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Probably the most popular pinup artist of the era, Alberto

Vargas was already a successful magazine and poster artist

when he signed a contract with Esquire magazine to produce

monthly pinup art in 1940. He worked with Esquire for five

years, during which time millions of magazines were sent free

to World War II troops. Vargas received piles of fan mail from

servicemen, often with requests to paint ‘mascot’ girls, which

he is said to have never turned down.

Unlike Gil Elvgren’s pinup work, Vargas’ female figures were

always shown on a featureless plain white background. While

Vargas Girls were clothed for the most part, their very thinly-

veiled eroticism made Vargas and Esquire magazine the target

of censors later in the war.

Elvgren Girls

Pinup drawings were not just limited to planes: many of the

most popular pinups of the time were produced by commercial

artists. ‘Elvgren girls’ was the nickname given to pinups drawn

by artist Gil Elvgren. He began his focus on pinup art in 1937,

but his long career also involved advertisements for Coca Cola

and General Electric.

Elvgren was well-known for painting his pinup subjects in

imaginative situations: water skiing, climbing trees, doing yard

work, even skeet shooting. Many pictures featured a young

woman in a situation that accidentally revealed her stock-

ing tops and garters. Rather than overtly titillating imagery,

Elvgren seemed to go more for personality and even humor.

Betty Grable

The prize for the most popular piece of pinup art during WWII

went to Betty Grable, who posed in a white bathing suit and

high heels, looking over her shoulder. Betty’s studio, Twen-

tieth Century Fox, provided five million copies of this iconic

picture to distribute to troops. And her success outlasted the

conflict: after the war, Grable became not only the top female

box office draw, but the most highly paid woman in America,

earning about $300,000 a year.

Betty’s legs, prominently featured in her famous photograph,

were famously insured by her studio at a million dollars each

– and that’s in 1940 dollars. Whether this was actually consid-

ered a wise investment, or was simply a publicity move by her

studio, is still up for debate.