As well as pinup photos, the US Army Air Force also unofficially permitted ‘nose art’, drawings of scantily-clad women on the fuselage of bombers and fighter planes, as a way of boosting pilot morale. Artists, often servicemen themselves, drew their inspiration from men’s magazines, popular actresses, and real-life models.
Unlike many pinups, bomber girls weren’t just about pictures of attractive women: the female figures were often regarded as mascots or lucky talismans that would ensure the plane’s safe return home. Sociologists have linked airplane nose art to the carved figureheads once found on the bows of ships, which superstitious sailors regarded as a type of good luck charm. The art form saw a resurgence in the US military during the first Gulf War, but was officially banned in 1992 after complaints from feminist groups.
Back in the 1940s, the studio system still ruled Hollywood, and actors and actresses were usually contracted exclusively to particular studios. Gardner was an ‘MGM girl’, discovered by the studio at age 18 after a photograph was spotted by talent scouts. A surprised Gardner quickly relocated to Hollywood.
Her early pinup work was typical for the time, involving shots of her on the beach or in bathing suits. Later in her career, Gardner became famous as a siren and a femme fatale, and switched to a less ‘innocent’ image, posing in heels and long black dresses. Gardner married Frank Sinatra in 1951 and although the marriage lasted only six years, she later said that he had been the love of her life.
Rita Hayworth’s famous pose in a black negligee quickly made its way across the Atlantic in 1941, as troops brought the picture with them on the way to war. It ended up as the second most popular pinup picture in all of World War II. Hayworth, whose two brothers both fought in the conflict, didn’t just pose for pictures: she also was involved in selling war bonds, and appeared in USO shows.
Hayworth’s famous strawberry-blonde hair was actually an act: her real hair was jet black, but she dyed it red and even altered her hairline after she became concerned about being typecast in ‘Hispanic’ roles.