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Famous Hollywood Pin Up Girls of The 1940s and 1950's

Updated on December 27, 2012

The term pin up girl was first used in the early 1940s. The now famous pin up girl images were originally published in magazines, newspapers, calendars and postcards. As they became more popular, pin up girl posters such as the one of Betty Grable were mass produced This famous print of Betty Grable was taken in 1943 by Frank Powolny. 5 million copies of this print were distributed to GI's during WWII.

Betty Grable

Born in St. Louis, MO, Betty Grable was pushed into show business by an overbearing mother who moved her to Hollywood at the age of 13. By lying about her age, Mother manage to land her daughter several small parts. But it wasn't until Betty played the role of Glenda Crawford in Down Argentine Way in 1940, that the public started to notice her. Sweet Roisie O'Grady and Coney Island, both released in 1943,made her a star. Her famous pin up made her popular around the world and she soon became Hollywood's highest paid star, prompting 20th Century Fox to insure her legs for a million dollars. Betty remained a favorite until the mid-50's and the decline in the popularity of musicals. Her last film was How to be Very, Very Popular in 1955. She died of cancer in 1973, but the image of her famous legs lives on.

Betty Grable - 1916 to 1973

Pin up girl - Betty Grable.
Pin up girl - Betty Grable.

Ava Gardner

Born and raised in the rural south, Ava was signed to a Hollywood contract at the age of 18, based solely on a photograph her photographer brother took. She spent three years doing bit parts until 1946, when she stared in Whistle Stop. Though she didn't leave a big legacy of great films, she did give several great performances in movies such as The Killers in 1946, Mogambo in 1953 and Night of the Iguana in 1964. Unhappy with Hollywood, she moved to Spain in 1955 and made several movies abroad. in 1995 she was chosen by Empire Magazine as one of the 100 sexiest stars in film history, rank at number 68.

Ava Gardner - 1922 to 1990

Hollywood pin up girl - Ava Gardner
Hollywood pin up girl - Ava Gardner

Marie McDonald

Marie was born in Kentucky, the daughter of a former Ziegfeld Girl and granddaughter of opera singer. At the age of 15, Marie became a Powers model and dropped out of school so she could enter beauty pageants, winning the title of "Miss Yonkers" and "The Queen of Coney Island" on the way to becoming "Miss New York" in 1939. Soon after, she moved to Hollywood and became a singer with Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra, but could only land movie roles in the chorus line or small one line parts. Lacking the talent to really make it in Hollywood, she sought attention through scandal. She eventually turned to drinking and drugs, and suffered from several nervous breakdowns. Never able to find the notoriety that she longed for, she ended her life at the age of 42 with an overdose of pills.

Marie McDonald -1923 to 1965

Famous pin up girl - Marie Mc Donald
Famous pin up girl - Marie Mc Donald

Bette Davis

Bette debuted on Broadway in 1929 in Broken Dishes. She was hired by Universal Studios in 1930 and moved to Hollywood. She then went on to work for Warner Bros and her role in The Man Who Played God, in 1932, made her a star. She went on to make great films like Of Human Bondage in 1934 and won the Best Actress Oscar for Dangerous in 1935 and Jezebel in 1938. Though she made many films during the 1940s, the roles and the quality of the films began to decline by the early 50's. Securing an Oscar nomination for All About Eve in 1950, gave her a bit of a revival, but by 1960s she had reached a career standstill. Bette died of cancer in 1989 and her tombstone states - "She did it the hard way."

Betty Davis - 1908 to 1989

Pin up girl - Betty Davis
Pin up girl - Betty Davis

Marilyn Monroe

Norma Jean, raised by a single mother who suffered from mental illness, spent her youth in and out of foster care. At the age of 16 she married and began modeling swimsuits with her new look, bleached blond hair. Her photographs made their way to Howard Hughes, head of RKO pictures, and he offered her a screen test. Turning down his offer, she instead signed a 6 month contract with 20th Century Fox making $125.00 a week. She spent the next several years in minor roles, subsidizing her income with modeling. It wasn't until her roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, both in 1950, that the public began to notice her. Her roles in the early 1950's cemented her sexy yet innocent persona that became her trademark. Gentlemen Prefer Blonds in 1953 made her a box office draw. By the mid-50's, Marilyn was gaining the reputation of being hard to work with. Constant tardiness, continuous health complaints and a general unwillingness to corporate resulted in a slow decline of roles. Her final film, The Misfits was made in 1961. She took her own life at the age of 36, leaving a legacy of the breathless, voluptuous blond that will never be surpassed.

Marilyn Monroe - 1926 to 1962

Mailyn Monroe - Famous Hollywood Pin Up Girl
Mailyn Monroe - Famous Hollywood Pin Up Girl

What are we fighting for?

