When Betty Grable was profiled in the June 7, 1943, issue of LIFE, she shared headline status with another entity: her own legs, which the magazine dubbed a “major Hollywood landmark.” The previous February, an impression of her leg had been immortalized in the cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the limbs were reportedly insured for $1 million at one point.
In fact, the published photo essay was nearly all legs. The face of the actress—who was born 100 years ago this weekend, on Dec. 18, 1916—is seen in only one of the 14 pictures that accompany the story. Here, Grable’s face has been restored to several of them.
And, while Grable clearly knew that her legs had helped make her famous, the LIFE profile hints that even in 1943 the reduction of a woman to one body part—and not her brain—could rub the wrong way. As the magazine reported, her first jobs in Hollywood had involved merely posing for publicity stills or standing in as a leggy extra. Her breakthrough into starring roles was delayed by her studio’s focus on her lower-half looks. And she maintained a humorously pragmatic attitude about the whole thing.
“They are fine for pushing the foot pedals in my car,” Grable told LIFE.
Grable—whose pinup image was recently named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Photographs of All Time for its prominent place in the hearts of America’s enlisted men during World War II—died in 1973.