Miss Stewart was a department store model and movie starlet before she was named “Uncle Sam’s Poster Girl” by the War Department in the early 1940s. She appeared in more than a dozen patriotic posters distributed by the tens of millions to troops during World War II.
Unlike the barracks wall artwork featuring the leggy Betty Grable, the buxom Jane Russell or the sultry Ann Sheridan, Miss Stewart’s government-issue posters promoted more wholesome values. The most skin Miss Stewart’s modest poses revealed were her bare ankles in low heels. In many of her posters, she wore long pants.
But her pretty “girl-next-door” appeal proved immensely popular with the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen abroad.
“The other pinup girls are dream girls in the most unsubstantial sense of the expression,” Cpl. John Haverstick wrote in a 1945 issue of Yank, a weekly military magazine. “A dream is about the only place most of us are likely to run up against the typical glamour photographer’s ideal of a lassie with legs eight feet long, bust 58 inches, waist 20, hips 20, and long, red-gold hair. Margie is a little closer to home. ”
He continued: “She looks like a good girl friend or a good young wife . . . like the dream you not only want to go on dreaming but the one which might continue after you wake up.”
Miss Stewart’s pinups often featured her writing letters to a beau deployed overseas, always signing the notes “Love, Margie.”
In one poster, she looks longingly into the camera — with her cherry lips ever so slightly parted — while a letter below her says, “Of course waiting is hard — don’t I know!” and encourages troops to save money for a future home.
For another, her wistful face is framed by the words: “Please . . . get there and BACK! Be careful what you say or write.”
Miss Stewart became so adored among troops that she was sent to Europe on a goodwill tour to promote war bonds. While visiting troops in Germany, France, Britain and Belgium, she was accompanied by a handsome Army captain. They fell in love and were married by the mayor of Paris in 1945.
Announcing the news of her nuptials, the Stars and Stripes newspaper blared the headline: “Margie, It Hurts to Print This.”
Margie Stewart was born Dec. 14, 1919, in Wabash, Ind. She attended Indiana University and was elected Freshman Princess before she pursued a career in modeling and film. She earned $75 a week as an actress for RKO studios, and appeared in films such as “The Falcon Strikes Back” (1943) starring Tom Conway and “Bombardier” (1943) with Randolph Scott.
During a stint in Chicago she was spotted by advertising executive Russell Stone, a retired Army major. Through Stone’s Pentagon contacts, Miss Stewart was tapped to pose for the military pinups.
She retired from modeling after the war and lived with her husband, Jerry Johnson, in Studio City, Calif. Together, they helped produce concerts at the Hollywood Bowl for acts such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys. In her spare time, she volunteered at the UCLA Medical Center.
Her husband of 57 years died in 2003. Survivors include a son, Stephen Johnson of Woodland Hills, Calif.; and three grandchildren.
Miss Stewart said more than 94 million of her posters were sent around the world during the war but that Eleanor Roosevelt was not a fan. She said the first lady tried to ban the artwork because she feared Miss Stewart was making the troops a little too homesick.