It's always interesting how designs work their way into the tattoo world. In the past, customers brought design ideas to their favorite tattoo shop, just like they do today. If the tattooist thought that it could be a popular design, he or she would paint it up on a sheet of flash and hang it in the shop so folks could come in and have it tattooed on them. If it was a really popular design, it would find its way to the walls of other tattoo shops and this new design was on it's way to becoming a classic!
Today we will talk about pin-ups; a mainstay in the tattoo business. Some old time tattooists were well known for their skill in tattooing and painting pin-up designs; Sailor Jerry Collins, Ralph Johnstone and Pinky Yun immediately come to mind.
There was no shortage of pin-ups designs to inspire tattooists. Many pop culture painters specialized in them: George Petty, Alberto Varga and Gil Elvgren are but three who built their careers around pin-ups. Many of these were redrawn for the tattoo business and became classics in their own right. In the mid-1940's, Frederick's of Hollywood came on the scene with their great hand-drawn catalog. This catalog also became a source for many tattoo pin-up designs.
Betty Grable (1916-1973) was considered by many to be the number one pin-up girl of the World War II era. Her bathing suit photographs were circulated worldwide and she was credited with having the most beautiful and expensive legs in Hollywood. Hosiery experts'claimed that the proportions of her legs were ideal: thighs 18½, calves 12, and ankles 7½. Popular folklore states that those legs were insured with Lloyds of London for one million dollars and ironically in 1932 Betty Grable starred in a movie titled Million Dollar Legs. It is unclear which came first, the movie or the insurance policy.
The Grable pose that worked its way into Ralph Johnstone's tattoo flash is the classic back view, head turned toward the camera with her hand on her hip. Studio photographer Frank Powolny took the photograph in 1943. The story goes that Betty Grable was pregnant at the time of this photo, so the photographer chose this pose and angle to hide that fact. Many say that it was this photograph that made Betty the highest paid female star in Hollywood in the late 1940s.
As the old saying goes, "every picture tells a story."
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