Why Betty Grable’s Being Forgotten

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I don’t do a whole lot of opinion pieces on here but something that’s always bugged me is how much love Betty Grable doesn’t receive. In fact, there’s a stark lack of literature available on her as well; with only a handful of books written about the woman who was in the Box Office Top Ten for 12 years in a row. So why doesn’t she hold appeal for as many people as Monroe, West, or even Mansfield?

She’s (Overall) Wholesome

One thing about Grable, she always played a wholesome girl. Sure, her characters might do misguided things (such as pulling a gun on her students in The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend), but can you really hold it against her? She simply lets her temper get the best of her sometimes. She’s not going to kill someone, just scare them a little.

Grable’s characters almost always were a bit rough on the outside but the right man could tame her – all she needed was love. This persona wasn’t too far off from how Grable was in real life and just what America needed in the 1940s; a sweet as apple pie, All-American blonde to show the GIs what they were missing back home (without the gun drawing).

Grable knew exactly what her fan base wanted, and she was more than happy to deliver. When she was forced out of her comfort zone by Darryl Zanuck, such as in The Lady in Ermine, Grable would buck the decision as much as she could. Fans agreed with Grable’s take on what she was fit to work in and Zanuck eventually learned Grable knew best.

But, these roles can feel dated today. While we all love the happy endings that feel smothered in peaches and cream, it would have been nice to see Grable just go on her own to face life, instead of having to continuously end up married or engaged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not coming at this from an ultra-feminist standpoint and 100% realize why her films were filmed the way they were, but they can feel stale after you hit your 10th Grable film in a row (albeit, I’m happy with stale).

Her Successor’s Memory Has Lived Forever

Let’s be real, Marilyn was originally planned as a 1950s Betty Grable. She was childlike in a woman’s body. She knew how to use her sexuality on-screen (Grable tends to come across as the 30-year-old virgin until her later work). Fox had tried it with June Haver and Mitzi Gaynor, but Monroe really took off with the public. Although Monroe didn’t have the same appeal as Grable when it came to the box office (and I just know someone is going to have a coronary for me saying that but the numbers don’t lie), she ushered in the decade before the 60s by tantalizingly dangling on the edge of 50s decency. Monroe was the new woman, while Grable was stuck as the 40s fantasy; Grable was the girl you married after the war, Monroe was the woman you cheated on your wife with when you got the seven year itch.

Monroe fans – prepare for another coronary – but Monroe’s tragic death at 36 has greatly aided her memory. As much as Monroe scholars despise the likes of Mailer, Slatzer, Wolfe, and Summers, their salacious tales of murder, affairs, secret marriages, corrupt doctors, cover ups, and abortions tantalize the public. Her death has been deemed suspicious by many, and it keeps her in the public eye. If Monroe had lived out her days, I would be willing to bet she wouldn’t be as remembered today being publicity leeches couldn’t latch onto her memory and destroy it in a dumpster fire of lies. This leads me to my next point…

Betty Grable Lived Out Her Life

While Grable was only 56 before lung cancer took her away from this world, she had been retired from films for roughly 20 years and was focusing on stage work. She wasn’t dying to be in the public eye, and her work was relegated to what she was doing on stage. This isn’t to say Grable became lazy (lessons learned in her childhood would never allow a slothful Grable), but she enjoyed nearly ten years of not having to perform (1955-1965). I hate to say it but if Grable had a violent death in 1950, she would be more remembered now. Why? Because we tend to remember those who we think died in suspicious or violent manners. Humans are gruesome.

Betty was an Icon

I don’t think anyone can deny Grable’s icon status. After all, the above picture was sent to an estimated 5 million GIs (courtesy of Fox) during WWII. But the values held dear to 1940s America didn’t hold true to the 60s and beyond. While Monroe teetered on the edge of the 60s, Grable represented the 40s ideal – which didn’t age well with the flower children of the 60s, those who celebrated the golden age of porn in the 70s, or the 80s power executive. As our WWII veterans have passed away, so has a large amount of Grable’s fan base. Grable isn’t the only person to deal with this; the likes of Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, Veronica Lake, and Rita Hayworth all dealt with fallout. Hollywood (and the public) turned their back on their most popular 40s stars, likely because of constant reminders of the horrors of war those women would come to represent. Not, of course, from these women’s own actions, but because of the era they symbolized. Most people have seen Grable’s pinup pose on commemorative covers of Life or Time, but they don’t really want to know more about who their grandparents were fantasizing about while overseas fighting Hitler, Mussolini, or Emperor Hirohito. And you know what? I’m fine with it. More Grable stuff for me. 🙂

Things I Didn’t Think I Would Announce

I’m getting married.

