Ruth Elizabeth Grable in St. Louis, Missouri, 18 December 1916.
Attended Mary Institute, St. Louis; Hollywood Professional School; Ernest
Belcher Academy; Albertina Rasch School.
Married 1) the actor Jackie Coogan, 1938 (divorced 1941); 2) the musician
Harry James, 1943 (divorced 1965), daughters: Victoria, Jessica.
Child vaudeville singer and dancer; 1929—her mother arranged for
her film debut at age 13, in
Let's Go Places
; Fox contract annulled when her age is discovered;
1930–32—contract with Goldwyn; 1932—member of Ted
Fiorita's Band as vocalist; worked for RKO and Paramount during the
remainder of the 1930s; 1935—toured with Jackie Coogan in
vaudeville show; 1940—in featured role on stage in
Du Barry Was a Lady
; 1940–53—contract with 20th Century-Fox; on television in
; 1960s—on stage in various productions, including
2 July 1973.
Let's Go Places ( Mirth and Melody ) (Strayer)
Happy Days (Stoloff); Fox Movietone Follies of 1930 ( The New Movietone Follies of 1930 ) (Stoloff); Whoopee! (Freeland) (as chorus girl)
Kiki (Taylor); Palmy Days (Sutherland) (as chorus girl); Ex-Sweeties (Neilan—short); Crashing Hollywood (Arbuckle—short)
The Greeks Had a Word for Them (Sherman); Lady! Please! (Lord—short); Hollywood Luck (Arbuckle—short); Probation ( Second Chances ) (Thorpe); The Flirty Sleepwalker (Lord—short); Hollywood Lights (Arbuckle—short); Hold 'em Jail (Taurog); Over the Counter (Cummings—short); The Kid from Spain (McCarey)
Cavalcade (Lloyd); Sweetheart of Sigma Chi ( Girl of My Dreams ) (Marin) (as orchestra member); Melody Cruise (Sandrich) (as stewardess); Child of Manhattan (Buzzell); What Price Innocence? ( Shall the Children Pay? ) (Mack); Air Tonic (White—short)
Hips, Hips, Hooray! (Sandrich); Love Detectives (Gottler—short); Business Is a Pleasure (Cline—short); The Gay Divorcee ( The Gay Divorce ) (Sandrich); Student Tour (Reisner) (as Cayenne); By Your Leave (Corrigan)
The Spirit of 1976 (Jason—short); The Nitwits (Stevens) (as Mary); A Night at the Biltmore Bowl (Goulding—short); Old Man Rhythm (Ludwig) (as Sylvia); A Quiet Fourth (Guiol—short)
Collegiate ( The Charm School ) (Murphy) (as Dorothy); Follow the Fleet (Sandrich); Don't Turn 'em Loose (Stoloff); Pigskin Parade ( The Harmony Parade ) (Butler) (as Laura Watson)
This Way Please (Florey) (as Jane Morrow); Thrill of a Lifetime (Archainbaud) (as Gwen)
College Swing ( Swing, Teacher, Swing ) (Walsh) (as Betty); Give Me a Sailor (Nugent) (as Nancy Larkin); Campus Confession ( Fast Play ) (Archainbaud)
Man about Town (Sandrich) (as Susan); Million Dollar Legs (Grinde); The Day the Bookies Wept (Goodwins)
Down Argentine Way (Cummings) (as Glenda Crawford); Tin Pan Alley (Lang) (as Lily Blane)
Moon over Miami (Lang) (as Kay Latimer); A Yank in the R.A.F. (King); Hot Spot ( I Wake Up Screaming ) (Humberstone)
Song of the Islands (Lang) (as Eileen O'Brien); Footlight Serenade (Ratoff) (as Pat Lambert); Springtime in the Rockies (Cummings) (as Vicky)
Coney Island (Lang) (as Kate Farley); Sweet Rosie O'Grady (Cummings) (as Madeleine Marlowe)
Four Jills in a Jeep (Seiter) (as guest); Pin Up Girl (Humberstone) (as Lorry Jones)
The All-Star Bond Rally (Audley—short); Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe ( Diamond Horseshoe ) (Seaton) (as Bonnie Collins); The Dolly Sisters (Cummings) (as Jenny Dolly)
Do You Love Me? (Ratoff) (as guest); The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Seaton) (title role); Hollywood Park (short) (as guest)
Mother Wore Tights (Lang) (as Myrtle Burt)
That Lady in Ermine (Lubitsch) (as Francesca/Angeline); When My Baby Smiles at Me (Lang) (as Bonnie Kane)
The Beautiful Blond from Bashful Bend (Sturges) (as Freddie Jones)
Wabash Avenue (Koster) (as Ruby Summers); My Blue Heaven (Koster) (as Molly Moran)
Call Me Mister (Bacon) (as Kay Hudson); Meet Me after the Show (Sale) (as Delilah)
The Farmer Takes a Wife (Levin) (as Molly Larkin); How to Marry a Millionaire (Negulesco)
Three for the Show (Potter) (as Julie Lowndes)
How to Be Very, Very Popular (Johnson)
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus , New York, 1973.
