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The term bombshell is a forerunner to the term "sex symbol" and originally used to describe popular female sex icons. Modern usage refers to a bombshell as a very attractive woman. The Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper attests the usage of the term in this general meaning since 1942.
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. The first woman to be known as a bombshell was Jean Harlow, was nicknamed the blonde bombshell for her 1931 film Platinum Blonde. Two years later she starred in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Bombshell. The epithet rose sharply in popularity after the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, and declined in popularity in late 1960s with the rise of because of ideological conflicts.
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. 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, Brigitte Bardot, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Ann-Margret, Raquel Welch, and Ursula Andress.
Bombshells are identified with hypersexuality, their curves, including hourglass figures and large breasts, sex appeal, larger than life personas, and their "blondness" (stupidity that can lead to highly negligent behavior).