That phrase is still echoing in my ear every time I say it. While I try to keep my personal life outside of this sphere, I think it is important to share so you know why my Instagram presence has cut down significantly. My fiancee, Max, and I have been planning nonstop for our March 15th nuptials. While we originally played around with the idea of getting married on my 30th birthday, Max and I instead opted to wait until the following day. This is significant to me being my mom and stepdad, who are celebrating 18 years of marital bliss this year, got married the day after her birthday as well.

I knew I wanted something connected to Old Hollywood and Max, as dear as he is, readily allowed my to choose our wedding venue. So, I went for The Little Church of the West:

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The Little Church of the West was the planned location for Betty Grable’s marriage to Harry James, but because the press were swarming, they ended up getting married across the street.

1943

But the venue has hosted its fair share of celebrity weddings, including:

Deanna Durbin and Felix Jackson

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1945

Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Sanders

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1949

Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl

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1954

Judy Garland and Mark Herron

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1965

And of course, it was mostly famously featured in Viva Las Vegas as the wedding venue of Ann-Margret and Elvis.

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And The Little Church of the West still rings the bell heard in the film!

A few other things about our venue:

  • It opened its doors in 1942
  • It is the oldest building on the Las Vegas Strip and the building has been moved three times through the years. This means I’m getting married in the exact same building, just at a different location.
  • It is on the United States National Register of Historic Places – the only location on the Vegas Strip to have this distinction

The support we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. As most of you know, I have a five-year-old son who means the world to me. He absolutely adores Max, and I couldn’t think of anything better than that. I’ve also had a few people ask me about our registry which is available by clicking here.

Next post is about my dress and the inspiration behind my decision. I look forward to squealing in excitement with all of you!

Lots of Love,

April

The Nudest Jayne Mansfield: The Story of Jayne, Mamie, and Promises, Promises.

1963 was to be a big year for Hollywood. Two of Hollywood’s leading blondes, Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren, were set to do a nudie film together, Promise Her Anything (later retitled Promises, Promises), directed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ Tommy Noonan.

The ladies signed for the film in January to play the roles of Sandy Brooks (Mansfield) and Claire Banner (Van Doren). The official announcement took place on January 12th:

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The honeymoon was short lived. Just a week later, on January 19th, papers announced Van Doren had quit:

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The most likely situation at play was Van Doren’s hopes of earning the same amount as Mansfield (who would eventually make a deal with Noonan for a percentage of the profits in addition to her $50,000 salary), but Van Doren was underestimating her powers of persuasion without the backing of a studio. If Van Doren wasn’t willing to take the scraps thrown her way, someone else was; therefore, on February 4th, Noonan announced Van Doren’s replacement, Marie “The Body” McDonald:

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On February 13th, the mutual admiration of Mansfield and Van Doren officially ended:

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Promises, Promises would go on to gross an estimated $3 million dollars, with Mansfield happily raking in money for brief, on-screen nudity that one would be hard-pressed to find offensive today. Mansfield was the first American A-lister to appear nude on-screen in an American-made, mainstream picture (yes, that’s a mouthful) although the title may have gone to Marilyn Monroe if her nude scenes for Something’s Got to Give had been kept in the film (which is doubtful).

Mansfield wouldn’t appear nude on-screen again after receiving considerable criticism for her appearance in Noonan’s film and the accompanying Playboy pictorial (which famously landed Hugh Hefner in jail for obscenity charges). Van Doren, likely realizing she had missed the financial mark by withdrawing from Promises, Promises, agreed to star in Noonan’s 1964 picture, Three Nuts in Search of a Bolt. Three Nuts wasn’t as successful as Promises, Promises (it features a weaker storyline and a questionable living arrangement with Van Doren playing a stripper) but Van Doren received her own Playboy cover in June of 1964. Van Doren and Mansfield would eventually film 1966’s The Las Vegas Hillbillies together, but the set was fraught with tension. Mansfield had just given birth to her fifth child, Tony Cimber, and was visibly heavier than the lithe Van Doren. The pair has one scene together, accomplished by the use of voice-overs and body doubles being neither woman wanted to be on set together.

I’m one of the few people who enjoys Promises, Promises. It’s not an amazing contribution to the history of cinema, but most assuredly has its place for what is shown on film as well as being enjoyable fluff. McDonald fully owned the role of Claire Banner and, even though McDonald was a blonde, Jayne was right when she insisted she was “enough” for the film.

