Posture Queen And The Creation Of The World War II Pin-Up Girl

Stand Up Straight Please, This Is A Publicity Stunt

Lillian McKevitt

New York, NY – Miss Lillian McKevitt, of Jackson Heights, New York is chosen as “Posture Queen” from among forty beautiful Walter Thornton models who demonstrated exercises to provide good posture in celebration of Good Posture Week (May 4-11), has her posture matched by Mr. Thornton with that of Sgt. Lester Hare of the military police of the Canadian army, who attended the matinee performance on the penthouse terrace of the Mayflower Hotel.  –  April 27, 1942: Acme News Photograph

By whom Lillian McKevitt was chosen Posture Queen is not noted in the news photo caption.

The interesting story here is about the modeling agency Lillian came from, The Walter Thornton Modeling Agency which began its business in 1931.

A June 27, 1948 Associated Press article describes how Walter Thornton created the World War II “Pin-Up Girl.”  Strangely this is based only on Walter Thornton’s assertion.

The story goes, “while in the service, Thornton pinned his girlfriend’s picture to the canvas wall of his tent. The pin put a hole in the tent and the Sergeant put Thornton on K.P. (Kitchen Punishment duty).  The new soldiers however lived in lush barracks and could pin up pictures of pretty girls without punching a hole in the wall. So one day in 1940, Thornton dug out about 5,000 photos of girls from his modeling agency and sent them to Fort Dix, NJ. The idea was a winner and the World War II pin-up girl was born.”

Allegedly.

Thornton also put on a hair-pulling match in 1940 at Palisades Amusement Park which we previously profiled here.

Time Magazine noted in 1954, “He (Thornton) also has shown a talent for getting publicity for Walter Thornton.”

Walter Thornton claimed his agency was the launching pad for Hollywood stars including, Susan Hayward, Lisabeth Scott, Arlene Dahl, Peggy Ann Garner, Dorothy McGuire and Lauren Bacall.

The one that is definitely true is Susan Hayward, whose fame was brought to new heights in November 1937, when Thornton wrote an article about the modeling world for the Saturday Evening Post, which largely featured the twenty-year-old Hayward (known then by her real name Edythe Marrenner) as the model illustrating the story.

In 1939, Thornton ended up suing Hayward for $100,000 saying he was responsible for her fame as a model which ended up giving her a screen contract and he was entitled to 10% of the million dollars she would make in motion pictures. Nothing ever came of this case.

Of modeling, Thornton once said, “This business gets 1,000% more publicity than it deserves.”

Thornton received publicity he did not want when he was arrested with eight others on January 25, 1954 for conspiracy to defraud, grand larceny and petty larceny. He had instructed his talent scouts to use the names of Marilyn Monroe and other actors who supposedly got their start through his agency to lure potential clients into a $600,000 child modeling racket.

After a trial of several weeks the judge remarked that the burden of proof in a case based on charges of obtaining money based on false pretenses was a heavy one, and in this case had not been sustained. The judge granted a motion for dismissal of the charges by the defense counsel. Thornton passed away in 1990.

Thornton’s modeling agency was big, but whether he really “created” the pin-up girl or was just huckstering is open for discussion.

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13 thoughts on “Posture Queen And The Creation Of The World War II Pin-Up Girl

    1. Lance Lee

      Dear Katherine,
      My mother was a leading model of Mr. Thorton’s in the 1930s and ’40s, Lucille Wilds: the Models’ Miss America 1939, the country’s ‘Dream Girl’ 1940, all through Mr, Thornton’s agency. I am working on a family memoir and trying to determine if I need copyright permission for her Thornton modeling shots in those years. If you see this, could you please let me know, or send me contact info at: lancelee@aya.yale.edu?
      Thank you,
      Lance Lee

      Reply
      1. Richard Thornton

        Lucille Wilds, was the most promoted model in the 1940, and one of the more attractive models he had at that time, I still have photos of them in his office.

        Reply
    2. Adriana Thornton

      Hi Katherine, I’m Adriana Thornton daughter of Walter Thornton. I would like more information about you. Me and my family knew and loved Walter Thornton very dearly.

      Reply
    3. Donna

      He was my Grandmothers half brother . I have a newspaper article where Waltor was looking for his sister Beatrice . I have newspaper where my Grandma traveled to New York to meet him. I often heard my family talk of this

      Reply
  1. Adriana Thornton

    It hurts to hear so many negative things about my father. I would like to know more about all of this.

    “Thornton also put on a hair-pulling match in 1940 at Palisades Amusement Park which we previously profiled here.”
    Where did you find this information?

    Reply
    1. B.P. Post author

      It was not meant to be negative or hurtful. Some of the information was from Time Magazine, UPI and the Associated Press. The other primary sources if I recall were the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. If you have a subscription you can research yourself and read the original stories. This is one you can view for free.

      The Palisades Park reference can be found here and here

      Reply
  2. Lynn Stayton-Eurell

    My mother Eleanor Cahill was also a Walter Thornton top model during the 1940’s I have many, many photos. She was the crowned “Miss Stardust” and won a modeling contract. She was then transformed into “The World’s Largest Pin-up” a photo of her was 16 feet tall which was given to the the sailors on the U.S.S. Missouri, October 1945.

    Reply

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