The Hollywood actress Jean Harlow (whose birth name was Harlean Carpenter) passed away on this day in 1937—she was just twenty-six years of age.
A few years ago, I decided to find out about Jean’s tragically short (but undeniably eventful) life when I discovered she was born just four days before my grandmother Gertie in 1911. At the time, I was researching my family tree and adding details of births, deaths or famous (which could also mean “random”) events to give my own family’s story some sort of historical context.
I am thoroughly ashamed to say that I had hardly watched any old black and white movies (although that oversight has now been remedied), but I had probably—albeit inadvertently—seen her on screen as I was a massive fan of Laurel & Hardy. Jean made a brief, but memorable, appearance in the 1929 Hal Roach short Double Whoopee, in which Jean gets out of her car, only to have the lower half of her dress ripped off when it gets trapped in the door. (The scene was fairly racy for its time, but genius is timeless— and Stan Laurel was a genius—and pretty much the same stunt is recreated in an episode of Miranda Hart’s self-titled comedy series.)
Jean Harlow possessed the main attributes needed for an acting career—she was young and had both a fantastic figure and stunning looks. Whether or not she was a great actress is something for the experts to debate—personally, I think she had brilliant comic timing and it was in her more light-hearted roles that she excelled. She was blessed/ cursed (delete as appropriate) with the ultimate pushy mother, who played out her own dreams through her daughter—and signed most of Jean’s “autographs” for her. The young actress most certainly had a thoroughly unpleasant stepfather, Marino Bello, who deserves less than the passing mention I’ve just given him.
That said, Jean’s star rose quickly, her platinum-dyed hair was a box office winner, yet her private life was a mess. She managed three marriages in her short adult life—and was engaged to actor William Powell at the time of her death. Husband number two, Paul Bern, died in what was an apparent suicide and, as with many of the Hollywood stars of the era, Jean endured more than her fair share of controversy and heartache, before the ultimate tragedy of losing her life to renal failure at such a ridiculously young age.
I have read (actually I only half read—it was crap) a biography which painted Jean as a brash, almost lewd woman, but I’ve also come across articles which show what I believe to the “real” Jean Harlow, genuine, kind and considerate beyond her years—read my bio if you want to find out more!!. Of course, there may have been occasions when she acted her part in public (this was Hollywood after all), but for me, Jean Harlow was not simply the “original platinum blonde”; she was a young woman blessed with talent and a beauty that was much, much more than skin deep and this blog is affectionately dedicated to the memory of my movie idol x
All my own work... almost.