Before Captain Robert K. Morgan flew his first of 25 missions in the massive Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, he decided the aircraft needed a more familiar nickname. He chose “Little One,” the pet name he had for his sweetheart, Margaret Polk, back in Memphis, Tennessee. Morgan and his copilot Jim Verinis saw the John Wayne – Joan Blondell film Lady for a Night, in which the leading character owns a riverboat named the Memphis Belle. Morgan suggested the name “Memphis Belle” to his crew and all were in favor. The captain contacted noted pin-up artist George Petty for a cheesecake mascot to adorn the nose of the bomber. The artist obliged with a figure from a 1941 issue of Esquire Magazine.
Corporal Tony Starcer, the official artist for the 91st Bombardment Group, copied the pinup girl on the forward fuselage of the B-17F. It was a perfect duplication, but bore little resemblance to Captain Morgan’s Memphis girlfriend. The “nose art” later included 25 bomb silhouettes , one for each mission credit, and eight swastika designs, one for each German aircraft shot down by the crew. Crew names were stenciled below the station windows on the aircraft after Memphis Belle‘s tour of duty was completed.