Margie Stewart, WWII Pinup Girl
(and Dr. J's Mom)
The Army made a dozen posters of her, and ultimately printed 96 million copies. Most pictured a handwritten letter at the poster’s forefront. “Please get there and back,” was the message on some posters. “Be careful what you say or write.”
Miss Stewart, the Army’s official poster girl, posed in practical clothes, in contrast to the provocative pinup photos of stars like Betty Grable (“the girl with the million-dollar legs”) or Ann Sheridan (the “Oomph Girl”) that soldiers carried to distant battlefields.
Miss Stewart hit a tender spot in homesick soldiers’ hearts. Stars and Stripes, the armed services’ newspaper, told of a pair of soldiers, one from Iowa and one from Kansas, agreeing that she had to be a farm girl — but hotly debating which of the two states she was most likely from. Even soldiers’ wives applauded Miss Stewart’s wholesome look.
Eleanor Roosevelt tried to stop the posters on the grounds that this salubrious image might turn warriors’ thoughts homeward, Miss Stewart later wrote. But soldiers were sending barrages of letters to the Army asking who the pretty girl was and asking for more pictures. So nine more posters followed the initial three. These carried letters urging servicemen to buy war bonds so they could save money to buy homes after the war.
The same images and messages on the posters were included in inserts sent to soldiers with their paychecks, accounting for many millions of reproductions.
Miss Stewart, who had long been Mrs. Margie Stewart Johnson, died at 92 on April 26 in Burbank, Calif., her family announced. She had recently enjoyed a renewed popularity after the website reminisce.com printed an essay she wrote about her life. On her own site, margiestewart.com, she enjoyed answering requests for autographed pictures.
Margie Stewart was born on Dec. 14, 1919, in Wabash, Ind. She attended Indiana University for a year and was elected freshman princess, a title that included a free trip to Chicago. There she met an advertising executive who was looking for two women to pose in a rowboat on Lake Michigan for an outboard motor ad. That led to a job modeling in a Chicago department store, then at a store in Los Angeles.
RKO signed her to a movie contract in 1942, and she appeared in about 20 movies over the next three years, often uncredited. She said she did not become a star because she “wanted to be me.”
The ad executive who had put Miss Stewart in a rowboat was a retired Army major who approached the War Department with an idea: to bolster troop morale with a series of pinup posters. That led to photos taken by George Hurrell, who is credited with helping invent Hollywood glamour photography, for at least the first three posters.
The second group of “Margie posters” was printed in response to demand from the men Miss Stewart called “my boys.” In 1943, she traveled around the country, with stars like Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Harpo Marx, to sell war bonds. She was one of four young starlets on the tour called Bondbardiers.
In 1945 Miss Stewart toured Europe and was one of the first Americans to enter the defeated Germany in civilian clothes. In London, The Daily Telegraph reported that “Uncle Sam’s Poster Girl” caused gridlock at Hyde Park Corner as crowds tried to catch a glimpse of her.
In July, in Paris, she married Jerry Jeroske, an Army captain who later changed his last name to Johnson. One edition of Stars and Stripes said one of its editors had fainted in dismay at the news. Another edition carried the headline, “Margie, How Could You?” Mrs. Johnson said that headline haunted her for years, because she feared that her admirers felt abandoned.
Mr. Johnson died in 2003. Mrs. Johnson is survived by her son, Stephen, and three grandchildren.
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Click here to read the original Margie Stewart obituary in the New York Times
Dr. Stephen Johnson and his beautiful Mother, World War II U.S. Army international poster girl Margie Stewart, on their Alaskan cruise in 2003.