1 June 2023

Betty Grable's legs are no joking matter

After signing a long-term contract with 20th Century-Fox in early 1940, Betty Grable soon became a major star, some of her biggest hits being Springtime in the Rockies (1942), Coney Island (1943), Mother Wore Tights (1947) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). In 1943 she was the number-one box office draw in the world and in 1947 the highest-paid celebrity in the USA. Despite her talents, Grable was most famous for her legs. Her legs are prominently displayed in the now iconic bathing suit photo which adorned numerous lockers of American soldiers during WWII, making Betty the era's number-one pin-up girl. At one point, her legs were ensured for $1 million. Grable herself maintained a down-to-earth attitude about the subject of her legs, once saying to LIFE magazine, "They are fine for pushing the foot pedals in my car". And asked to describe her film career, she said dryly, "I became a star for two reasons, and I'm standing on them".

Above: 1943— Photographer Frank Powolny, who shot Betty Grable's iconic bathing suit photo, poses with his model in front of his work. Below: The original caption of this photo, taken for LIFE by Walter Sanders, reads: "Going to studio in the morning, Betty steps into roadster. Once asked to comment on her hips, well displayed here, she said, 'They’re just where my legs hook on.'"

In late September 1948, Preston Sturges' The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949) was about to go into production and Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had just received the sketches for Betty Grable's wardrobe from costume designer René Hubert. In the following memo to Sturges, Zanuck asks for the director's opinion regarding the finale of the film. Zanuck wanted to show more of Grable's legs, something they had failed to do in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947). For the finale he suggests to have someone step on Grable's skirt, so that it comes off and the actress' legs are shown. While this was eventually incorporated into the scene, it didn't help the picture which did poorly at the box-office.  

DATE: September 20, 1948

TO: Preston Sturges


Dear Preston:

I looked at the wardrobe sketches this afternoon that René Hubert has for Betty and I think they are wonderful, particularly the first red dress. The main reason I wanted to see them is that once when we made a picture called The Shocking Miss Pilgrim we did not show Grable's legs in the picture and in addition to receiving a million letters of protest the incident almost caused a national furor.

I am glad that he has given her a split skirt, at least in the opening, and that later on we see her in her panties.

Right now, I have thought of another idea that I would like to get your reaction on:

Suppose in the fight to the finish she is wearing a simple two-piece suit, something like a bolero jacket with a long skirt. Someone steps on the skirt and it tears off in the start of the battle royal ...

Perhaps you have some other suggestion. I know it perhaps sounds like a silly thing to worry about, but from a commercial standpoint Betty's legs are no joking matter. 


Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.

Incidentally, I recently watched The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend at the recommendation of my sister who thoroughly enjoyed it and I must say, despite the film's bad reputation, I enjoyed it too. Admittedly, The Beautiful Blonde doesn't rank among Sturges' finest but the film —about a trigger-happy saloon singer who hides out in the tiny town of Bashful Bend after shooting a judge in the butt— is still good fun. I'm not too familiar with Betty Grable but she is delightful here and looks great in René Hubert's colourful costumes. Grable herself reportedly hated the film. 

A few scenes from The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, with Betty Grable in her panties and the red dress with a split skirt, as mentioned in Zanuck's memo. Top right, Grable pictured with Marie Windsor and Cesar Romero, and bottom right with Olga San Juan.
Betty in the finale of The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend after someone has stepped on her dress, tearing off the skirt and exposing Betty's legs.
Betty and Preston Sturges on the set of The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend

No comments:

Post a Comment