A pinup can represent whatever we love, want to love, or want to have. Any printed image that can be hung on a wall could conceivably be regarded as a pinup, and in common usage the term extends even further — to pinup images on playing cards, key chains, drinking glasses, cigarette lighters, and other objects that never reach the wall (unless thrown!). In World War II, pinups frequently adorned the sides of tanks and aircraft as mascots or good-luck talismans. The Air Force actually tried to ban them several times, but failed. Banks used them to boost business, and distributed millions of them on calendars and blotters. And soldiers put them up everywhere.

   The women of World War II contributed more to the war effort than just the venerable image of Rosie the Riveter — they also gave us the pinup girl. And there was no greater source of pinup girls than Hollywood. Some actresses were exotic and unobtainable to be sure, but many starlets were girls from Anytown USA who you could imagine going home to, if you lived to go home at all. And that is why they formed such a central place at the frontlines of the war. They represented hope and home. "Good luck, chum," they would whisper, "my dreams are riding with you." They were beautiful and sexy, the movies come to life ... guardian angels next to that driver inside the hull of a tank or that gunner inside the ball turret of a bomber. And Rita Hayworth was one of the most popular — even a test atomic bomb was named Rita and had a picture of her painted on it! From those first provocative photos of Rita from the Aug. 11, 1941 issue of LIFE magazine that were "allowed" to decorate airplane cockpits and army barracks, to V-J Day and beyond, Rita, along with Grable and Russell, and, surprisingly, B-movie bombshells like Janis Carter and Anne Gwynne, embodied the pinup girl. (LIFE had coined the term "pinup" in the July 7, 1941 special issue on National Defense and annointed Dorothy "Dottie" Lamour as the nation's first official pinup girl.)

   Unlike the risque French postcards of WW I that were secretly collected by American doughboys, the pinups of WW II were out in the open and sanctioned by the government. The morale value of the pinup girl as a representation of the girl-back-home for thousands of homesick young lads was undeniable. For many, just out of high school, she may have been their only infatuation, the last girl they had ever lusted for, loved, or adored. She was company on a cold night, comfort at times of pain. She might have had an idea she was admired by the GIs, but had no way of knowing exactly how much. It was more than the sexy picture that enamored them of her; there was a magical wholesomeness and substance they saw beyond the curves of her figure. It was her very American essence that they loved, and the concupiscent dream of surviving to return to the country the pinup represented.

   Are you ready to meet some more of Rita & Company – The Gorgeous Pinup Girls We Took to War? If so, follow the flyboys below to the pinup show (just click on 'em), or select a particular glamour girl from the dropdown. To return to the main pinup page, click here.

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