Elizabeth Ruth Grable was born on December 18, 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Lillian Rose (Hofmann) and John Charles Grable, a stockbroker. She had German, English, Irish, and Dutch ancestry. Her mother was a stubborn and materialistic woman determined to make her daughter a star. Elizabeth, who later became Betty, was enrolled in Clark’s Dancing School at the age of three. With her mother’s guidance, Betty studied ballet and tap dancing.
Betty and her mother set out for Hollywood with the hopes of stardom. Lillian lied about her daughter’s age, and Betty (real age 13), landed several minor parts in films in 1930, such as Whoopee! (1930), New Movietone Follies of 1930 (1930), Happy Days (1929) and Let’s Go Places (1930). In 1932 (real age 15), she signed with RKO Radio Pictures. The bit parts continued for the next three years. Betty finally landed a substantial part in By Your Leave (1934). One of her big roles was in College Swing (1938). Unfortunately, the public did not seem to take notice.
The following year, she married former child star Jackie Coogan. His success boosted hers, but they divorced in 1940. When she landed the role of Glenda Crawford in Down Argentine Way (1940), the public finally took notice of this shining bright star. Stardom came in such comedies as Coney Island (1943) and Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943).
The public was enchanted with Betty. Her famous pin-up pose during World War II adorned barracks all around the world. With that pin-up and as the star of lavish musicals, Betty became the highest-paid star in Hollywood. After the war, her star continued to rise. In 1947, the United States Treasury Department noted that she was the highest paid star in America, earning about $300,000 a year – a phenomenal sum even by today’s standards. Later, 20th Century-Fox, who had her under contract, insured her legs with Lloyds of London for a million dollars. She continued to be popular until the mid-1950s, when musicals went into a decline. Her last film was How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955).
She then concentrated on Broadway and nightclubs. In 1965, she divorced band leader Harry James, whom she had wed in 1943. Her life was an active one, devoid of the scandals that plagued many stars in one way or another. She cared more for her family than stardom.
Betty Grable died at age 56 of lung cancer on July 2, 1973 in Santa Monica, California, five days before Veronica Lake’s death. She was interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
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