Long before Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable struck their sultry poses for WWII GIs around the world, there were pin-up girls. As early as 1889, the advertising pair Thomas Murphy and Edmond Osmond printed calendars with advertisements on the bottom and a luscious young woman at the top. Charles Dana Gibson followed in 1895 with his famous “Gibson Girl” who had an hourglass figure, upswept dark hair, and pouting lips.
During WWI, President Hoover formed the Division of Pictorial Publicity, and almost immediately propaganda posters featuring pretty women, many of whom were dressed in sexy military outfits, began to appear. Considered a “men’s magazine,” Esquire teamed with Alberto Vargas during the 1930s and 1940s to feature 180 of his paintings of “Vargas girls.” They became so popular, their images were reproduced as nose art on military aircraft.
Pin-up posters (also known as cheesecake photos) seemed to reach the pinnacle of their success during WWII. Used by the government to boost morale by presenting the all-American girl worth fighting for, these photos were included in Life, Yank, and Stars & Stripes and shipped to troop overseas by the millions where they hung in submarines, were pasted to barracks’ walls, or tucked in men’s pockets.
Dozens of Hollywood’s “glamour girls” were photographed, but the three most popular ladies seem to be Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, and Jane Russell. It is estimated that the picture of Betty Grable in a bathing suit looking over her shoulder was the number one pin-up of the war. Known for her legs, she was featured in a June 1943 Life Magazine article that informed readers her legs were insured for one million dollars. An impression of them had also been made in February of that year for Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Far from home, missing their girlfriends and wives, many soldiers, sailors, and airmen found solace in these fantasy girls.
What do you think of pin up girls?