The following is an excerpt from my soon to be released book about Virginia Brouk, a member of the World War II Women’s Army Corps. The Tiger’s Widow is book 2 in the Stories of the Lost series and continues the story of Flying Tiger Robert Brouk’s life through the life of his widow. This is one of the letters she sent home. Please visit my website for details on ordering this new book on July 22.
Ginny became “famous” in part because of her job as Western Electric’s “Hello Charley” girl in 1941. This is a piece of that story.
In the 1920s, Western Electric had an employee named Charles Drucker. A postcard addressed to “Charley the Western ,” was sent to the plant. It was intended for Charles Drucker, but the sender could not remember Charles’ last name. As the postcard circulated the plant searching for the proper owner, plant workers started calling each other “Charley Western” which became “Hello Charley” as a greeting. In 1930, the company used the “Hello Charley” greeting to create a beauty pageant and crowned the first “Hello Charley” girl.
The “Hello Charley” girl was the woman who, for a period of a year, represented the company at all functions inside and outside the company. She participated in marketing campaigns for the company and appeared in photographs, advertising, and the company newsletter. In the late 1930s when the U.S. was recruiting soldiers, the “Hello Charley” girl’s role also included greeting former employees in the military who visited the company on leave. The “Hello Charley” girl had a wholesome, girl next door image people adored.
Each year, after the tradition began, hundreds of women were nominated to be the year’s “Hello Charley” girl. Elections were held in May and the “Hello Charley” girl and her court were crowned in June. The winner received a three piece luggage set and tags with the “Hello Charley” logo and the current “Hello Charley” Girl’s photo.
Of course, promotional items followed — including auto stickers with the “Hello Charley” winner’s photo, thus identifying Western Electric workers all over the world.[i] When the U.S. entered the war, additional promotional materials were created that included stickers with glue on the backside which could be affixed to military bags, shaving kits, and other items a soldier might carry with him. These stickers were sent to former employees with the company newsletter.
Ginny was nominated as a “Hello Charley” contestant in April of 1941. Her assistance at the April 21-25, 1941 Hobby Show, handing out flowers did not go unnoticed. 132 women were nominated and voting occurred throughout the company. The nominees were narrowed down to only five. On June 11, 1941, Ginny was elected the “Hello Charley” girl for 1941, after having been employed only six weeks. Ginny was so fortunate to have been elected because it changed her life.
As “Hello Charley” girl, Ginny’s duties included attending all company events, ribbon cutting ceremonies, various social functions, and representing Western Electric at events outside of the company. Ginny said for every event she attended, the company provided a different escort. Photographs were taken at every event. Afterward, articles were written for the company newsletter. Ginny’s modeling skills and strong family values played a large role in her comportment during these events. As always, she was an exceptional company representative.
Ginny’s war effort duties to support the troops required her to write letters to the former company employees serving in the military. She also greeted returning military personnel who stopped for a visit on leave.
Over the course of her reign as “Hello Charley” girl, Ginny’s photo traveled across the country. Employees both past and present sent her postcards from their travels. Soldiers, after seeing her sticker or visiting the plant, sent her letters. Ginny’s photo appeared in the major Chicago newspapers at company events and in the company newsletter. Ginny’s fame grew over the year. As a result, Ginny amassed a collection of letters and postcards in her scrapbook during her year as “Hello Charley” girl from soldiers and fans across the country.[ii]
During Ginny’s year as the “Hello Charley” Girl, she was asked to star in the play This Thing Called Love. The Western Electric Theater company was floundering during 1941 and Ginny was suggested for the role because of her modeling experience. Ginny was not excited about this turn of events. She had no love for acting. Of course, her protective father supported her decision to not take the role, but it was her mother who convinced her to do it for the company. In the end, Ginny’s performance as Ann Winters was a smash.
Ginny’s year as the “Hello Charley” Girl made her job of order clerk bearable. The extra duties of a photo shoot, meeting a G.I or other event took her away from the tedious daily duties of an order clerk. She was able to enjoy her job, keep her father’s protectiveness at bay, and play the perfect company girl.
[i] Hawthorne Works Museum, Hello Charley 1963, pamphlet (Cicero, IL. : 1963), inside panel 2.
[ii] Davis, Ginny. “Interview with Ginny Davis.” Personal interview. 19 July 2013.
© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL