Bombshell (sex symbol)

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Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell

The term bombshell is a forerunner to the term "sex symbol" and originally used to describe popular female sex icons.[1] Modern usage refers to a bombshell as a very attractive woman.[2][3] The Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper attests the usage of the term in this general meaning since 1942.[4]


Reproduction of the pin-up girl painted on the nose of the Memphis Belle B-17 bomber during WW II. The nose art was originally by Corporal Tony Starcer of the 91st Bombardment Group

The term came to be used during WWII as Bombshell Girl referred to pin-up girls who were painted to the side of bombers and their bombs.[1] The first woman to be known as a bombshell was Jean Harlow, was nicknamed the blonde bombshell for her 1931 film Platinum Blonde.[5][6][7][8] Two years later she starred in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Bombshell.[5] The epithet rose sharply in popularity after the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, and declined in popularity in late 1960s due to emerging ideological conflicts.[9]

Hollywood soon took up the blonde bombshell, and then, during the late 1940s through the early 1960s, brunette, exotic, and ethnic versions (e.g., Jane Russell, Dorothy Dandridge, and Sophia Loren) were also cultivated as complements to, or as satellites of, the blonde bombshell.[10] Some of the film stars, largely of 1940s-1960s, referred to as bombshells include Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Diana Dors, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner, Carroll Baker, Brigitte Bardot, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, and Ursula Andress.[1][9][11]

See also: Nose art


Bombshells are identified with hypersexuality, their curves, including hourglass figures and large breasts, sex appeal, larger than life personas,[1][9] and their "blondness" (stupidity that can lead to highly negligent behavior).[9][10][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Terry Rowan, World War II Goes to the Movies & Television Guide, page 59,, 2012, ISBN 9781105586026
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionary
  4. ^ "Bombshell". Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  5. ^ a b Jordan, Jessica Hope (2009), The sex goddess in American film, 1930-1965: Jean Harlow, Mae West, Lana Turner, and Jayne Mansfield, Cambria Press, p. 213, ISBN 1-60497-663-2 
  6. ^ Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn, page 151, 162
  7. ^ The Guide to United States Popular Culture, 2001, ISBN 0879728213, p. 922
  8. ^ Grant David McCracken."Marilyn Monroe, the Inventor of Blondeness", Culture And Consumption II: Markets, Meaning, And Brand Management, page 93, Indiana University Press, 2005, ISBN 9780253345660
  9. ^ a b c d Stephanie Ann Smith (1 January 2006). Household words: bloomers, sucker, bombshell, scab, nigger, cyber. U of Minnesota Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-8166-4553-4. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Katie King and Debra Walker King, Body Politics and the Fictional Double, page 157, Indiana University Press, 2000, ISBN 9780253108326
  11. ^ Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin, , page 344, John Wiley & Sons, 2011, ISBN 9781444357592
  12. ^ Afshan Jafar and Erynn Masi de Casanova (edited), Global Beauty, Local Bodies, page 73, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, ISBN 9781137365347