first role, as a chorus girl in the film Happy Days (1929), Grable was only 12 years old (legally underage for acting), but, because the chorus line performed in blackface, it was difficult to tell how old she was. Her mother soon gave her a make-over which included dyeing her hair platinum blonde.


Early career

For her next film, her mother got her a contract using a false identification. When this deception was discovered, however, Grable was fired. Grable finally obtained a role as a 'Goldwyn Girl' in Whoopee! (1930), starring Eddie Cantor. Though Grable received no billing, she led the opening number, "Cowboys." Grable then worked in small roles at different studios for the rest of the decade, including the Academy Award-winning The Gay Divorcee (1934), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, where she was prominently featured in the number "Let's K-nock K-nees".

In the late 1930s, Grable signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, starring in several B-movies, mostly portraying co-eds. Despite playing leads, the typecasting proved to hurt her career more than it was helpful. These films included, Pigskin Parade (1936), This Way Please (1937), College Swing (1938), and Man About Town (1939). In 1939, Grable appeared with her then husband, Jackie Coogan (married in 1937), in Million Dollar Legs, a low-budget B-movie. The title Million Dollar Legs, is a name from which her nickname is taken. Grable and Coogan divorced later that same year (October 1939). After small parts in countless low-budgeted B-Hollywood-movies through the 1930s, Grable finally gained national attention for her stage role in the Cole Porter Broadway hit Du Barry Was a Lady (1939). When her contract at Paramount expired, Grable decided to quit acting, being fed up with appearing in college films.

20th Century Fox & film stardom

In a 1940 interview, she said that she was "sick and tired" of show business and had decided to retire, but changed her mind - she received an unsolicited offer to go on a personal appearance tour, which she accepted and which led to Darryl F. Zanuck offering her a bigger contract, which she accepted, and which was followed by a part in Buddy DeSylva's Broadway show Du Barry Was a Lady and a part replacing the suddenly ill Alice Faye in Down Argentine Way. "If that's not luck I don't know what you'd call it" Grable said. "I've had contracts with four studios in 10 years and each time I left one or was dropped, I stepped into something better."

Following Down Argentine Way's major success, Grable was cast opposite Alice Faye in, Tin Pan Alley. Some say Grable and Faye had a rivalry, but this has been denied by both actresses. In 1941, she was cast in the Technicolor musical Moon Over Miami, again with Don Ameche, her co-star in Down Argentine Way. The film was a major success, as was Grable's next film A Yank in the RAF, a World War II film; that was her first serious leading role in a major Hollywood film.

Following the major success of, A Yank in the RAF, Grable was assigned to, I Wake Up Screaming, in 1941, a black-and-white film noir, co-starring Carole Landis and Victor Mature. The film was a moderate box-office success.

In 1942, she was cast in Song of the Islands and Footlight Serenade, two successful motion pictures. However, Grable's biggest hit so far in her career would be Springtime in the Rockies (1942). The film teamed Grable with her future-husband, Harry James; and also featured Carmen Miranda, in a supporting role. In 1943, Grable starred in two of her most well-known Technicolor musicals, Sweet Rosie O'Grady and the smash-hit Coney Island. Both films capitalized Grable tremendously, with Coney Island, ranking one of the top five successful films of the year.

By 1943, with Grable being named one of the "top ten movie-stars" in the world, and becoming 20th Century Fox's top money maker; Darryl F. Zanuck (Fox's chief) soon named Grable his "favorite" contract-player.

Also in 1943, Grable's famous pin-up picture was taken and resulted in Grable being cast in Pin Up Girl (1944). The film showcased Grable's photo in several brief glimpses. Pin Up Girl received poor reviews but was a tremendous box-office success. In 1945, she made Diamond Horseshoe with Dick Haymes. The film was a success but Grable's next film The Dolly Sisters, co-starring rival June Haver, was Fox's second biggest success of the year; with the first being Leave Her to Heaven.