Evolution of the Fifties Blondes, Part 3, 1959.

We’re finally at the end of our saga. To recap, Jayne and Mamie have hit their career peaks of the decade, Doris has solidified herself as everyone’s family-friendly blonde, Anita is in an odd transition between the 50s and 60s (although one can argue they all were), and Marilyn is about to rule the decade.

1959

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Mansfield must have realized her star was fading when she was sent to work on Too Hot to Handle and  The Challenge. Both films are low-budget, British thrillers relying on Mansfield’s sizable proportions to make up for weak plot points. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mansfield and  Too Hot to Handle is one of my favorite films, but Mansfield was far from the Hollywood studios she had dreamed of since she was a child. The American press was still touting Man-Oh-Man-Oh-Mansfield, but her antics were making headlines over anything she was producing. The Sherriff of Fractured Jaw was released in the US (which I covered in 1958 to coincide with it’s British release year) but Mansfield was out of the public’s mind as an actress and more akin to today’s reality stars.

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Van Doren found herself in a string of B-pictures through major studios such as MGM (The Beat Generation, The Big Operator, Girls Town) and United Artists (Guns, Girls, and Gangsters). Her turn in Teacher’s Pet hadn’t helped her star rise in the same way it may have helped others in her position and Mamie was still typecast as the 50s tough girl (my grandma would probably refer to her as “hard”). Mamie would continue to consistently work throughout the 60s but found stardom always just out of her reach.

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Day only had Pillow Talk as her primary release for the year but the film would kick off her frequent collaborations with Rock Hudson. The duo was considered box-office gold as viewers watched their romantic exploits. Again, Day was virginal but could hold her own against “Hunky Hudson.” The pair formed a close bond off-screen as well, which helped Hudson hide his sexuality.

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Ekberg’s sole contribution to her filmography, Sheba and the Gladiator, drew in few patrons – earning a little over $1,000,000. An Italian sand and sandals epic, Sheba did little to improve Ekberg’s box office appeal. Ekberg’s last great hit had been War and Peace, but Ekberg wasn’t phased. While 1959 seemed to be closing with a sputter, 1960’s La Dolce Vita would lead to international acclaim for Ekberg.

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Monroe also contributed one entry in 1959 – Some Like it Hot (SLIH). The cultural significance of Monroe’s turn as Sugar Kane cannot be understated. Considered the greatest comedic film ever made by AFI, SLIH earned roughly $11 million dollars at the box office. Monroe was applauded for her performance, although near daily set reports followed her behavior. While Tony Curtis said kissing her was like kissing Hitler, the public couldn’t get enough of Monroe. Marilyn had begun the 50s as a forecasted Lana Turner look-a-like and morphed into the comedic, blonde queen of the decade.

Conclusion

I chose to divide this article into three parts for a multitude of reasons (primarily, who wants to read something that’s 2700 words in one sitting?) but wanted to focus on how everything moved in parts. Monroe definitely opened the door for more sexualized blondes to make films in the 50s but saying they were imitators would be incorrect. North was in the same vein as Betty Grable, Mansfield wanted to create a more sexualized blonde, Van Doren was the bad blonde of the decade, Ekberg brought an international sophistication to American films, and Day was the penultimate girl-next-door who had worked in the trenches for just as long as Monroe. As Richard Koper explains in Affectionately, Jayne Mansfield, there was Marilyn then there were those who came after. Day wouldn’t fit in this category but I have chosen to include her in this article sue to her popularity in comedies, not unlike Monroe. Monroe remains the symbol of the decade but her contemporaries’ work deserves to be viewed as well.

The Evolution of the Fifties Blondes, 1957-1958, Part 2.

When we last let off, we had introduced Monroe, Day, Mansfield, Van Doren, Ekberg, and North. Again, this piece shouldn’t be considered a definitive, academic study on the 50s Blondes but instead should be viewed as a quick primer. If you want to know more about the blondes of the decade, I highly recommend Richard Koper’s Fifties Blondes – an easily digestible encyclopedia on the women of the decade.

1957

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Monroe saw the release of The Prince and the Showgirl but instead of working on another film project, spent the year focusing on her marriage with Arthur Miller. This is when the press began to become a little less-supporting of Monroe (in part because of Miller’s trial with the House of Un-American Activities Committee for supposed communist leanings). Those who had been in Monroe’s corner, such as columnist Walter Winchell, turned their backs on Monroe and attempted to sway public opinion. The Prince and the Showgirl was not as successful as Monroe’s previous pictures, appealing more to European audiences. Monroe’s Showgirl character, Elsie, was understated, intelligent, and dressed much more conservatively than what American audiences were used to.