Warren, Doug, Betty Grable, The Reluctant Movie Queen , New York, 1981.
Pastos, Spero, Pin-Up: The Tragedy of Betty Grable , New York, 1986.
Billman, Larry, Betty Grable: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1993.
McGee, Tom, Betty Grable: The Girl with the Million Dollar Legs , Vestal, New York, 1994.
Gorney, J., "Betty Grable 1916–1973," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1973.
Gaines, Jane, "In the Service of Ideology: How Betty Grable's Legs Won the War," in Film Reader , no. 5, 1982.
Stars (Mariembourg), March 1989.
Golden, Eve, "All This and World War Two," in Classic Images (Muscatine), January 1993.
Kendall, Robert, "Betty Grable: the Girl with the Million Dollar Legs," in Classic Images (Muscatine), December 1995.
* * *
Betty Grable was truly a potent force in 1940s Hollywood. For 11 consecutive years (1941–51), she ranked among the film industry's top stars. During the 1940s there was no more popular female movie star in the world. Grable's most successful films were lavish formulaic Technicolor musicals, beginning with Down Argentine Way in 1940. In all, she appeared in some 22 of these color spectacles, all for Twentieth Century-Fox, including Song of the Islands , Springtime in the Rockies , Coney Island , Sweet Rosie O'Grady , Diamond Horseshoe , and Mother Wore Tights. All ranked among the most popular films at the box office for their respective years of release.
One cannot overemphasize the economic importance of Betty Grable during the 1940s. Except for Tyrone Power in 1940, and Gregory Peck in 1947, no other Fox player ever made it into the annual poll of the film industry's top ten stars. Grable's Technicolor musicals, with their high and consistent revenues, powered Fox from years in the red in the late 1930s to a position just behind Paramount Pictures in the film industry's race for profits.
More than any film star of the 1940s, Grable was able to move beyond her films to become a universally popular icon. Few, even in this day and age, have not seen her picture in the pose as the attractive blond in a white bathing suit coyly peeking over her shoulder, flashing a million-dollar smile. Hers was the image of a woman sexy enough to satisfy the longings of homesick soldiers, yet wholesome enough not to cause protest by their fathers and mothers. Grable's face appeared everywhere: on the covers of Time and Life , spread across the pages of countless movie fan magazines, and adorning the sides of B-22 bombers and PT boats.
Twentieth Century-Fox's publicity flacks contributed to and created an image of the girl next door, always struggling to make do. She was viewed as an actress without much natural talent. Fox always took the opportunity to point out her limitations—not a very good dancer, an adequate singer, and even a not-so-classic beauty. But in retrospect, the talent was always there. She could dance well; see, for example, her athletic romp with Gwen Verdon in Meet Me after the Show . As a singer, she could sell a song with her small, but clear voice. She generated her share of popular songs, including the classic "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." As an actress, she stuck to what she could do well, avoiding roles that clashed with her image.
In 1945 she ranked among the highest salaried individuals in the United States; a decade later she was a has-been. In 1951, Twentieth Century-Fox abandoned her and moved to another sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe. Grable turned to the dinner theater circuit, only emerging again into the national spotlight with a replacement role on Broadway in Hello Dolly! during the late 1960s before her tragic death at age 56 of lung cancer.