by Martin Jacobs
World War II turned the pin-up into a major industry. Any artist who could draw or paint an enticing figure of a senuous woman became part of a phenomenon that blossomed during the war.
Pin-up art showed a full-length view of a female subject with an element of a theme or story. The models used by the artists usually were attired in form-fitting outfits like bathing suits, sun suits, skimpy dresses, or occasionally in provocative and intimite apparel like lingerie. Sometimes pin-ups appeared in the nude, but this was the exception, not the rule.
Pin-ups came in all sizes, and vied for space in GIs' lockers and on their walls and ceilings with photographic images of popular movie actresses like Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake and a host of others.
A name synonymous with the legendary pin-up was Alberto Vargas, a popular illustrator who gained worldwide fame when Esquire magazine introduced the "Vargas Girl" to America in 1940. His dreamlike "Vargas Girls" were published on calendars, note pads, playing cards and magazine ads, and even were painted on the fuselage of American fighter planes and aviators' flight jackets.
By 1942 the pin-up had become a icon for American GIs. As our troops boarded transport ships and planes for overseas destinations, they not only carried pictures of their loved ones left behind, but also of their favorite pin-ups to give them something to dream about during the lonely days and weeks away from home.
George Petty was another popular pin-up artist who captured the fighting man's fancy. The "Petty Girl" appeared in magazine centerfolds, billboards and specialty products. Together with the "Vargas Girls," these images warmed the hearts not only of GIs away at war, but also of civilians on the homefront.
Gil Elvgren's pin-ups offered an indefinable "something extra" that not only made him enormously popular with GIs, but also the envy of other contemporary pin-up artists. His skillful use of "situation" poses created an endless variety of clever scenarios, much to the delight of our troops. Elvgren's pin-up booklets with wartime themes were shipped by the thousands through APO and FPO military mails to American soldiers around the world.
Earl Moran's pin-up style was quite different from Vargas, Petty and Elvgren. His pastels were equally sexy, but tended to be more serious and moody. Another popular pin-up artist was Rolf Armstrong. Already a renowned artist by the time the war started, Armstrong's glamorous beauties had appeared on magazine covers, sheet music, greeting cards and other items. These earlier pin-up images showed only the models' heads, but with the enormous popularity of the full-length pin-up during the war, Armstrong soon turned to this more typical style.
Two female pin-up artists Zoe Mozert and Pearl Frush became superstars during the war. Mozert often used herself as a model for her pastel pin-ups, posing in front of a mirror as she worked. Frush shared the spotlight with Mozert, working primarily in watercolor and gouache to draw her pin-ups. She is best known for her glamour girls in the calendar art market.
Betty Grable, the famous American actress who appeared in many films during the war, was the most popular pin-up model of World War II. Her legs allegedly were insured for a staggering $1 million! Grable was painted by various artists, and her likeness appeared everywhere. Soldiers overseas and men at home all clamored for a Grable image to pin on their walls. Grable's famous back-to-the-camera swimsuit pose that showed off her gorgeous gams appeared on countless World War II aircraft. The most famous was a B-17 with Grable painted on its fuselage that was named Sentimental Journey after the World War II hit song. As a reminder of the war effort, Grable's famous pose still adorns this legendary bomber, which makes annual appearances at various air shows and exhibits as part of the Confederate Air Force.
It would be impossible to list all of the pin-up artists who contributed to the war effort. Nevertheless, their idealized visions of American women undoubtedly fired the imagination of our troops, boosted their morale, and ultimately helped America win the war.
Martin Jacobs authored this overview. Martin is a freelance writer and welcomes your comments. He can be reached at P.O. Box 22026, San Francisco, CA 94122 or at (415) 661-7552.
Navy pilots in the Aleutians play cards under the watchful
eyes (and other parts!) of some Vargas girls.
A set of WW II pinup postcards featuring (clockwise from upper right)
Betty Grable, Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner, and Dolores Moran.
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