On this Day in Movie History, July 2, 1973: Betty Grable “the Gal with the Million Dollar Legs” Passes

It was on this day, July 2, 1973, American actress, dancer, and singer. and the gal with the “million dollar legs” Betty Grable died. She died of lung cancer. She was 56.

Born Elizabeth Ruth Grable on December 18, 1916, in St. Louis, Missouri, her mother was a stubborn and materialistic woman who was 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.

At 13, Betty and her mother set out for Hollywood with the hopes of stardom. Lillian lied about her daughter’s age, and Ruth 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, she signed with RKO Pictures.

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. She was beginning to think she was a failure. The next 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 through comedies such as Coney Island (1943) and Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943).

During World War II her famous pin-up pose 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 US 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. During her heyday in the 1940s, 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”.

Betty 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.

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.

1916 – Ken Curtis (actor: Mister Roberts, The Alamo, Gunsmoke, How the West Was Won [TV]; singer: w/Tommy Dorsey Band, w/Roy Rogers and Sons of the Pioneers; died Apr 28, 1991)

1937 – Polly Holliday (actress: Alice, Flo, Private Benjamin, Gremlins)

1946 – Ron Silver (actor: Wiseguy, The Stockard Channing Show, Rhoda, The Mac Davis Show, Kissinger and Nixon, Timecop, Romancing the Stone, Oh, God! You Devil, Silkwood, The Goodbye People, Semi-Tough, Enemies, a Love Story; Speed-the-Plow; director: Lifepod; died Mar 15, 2009)

1961 – Jimmy McNichol (actor: The Fitzpatricks, California Fever, Escape from El Diablo; actress Kristy McNichol’s brother)

1966 – Kathryn Erbe (actress: Oz, Chicken Soup, Dragonfly, Law & Order: Criminal Intent)

1970 – Yancy Butler (actress: Hard Target, Law & Order, South Beach, Brooklyn South, The Witness Files)


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