Best remembered for her famous legs, Betty Grable was one of Hollywood's top stars during the 1940s, appearing in many of the era's most popular musicals, including Springtime in the Rockies, Moon over Miami, and Down Argentine Way. Sadly, Grable's vocal talents were never exploited to their fullest potential. Though she worked as a big band vocalist in the 1930s she was never recorded, and during the height of her popularity she was contracted to 20th Century Fox, which did not allow its stars to pursue recording careers.
Raised in the Mid-West, Grable was groomed to be a star by her mother. As a child she learned to sing, dance and play the saxophone. After a family vacation to California in 1929 Grable and her mother decided to move to the West Coast to try their luck in Hollywood, leaving her father and sister behind.
Grable's first professional work came as a chorus girl at Fox studios. Though only thirteen at the time she lied about her age. When the studio discovered the truth she was fired. Undaunted, she continued auditioning, finding bit player work in other films, including a stint as a Goldwyn Girl, in the company of Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard.
In 1932 Grable was hired as a vocalist for Ted Fio Rito's orchestra, spending a year with the group and appearing with them in the film Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. Her big screen career was lagging, however, and in 1933 she moved to San Francisco to sing with the Jay Whidden Orchestra at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Returning to Hollywood in 1934 she again found work and over the next few years appeared in the supporting cast of two major films and starred in several campus musicals.
In 1935 Grable began dating former child actor Jackie Coogan. The couple was married in 1937. Publicity surrounding the romance initially helped boost Grable's popularity, but their troubled marriage and divorce in 1939 took their toll on her career. Under contract at Paramount, she was dropped and seeing no other opportunities available took a job touring with Eddie ''Rochester'' Anderson's vaudeville show. When the tour ended she went to work for Jack Haley in a show he was producing in San Francisco.
Grable earned good reviews while with Haley. 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck took notice and signed her to a contract, though he didn't offer her any work. Zanuck simply wanted to keep her around as back-up in case something happened to his reigning star, Alice Faye. Grable continued to work for Haley then co-starred in the Broadway production of Du Barry Was a Lady, with Ethel Merman.
Grable was a hit on Broadway, but Hollywood finally called in 1940 when Faye became ill and Zanuck needed a replacement for the musical Down Argentine Way. Though the film was a vehicle for Carmen Miranda, Grable was a hit with audiences, leading Zanuck to star her in several more musicals as well as a few dramatic roles. She quickly became the studio's top box office draw.
In 1941, while filming Springtime in the Rockies, Grable began a romance with bandleader Harry James, which led to their marriage in 1943. The couple had two children. They divorced in 1965.
Grable continued her reign at Fox until 1952, when she was dropped as the star of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in favor of Marilyn Monroe. The following year she starred with Monroe and Lauren Bacall in How to Marry a Millionaire. The studio pushed it as a Monroe vehicle, giving Grable second star status. Monroe's success in both films quickly overshadowed Grable, and Zanuck put Grable's career on hold. Furious, she tore up her contract and drove off the lot.
Grable's next film project was with Columbia, but she returned to Fox for one more film, How to Be Very, Very Popular. Both films were flops, and she decided to retire from Hollywood. She made a few appearances on television during the 1950s and 1960s and worked in West Coast theater, returning to Broadway in 1967 to star in Hello, Dolly! Betty Grable passed away in 1973 after a year-long battle with lung cancer.