In 1946, Grable appeared as Herself in a cameo role in Do You Love Me. This proved to be Grable's only film appearance for the year. Grable came back to the spotlight with the 1947 film,The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, but the film was overshawdowed by her succeeding project Mother Wore Tights, with one of her most frequent co-stars Dan Dailey. Mother Wore Tights was a major-success (Fox's most successful film of 1947) and is today known as Grable's "signature film."

Her next film, That Lady in Ermine, (1948), co-starred Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; and would become only a moderate success. However, Grable's next film, When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948), was a smash success; this film again co-starred Dan Dailey. In 1949, Grable's film The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend was released but proved to be a critical and box-office flop, which caused Grable's film career to begin to falter.

Motion-picture decline & retirement

In 1950, Grable made two widely successful films; Wabash Avenue and My Blue Heaven. These films helped to bring Grable's star back to the public but it seemed as if Betty's career was nearing its end. Wabash Avenue, was a up-to-date remake of Grable's 1943 film Coney Island, and, she again co-starred with Dan Dailey for My Blue Heaven; both films are known as musical classics.

In 1951, Grable made an up-to-date remake of her 1941 film, A Yank in the RAF, which was now titled, Call Me Mister, which was the last time Grable ever appeared in a film with Dan Dailey. Call Me Mister, proved to bring only moderate box-office success. After the release of the 1951 poorly reviewed musical, Meet Me After the Show, Grable took a break from acting; turning down the lead role in The Girl Next Door, a role that would eventually go to rival June Haver.

In 1953, Grable returned to the silver screen for The Farmer Takes a Wife, with Dale Robertson and Thelma Ritter. The film was a remake of the 1935 film of the same name. The Farmer Takes a Wife, was highly publicized, but, was unfortunately, critically panned and proved to be a box-office failure.

Grable's last mainstream success for Fox was in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), with Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. Some thought Grable and Monroe wouldn't get along but Grable was quoted as saying (to Monroe): "Go and get yours honey! I've had mine!" This was said because Monroe was replacing Grable as 20th Century Fox's leading sex symbol movie-star; with Grable meaning she felt no threat, as she was nearing retirement.

Grable's last musical film appearance was in Three for the Show (1955) with up-and-coming comedian Jack Lemmon. Three for the Show, was released by Columbia Pictures; making the film Grable's first film away from 20th Century Fox, since she signed with them in 1940.

Grable's final film role was in the comedy film, How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955) with newcomer Sheree North. This film was meant to reunite Grable with Marilyn Monroe, but Monroe turned it down. Afterward, Grable wanted the role of Miss Adelaide in the 1956 film Guys and Dolls, but the role went to Vivian Blaine after Grable skipped a meeting with the film's producer, due to the fact that her pet dog was sick.

Personal life

In 1937, Grable married another famous former child actor, Jackie Coogan. He was under considerable stress from a lawsuit against his parents over his childhood earnings and the couple divorced in 1939.

In 1943, she married trumpeter Harry James. The couple had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica. They endured a tumultuous 22-year marriage that was plagued by alcoholism and infidelity. The couple divorced in 1965. Grable entered into a relationship with a dancer, Bob Remick, several years her junior. Though they did not marry, their romance lasted until the end of Grable's life.


Grable died July 2, 1973, of lung cancer at age 56 in Santa Monica, California. Her funeral was held July 5, 1973, 30 years to the day after her marriage to Harry James — who, in turn, died on what would have been his and Grable's 40th anniversary, July 5, 1983.

Among the luminaries attending her funeral were her ex-husband Harry James, Dorothy Lamour, Shirley Booth, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, Don Ameche, Cesar Romero, George Raft, Alice Faye and Dan Dailey. "I Had the Craziest Dream," the haunting ballad from Springtime in the Rockies, was played on the church organ. This song was introduced in the film by Helen Forrest. Betty Grable was interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, in Inglewood, California.

Posthumous recognition

Grable has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6525 Hollywood Boulevard. She also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians in 2009.

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy noted on National Public Radio's Morning Edition on April 23, 2007, in an interview with Terry Gross that Grable was his inspiration for founding the Playboy empire.


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Betty Grable's Timeline

March 3, 1944
Age 28
Age 57