Grable (born Elizabeth Ruth Grable; December 18, 1916 – July 2, 1973) established herself as America’s blonde sex symbol between In 1943 and 1947, when she was the number one box office draw in the world. During this time, she was the highest-paid entertainer in the United States. Grable was a beautiful, young woman at the start of her career. She appeared in Broadway musicals, on television and in major motion films. Grable was especially popular as the military’s dream girl. Grable retired from screen acting in 1955 but continued to act onstage and in television.
Throughout her career, Grable was celebrated for having the most beautiful legs in Hollywood and studio publicity often photographed them. Her iconic bathing suit poster made her the number one pin-up of WWII, surpassing the gorgeous Rita Hayworth. It was later included in the Life magazine project “100 Photographs that Changed the World“. Hosiery specialists of the era often noted the ideal proportions of her legs as thigh (18.5″), calf (12″), and ankle (7.5”). Grable’s legs were famously insured by her studio for $1 million, probably $5 – 10 million today. In my opinion, that picture (and her legs) paled in comparison to Marilyn’s famous subway grate photograph during the publicity stunt for The Seven Year itch. In a unique irony, during her early career Grable starred in a cheap B-movie called Million Dollar Legs, which became her nickname after the release of her bathing suit poster. With all the attention to her legs, it’s rather ironic that it was Marilyn and not Grable who appeared in the Seven Year Itch stunt.
Grable was certainly an impressive and outstanding actress in her day. However, she was utterly eclipsed by Marilyn, who met Grable on the set of How to Marry a Millionaire. This film became known as the one where Grable “passed the mantle to Marilyn Monroe.” A photographer asked Marilyn to pose in front of Grable’s dressing room door. Marilyn refused. Grable had no choice in “passing the mantle.” Marilyn had become America’s newest It Girl. In spite of her beauty and professional success, Grable would never become the American icon that was and is, Marilyn Monroe.
Unlike Marilyn, Grable never struggled to secure film contracts with major studios. She worked with four film studios, some which dropped her and some which she actually left. She retired from film in 1940 because she was tired of playing co-ed roles. Some time later, Darryl Zanuck contacted Grable and offered her a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. in 1943, Grable’s pin-up picture was taken and resulted in her being cast in Pin-Up Girl. The film showcased Grable’s photo in several brief glimpses. Pin Up Girl received poor reviews but was a major box-office draw. The parallel between Marilyn in the Seven Year Itch exposing her beautiful legs as she stands over a subway grate, and Grable’s success in Pin-Up Girl is glaring. Grable starred in several more successful films until 1949, when Grable’s film The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend was released; it was a critical and box-office failure.
At this point,Grable’s film career faltered, quite like Marilyn’s after the release of the box office bomb The Misfits. In fact after the release of The Misfits and her firing from Something’s Got to Give, Marilyn worried about losing her celebrity and spoke obsessively about this possibility in The Last Interview with Richard Meryman. “Fame is fickle…fame will go by and so long I’ve had you fame. If it goes by I told you it was fickle. But that’s not where I live.” Clearly fame indeed was where she lived. “It stirs up envy. Who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe?….I always knew I belonged to the public because I’d never belonged to anyone or anything else in my life,” she once stated. Unlike Marilyn, Grable wasn’t obsessed with fame or her silver screen career. In fact she turned to television and stage acting after her retirement from film and enjoyed several more years in her acting career.
Physical similarities between the two beautiful women are striking. Both were beautiful petite, curvy blondes with a glamorous appeal. Both women are remembered, among other things, for their gorgeous legs.Their facial features were somewhat alike, especially in the nose and mouth. This was very apparent when they smiled for photographs. Even the tip of Grable’s nose is similar to Marilyn’s. Contrasts are also numerous. Grable enjoyed a long, illustrious career and was often critically acclaimed for her dramatic as well as comedic acting, a success Marilyn would never fully achieve. Although she was one of the most well-paid major actresses in Hollywood, compared to Grable, Elizabeth Taylor, and other major actresses, Marilyn was paid the lowest. She also felt she was poorly treated by Fox and wasn’t taken seriously by either her studio, the press or the public. Grable never knew this frustration. Of course, Marilyn’s suicide or accidental overdose, and the image of her lonely, childhood made her life story truly tragic, perhaps the most tragic and misunderstood in Hollywood history.
Personally I don’t find Grable’s acting to be superior to Marilyn’s. I also don’t feel her sexual appeal as much as Marilyn’s in her films. Although she also died young at the age of 56, Grable is not widely known as an American icon. The public is nowhere near as obsessed with her as it is with Marilyn, a phenomenon I completely understand.