Sometime during the time at Bangor 41-24485 gained a name and a painting on either side of its nose of a girl in a swimsuit. But how had the name and artwork come about?
In the days before television, the public got their news from newspapers, and contemporary newspapers of the day reported simply that the pilot had na#ed his aircraft in honor of his fiancé Margaret Polk, his Memphis sweetheart and left it at that# Bob Morgan:
“###I liked Southern belles, and Margaret was a southern belle, so I just called it the Memphis Belle”#
James Verinis, the Belle’s co-pilot and Bob Morgan’s buddy, remembered it slightly differently:
“###It was in Bangor, Maine, in September 1942, just before we flew overseas# Bob and I went to see a movie# I don’t remember its title# I only remember Joan Blondell starred in it# In the movie there was also a Mississippi River gambling boat and I remember that either Miss Blondell or the boat was called the Memphis Belle#
We were walking back to our quarters after the show and Bob suddenly said ‘Gee, that would be a good na#e for our plane, the Memphis Belle’#
After much research by the Memphis Belle Memorial Association it was discovered that the movie was a Republic picture called ‘Lady for a Night’ and did indeed star Jean Blondell – with a male lead played by none other than John Wayne# Here is a remarkable co-incidence – the na#e of John Wayne’s character?### Jack Morgan, no wonder Bob Morgan paid attention to the movie!
According to everyone’s memories, Bob Morgan originally wanted to call the aircraft ‘Little One’ his pet-na#e for Margaret Polk, but after seeing the movie, decided that Memphis Belle would be better#
Morgan reports the story slightly differently# It seems that when he told the crew what he was going to call the aircraft Memphis Belle, no one liked it, so Morgan decided to convince each crew member one at a time – through the application of liberal quantities of ‘liquid refreshment’#
As to where the artwork came from, Bob Morgan seems to have ‘remembered’ two different versions: “###I was a reader of Esquire magazine# I always admired those Petty Girl paintings they ran every month# I wrote to the magazine and told them what I wanted# They sent me a picture and we painted it on the plane”
At other times, he recalled it differently, saying that he called Esquire, got Petty’s phone number and called the artist direct, telling him that he #Morgan# would like Petty to draw one of his girls to go on the aircraft# According to Morgan, Petty was gracious about it and was thrilled to be a part of things#
So, was this particular item of artwork specifically and carefully selected as is often claimed, or was it just a random, accidental selection brought about by a member of staff at Esquire picking up a back issue and mailing it to 2nd Lt Morgan in response to his request? Or was the artwork created at Morgan’s request?
Unfortunately no-one remembers when and who originally painted it onto the aircraft, but a consensus of opinion among the other crewmembers seems to suggest that it was originally painted on to the aircraft by a civilian worker at Dow Field before they left the USA# It was some time after they arrived in England that Corporal Anthony ‘Tony’ Starcer of the 441st Sub Depot and Bassingbourn’s resident nose-art specialist touched up and eventually repainted it and it is this design that is on the aircraft today#
Again, Morgan was been known to claim otherwise, saying that he ordered Tony Starcer to paint one girl in a red swimsuit on one side of the nose and one in a blue suit on the other#
It is often been said by many who have visited the aircraft on display that this particular George Petty artwork is called ‘the Memphis Belle’# It has also been said that the painting is a representation of Margaret Polk# Neither of those statements contain a single shred of truth#
The story of the artwork and the background to how it eventually appears on the aircraft is as follows. This particular ‘Petty Girl’ appeared as a foldout in the April 1941 issue of Esquire magazine between pages 36 and 41, and is thought to have been modeled by either Petty’s wife or, more likely, his twenty-two year-old daughter Marjorie. The caption that appears on the piece in Esquire itself is somewhat enigmatic. It says “I’m the one with the part in the back”. In the table of contents, the caption is abbreviated to “… the one with the part in the back”. The quotes forming part of the caption. So, is this the title of the artwork? A caption is something very different to the ‘name’ of a painting. Much of Petty’s work is known to be untitled and it is likely that this one is also. Even the staff of the Art & Architecture Library, University of Kansas, where the original artwork resides, will only say it is ‘captioned’ as “I’m the one with the part in the back.” As to what the caption actually means – we have no idea!
As for girl being Margaret Polk, clearly the Petty Girl was nearly sixteen months old when she first appeared in different colored swimsuits on either side of the nose of a certain B-17 – so at very best the painting can only be said to ‘represent’ Miss Margaret! The April 1941 date also clearly repudiates the Morgan ‘suggestion’ that the creation of the artwork was at his request. That edition of Esquire appeared nearly sixteen months before Morgan got his hands on the aircraft that was to become the Memphis Belle!