Pin Up Girls gave the GIs of WWII something to dream about and a reason to come home. The ever increasing popularity of the movies in the early 40's kept them well supplied with pictures of a multitude of young starlets to hang up in their lockers. The perfect Pin Up Girl wasn't necessarily beautiful, but was more a sexy version of the girl next door. These women and the movies they made, gave the fighting GIs a brief distraction from the war they were fighting.

Jane Russell

Jane was interested in drama from an early age and took part in high school productions as well as learning to play the piano. Though she had to work to help support the family, she also modeled on the side. After attending drama school, she signed on with Howard Hughes and secured a role in The Outlaw in 1941. Due to the films emphasis on Jane's figure, it wasn't released until 1943. Held back by the strict censorship board, it wasn't widely released until 1946, but then became a box office success. Many of her succeeding films continued to showcase her physical assets rather than her acting abilities. It wasn't until the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds in 1953, that her skill as a comedian was revealed. But Hollywood continued to cast her in sexy roles, ignoring her acting abilities and during the 1960s she only made four films. She retired from the spotlight after her last film, Darker Than Amber in 1970. Bob Hope once introduced Jane as "the two and only, Jane Russell."

Jane Russell - 1921

Hollywood Pin Up Girl - Jane Russell
Hollywood Pin Up Girl - Jane Russell

Jean Harlow

Born in Kansas, Jean ran away from home at age to get married.  The couple moved to Los Angeles where she soon found work as an extra in the movies.  Her first small role was in Moran of the Marines in 1928.  Howard Hughes gave Jean her first big break in 1930 in his epic film, Hell's Angels.  She became known as America's new sex symbol after her role Platinum Blond in 1930.  The following year she stared opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust and went on to make five more films with him.  Jean's career was skyrocketing, but her career and her life were cut short.  She died at the age of 26 from uremic poisoning.  Her final movie, Saratoga with Clark Gable was finished with the use of a double.  The film was a hit, with fans pouring into see Jean Harlow's last picture.

Jean Harlow - 1911 to 1939

Jean Harlow - Pin Up Girl
Jean Harlow - Pin Up Girl

Gibson Girls

The first Hollywood pin up girls
The first Hollywood pin up girls

Gibson Girls

A predecessor to the pin up girl was the Gibson Girl made famous by artist Charles Dana Gibson. Gibson produced artwork depicting the ideal feminine woman over a 15 year period from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gibson's 'girls' had hourglass figures and were tall with long thin necks accentuated by a bouffant hairdo. The first model for the drawings is thought to be Gibson's wife, Irene Langhorne. The most famous Gibson Girl was Danish-American actress, Camille Clifford. Another Gibson Girl artist was Harry G. Peter who was also an artist for the Wonder Woman comics.

Artwork from the 40's and 50's

Carrying on the tradition of the Gibson girl illustrations, the artists of the 40's and 50's offered their own brand of Pin Up Girls.

The tradition lives on

The allure of the pin up girl continues today.  She may not grace calendars or the inside of lockers, but she has found a new home and a new form of artwork, pin up girl tattoos.  This may be the greatest tribute yet to those beauties of the 40's and 50's, permanently inked onto the bodies of their fans.

Liberty Belle by L.A. Ink's Cory Miller

Pin up girl tattoo
Pin up girl tattoo

Pin up pirate by Tim Harris - New Haven CT

Pirate pin up girl tattoo
Pirate pin up girl tattoo

Who is your favorite Pin Up Girl?

See results


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    ilovemqriyln 5 years ago

    Marilyn Monroe is boss no one will ever beat her.

  • jimenezchavez profile image

    Paula Jimenez 5 years ago from Elk Grove, California

    Loved reading this! very nice..

  • profile image

    gernPrurb 5 years ago

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  • profile image

    tracey 6 years ago

    wonderful. loved this.

  • maryhoneybee profile image

    maryhoneybee 6 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

    Beautiful, detailed article! I started getting into the pin-up culture around 6 years ago, being exposed to modern pin-up models such as Jami Deadly and Bernie Dexter. But I must say, there's nothing like the "originals"! Thanks for the awesome hub.

  • profile image

    cheri 6 years ago

    I have the last issue of Yank magazine with the layout of pinup girls. I do not see the pictures in any other webpage. I would like to put a name to all of the beautiful faces and lovely figures.

  • profile image

    lindsay 6 years ago

    as a pinup fanatic, i absolutely love this hub! the world will never see women this glamourous or beautiful ever again! the most iconic sex symbols came from the 40's and 50's-rita hayworth, veronica lake, lana turner, betty grable, ava gardner, jane russell, yvonne decarlo, marilyn monroe, jayne mansfield, mamie van doren, bettie page, brigitte bardot, anita ekberg, sophia loren, elizabeth taylor, dorothy dandridge- oh man, i could go on and on and on!

  • Lilleyth profile image

    Suzanne Sheffield 6 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

    Wonderful hub. Love vintage pin up art.

