By Margie Stewart Johnson
Studio City, California
During World War 2, millions of GIs knew me by my first name. Now, at age 92, I still marvel at how that came to be—how a small-town girl from Indiana became a department store model, a Hollywood actress and the U.S. Army’s only official pin-up girl—all in just a few years.
My adventure began in 1937, when I left home in Wabash to attend Indiana University. During my first year, I was elected Freshman Princess, a title that included a free trip to Chicago. It seemed like the perfect place to spend my summer vacation, so I talked a girlfriend into joining me.
There we met Russell Stone, an advertising executive who was looking for two girls to pose in a rowboat on Lake Michigan for an ad featuring Johnson outboard motors. That was the beginning of my career as a model.
In 1941, I decided to join my parents, who had moved to Los Angeles, California. Within a year, RKO Pictures offered me a full contract at $75 dollars a week.
By this time, Mr. Stone, who had given me my first modeling job, was a retired Army major. He went to the Pentagon with an idea for bolstering troop morale around the world, persuading the brass to let me pose for a series of three pin-up posters. I felt thrilled and privileged when he asked me to participate.
The response to the posters was so strong that Eleanor Roosevelt tried to stop distribution because she feared they were making the GIs too homesick!
But as letters from the World War 2 troops began to pour in, asking the identity of that girl in the posters, she finally relented. In fact, so many letters came in that I was asked to pose for 11 more posters, which soon became known as the “Margie posters.” In all, around 94 million of my pin-up girl posters went to American soldiers around the globe during World War 2.
Asked to tour the European Theater of Operations to promote the sale of war bonds, I set off for France on June 8, 1945. I was billeted at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and used that as a base camp.
We visited camps all over France, Belgium, England and Germany. I was the first American to enter Germany in civilian clothes; I could not believe the devastation there. I ate a lot of GI rations and lost six pounds. But I just tightened my belt and went on.
During my trip to Europe, I also met and fell in love with Capt. Jerry Johnson, who was assigned to take charge of my touring itinerary and accompanied me wherever I went. We were married by the mayor of Paris in his office on July 7, and again by an Army chaplain in the American Church of Paris, which we were told was necessary to make it legal.
In 1946, when our son Stephen was born, I retired from my acting and pin-up girl career to take care of him.
As I look back on those years, the opportunity to be the Army’s World War 2 pin-up girl fills me with pride and gratitude. It’s an honor to keep getting cards and letters from many former members of the Armed Forces—and even some of their children! I’m also amazed at the number of people who visit my website, margiestewart.com.
I salute each and every one of you for your valorous service to our country. You are the lights of my life, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your sacrifices.