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Day also released a single film in 1957, The Pajama Game, and solidified herself as a family-friendly comedienne. Pajama led Day down a path she could never veer away from without fear of failure – one where characters were virginal and sweet while still being intelligent, a rare feat in the era. Day would not make another dramatic picture until 1960’s Midnight Lace.

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1957 saw Mansfield reach her stardom’s peak. She was considered the most publicized woman of 1957 and Fox intended to cash in on her by releasing  The Wayward Bus, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and Kiss Them For Me. Unfortunately for Mansfield, her publicity didn’t spell box-office popularity. While The Girl Can’t Help It grossed more than Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it seemed to have been a fluke. Wayward and Rock Hunter both profited but Kiss was the only Cary Grant movie to lose money – which was blamed on Mansfield. Mansfield’s sexualized comedies, punctuated with near-constant squealing and cooing, were more successful with younger viewers than families, leading to a caricature that followed her until her death.

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Van Doren was featured in Untamed Youth, becoming the first American actress to sing a rock-n-roll song and The Girl in Black Stockings. It was during this time Van Doren realized her contract with Universal wasn’t going to provide her with the stardom she craved. Van Doren was the bad girl of the era but her talents tended to be relegated to B-pictures, frequently being the second picture on a joint program.

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Ekberg’s releases were Interpol and Valerie. Both films were relatively ho-hum releases but Ekberg’s star would rise with her exploits in both America and Europe. Her dresses were known to pop or split open and she threatened to sue an artist for a painting he created of her supposed nude form. She started feuds by bluntly telling the press who she didn’t like. Her overripe figure may have sold magazines but it was yet to be seen whether or not her stardom was a fluke or sprung from a genuine appreciation of her image on screen.

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North’s star was quickly fading but Fox made one last push for their contract player. North starred in No Down Payment and The Way to the Gold but neither film was an overt success. North’s public appeal lay with musicals but they were quickly becoming passĂ©. If North had been allowed to grow as a supporting player in the same fashion as Monroe, she may have been able to have a more fulfilling film career; however, North was forced upon the public, which never seems to take to spoon-feeding who they should like.

1958

This year saw a last-minute push for those who came after 1955 to secure some foothold in the public’s attention spans. Monroe started filming Some Like It Hot – over a year since her last picture’s release. North was placed in two supporting roles but ended up being dropped. Because of these factors, I have opted not to cover either woman in detail. That’s not to say nothing interesting happened, it certainly did, but both Monroe and North weren’t in the public conscious for their work as much as their personal lives – at least in regards to Monroe.

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Day was featured in both Teacher’s Pet and The Tunnel of Love. Both were light comedies with happy endings – the kind of mindless fluff everyone seemed to enjoy (and forbearers to today’s chick flicks). Day’s success still relied on being the nearly 40-year-old virgin but it surprisingly worked in a midst of women who oozed sex with each wiggle and coo.

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Mansfield married and had a child by the end of the year and saw one film released, The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. Sheriff was a western filmed in the hills of Spain with Mansfield playing Kate, a hard-as-nails saloon owner with a soft side. Mansfield relied less on her physical charms and showed an ability to act – if not lip-sync – but found a lukewarm reception in the United States. Her European fans were more receptive and the film was a solid moneymaker for Fox but was quickly overshadowed by Monroe’s 1959 blockbuster, Some Like It Hot. Jayne would never make an A-picture again with the exception of two cameos in the 1960s.

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Van Doren was given one last push for stardom in Teacher’s Pet, Highschool Confidential and Born Reckless. All were loan outs due to Universal having no suitable projects for their resident blonde. Again, one sees Van Doren playing the tough cookie, sometimes with a heart of gold and sometimes too hardened to the world to have one. Teacher’s Pet was her biggest picture but Van Doren was relegated to the role of a thinly-veiled stripper. If Van Doren had proper backing from the start of her career, she may have been able to break free of the bonds thrust upon her by the era. Instead, she was forced to play cheap caricatures of Lana Turner mixed with Elvis Presley.

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Ekberg didn’t fare much better. While she starred with Bob Hope in Paris Holiday and Gypsy Rose Lee in Screaming Mimi, Ekberg’s allure for American audiences was starting to fade. Her stunts didn’t hold the same appeal as Mansfield’s (who had run thin with the public by ’57) and she was accused of being downright bitchy. Ekberg was the only sensual blonde of the 50s to be fully embraced by the 60s.