The Pin-up Files

George Petty pin-up artist | 2/2


George Petty created The Petty Girl, an American pin-up icon who captured the nation's heart for more than twenty years

From 1933 to 1956, her likeness was seen on tens of millions of calendars, magazine centrefolds, advertisements, posters, and billboards as well as on all sorts of speciality products. In 1950, "The Petty Girl" even became a major motion picture. The picture shows George Petty presenting his artwork to the Navy, 1942 © Chicago Sun-Times.

George Petty pinup artist

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The creator of the fabulous Petty Girl was born in 1894 in Abbeville, Louisiana. After his family moved to Chicago, he worked in his father's photography studio. Upon graduation from high school, he travelled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. Back home, he worked for a printing company as a photo retoucher and became the head of the household upon his father's death. Petty married in 1918. His daughter, Marjorie, was born a year later, and his son, George, in 1922.

By the mid 1920s, Petty was working full-time as a freelance illustrator, providing pretty girl images to a calendar company. After he opened his first studio in Chicago in 1926, his burgeoning client list came to include such companies as Marshall Field's (catalogue front covers) and Atlas Beer (billboards, newspaper ads, and window display art).

The first model for the Petty Girl was the artist's wife, followed by his daughter when she became a teenager and even his son, who was enlisted to pose for the "Petty Man" in the Jantzen advertising campaign.

Petty was a large man, often compared to Ernest Hemingway because of his rugged appearance. Like the famous author, he enjoyed big game hunting and often went on safaris to Africa. For more than ten years, he was an appreciative judge at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. In 1973, for Esquire's fortieth anniversary, Petty created a modem-day version of his pin-up girl with grey hair and granny glasses. He died on July 21, 1975, in San Pedro, California.

The Petty Girl had a mischievous, engaging smile and a special twinkle in her eyes. Long-limbed and well endowed, she was a slick, supple, and alluring creature. Like many pin-up artists, Petty created these ideal American girls by combining the best features of several models. He further improved on nature by making their heads smaller and their legs and torsos longer. Whatever his secret Petty certainly had the magic touch.

The George Petty biography borrowed from The Great American Pin-up by Charles G. Martignette & Louis K. Meisel.

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