  • profile image

    sukanta 6 years ago

    this is marvel picture send me my e-mail id is

  • profile image

    John Hand 6 years ago

    It isn't commonly known, but that 'famous' photo of Betty Grable taken from the back and the top pinup shot for our military in World War two WAS ALTERED. The derriere portion of her body was displayed pretty vividly and they used an air brush to tone it down, actually removing some of the curves on her behind.

  • profile image

    Mike Newton 6 years ago

    The pin-up girls of WWII represented the girl next door to the GI's. Their photos appeared in Yank Magazine every month. For the homesick or bedridden soldier, their smiling faces were better medicine than any doctor could prescribe. Their photos often decorated the noses of aircraft bombers. They represented the ideals that servicemen were fighting for.

  • profile image

    George Vreeland Hill 7 years ago

    These girls will always be beautiful and in our hearts.

    They are true Hollywood greats.

    George Vreeland Hill

  • Jason Canon profile image

    Jason Canon 7 years ago

    Exceptionally good article and the photos are stunning. Thanks!

  • DEE UNIVERSITY profile image

    DEE UNIVERSITY 7 years ago


  • yenajeon profile image

    yenajeon 7 years ago from California

    I absolutely love the "pin up doll" look. It's a very cute vintage image. Great hub, rated up!

  • kmcmichael profile image

    kmcmichael 7 years ago from Athens, Georgia

    really cool hub! pin ups were beautiful.

  • profile image

    Lis 7 years ago

    All of these women are lovely. However, Bette Davis, although a fine actress, was most definitely never a pin-up. She was never marketed as such, did not consider herself to be one, and was even considered to be less than beautiful by the powers that be at Warner Brothers.

  • profile image

    Sarah  7 years ago

    Correction: Jean Harlow was born in Kansas City, Missouri and died in 1937.

  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 7 years ago from California

    Thanks pahdah1 I will check them out.

  • profile image

    pahdah1 7 years ago

    If you like pin ups you should check out some of The comic book work by arists like Adam Hughes and Alex Ross It will blow you away

  • profile image

    AvaGProtege 7 years ago

    Most Definitely Ava Gardner. She was A stunning portrayal of true Beauty. I am Going to choose her to be for halloween I think. I was already Marilyn one year and the gorgeous Miss Russell as well...Thanks for helping me pick Lafenty... Pretty Collection By the way hun :)

  • profile image

    Shir 7 years ago

    I also think Marie McDonald is underrated. This photo isn´t very representative, but she was a tall and leggy blonde, much prettier than Jane Russell or Betty Grable in my opinion.

  • profile image

    Shir 7 years ago

    Marilyn has the body that appeals to men but Jean Harlow is the most beautiful and cutest.

  • profile image

    Raul 7 years ago

    Betty is still the all-time pin-up.

  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 7 years ago from California

    I agree.

  • Plapa profile image

    Plapa 7 years ago from Portugal

    You got here a really nice collection of pin ups. The photos are pretty nice, and the little biography too. I voted Ava Gartner, she´s the best!

  • jite profile image

    jite 8 years ago from delhi


  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 8 years ago from California

    Thanks vp2012 it would be great to own some of these posters.

  • profile image

    vp2012 8 years ago

    Great post. I love collecting these vintage posters. You have put together a nice collection. Thanks.

  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 8 years ago from California

    Ava Gardner was exceptional. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Charia.

  • Charia Samher profile image

    Charia Samher 8 years ago

    All of them are beautiful! You've just chosen the best group. I guess I'll go for Ava Gardner. =)

  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 8 years ago from California

    Thank you Cailin. I appreciate your comments.

  • Cailin Gallagher profile image

    Cailin Gallagher 8 years ago from New England

    Loving this pin-up hub! Also love your black and white pics. Beautiful.

  • profile image

    Iðunn 8 years ago

    this hub is just charming. whoever the photographer was for the jean harlow pin up did a stunning job, artistry in it's own right.

  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 9 years ago from Chicago

    I enjoyed the parade of pinups. They were gorgeous women and kept some clothes on back in those more innocent days. You made good selections and chose fine photographs. Thanks.

  • AEvans profile image

    Julianna 9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

    Well written and exciting to read, all of them were beautiful women my dad would always say that. I have never heard of pin-up tattoos until now, I didn't know people were getting those. :)

  • profile image

    jjrubio 9 years ago

    I was a member of a Pin Up Doll Club!! My favorite pin up girls are Rita Hayworth and Jane Mansfield!!

  • blondepoet profile image

    blondepoet 9 years ago from australia

    I have to say Marilyn,she was a size 14, a great role model for women, and she was just gorgeous

  • lafenty profile image

    lafenty 9 years ago from California

    There was something special about her.

  • Lgali profile image

    Lgali 9 years ago

    old is gold good collection Marylin Monroe is the best

  • Tom Cornett profile image

    Tom Cornett 9 years ago from Ohio

    Nice hub.....nice pics you chose! Thanks! :)


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