My love of cinema was started by my Nan. She is a big fan of Jean Harlow (like her mother was) and incidentally her birthday was on 3rd March and my is 1st March.
Born Harlean Carpenter in 1911 in Kansas, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was 11; a rare thing in 1920’s America. She was extremely close to her mother (whose birth name was Jean Harlow), some might even say ‘mama’ was overbearing with her only child.
Moving to Los Angeles aged 20 (and married), her film career began thanks to a bet with a friend. After appearing in a few small roles in equally uninspiring films, Harlow got her big break thanks to maverick film maker and aviator Howard Hughes. Hughes cast Harlow in his big budget epic ‘Hells Angel’s’, which became one of the biggest grossing films of the 1930’s. Making Harlow a star in the process, 1931 saw Harlow appear opposite James Cagney in ‘The Public Enemy’. Harlow’s platinum peroxide hair not only made her the first ever ‘Blonde Bombshell’ in Hollywood history. But inspired thousands of women to reach for the bleach. Sex appeal was an enormous part of Harlow’s allure, she used to use ice cubes to make her nipples prominent. Of course how could I not mention the famous scene where Harlow excuses herself from her gentleman caller to ‘put on something more comfortable’
Harlow’s second marriage was to Studio Executive Paul Bern. Not only was she in love but she now had a new contract with MGM and a healthy new salary (she received £1,250 for her next film ‘Red Headed Woman’). On the surface they appeared to be an odd couple, Harlow was the most desirable blonde in the world, Bern was more awkward and lacking his wife’s glamour. On 5th September 1932, Bern killed himself with a gun. Like something out of a pulp novel; when Bern killed himself, Harlow did not contact the police straight away. Instead she called the studio bosses and the police were not contacted for sometime later. Leading to varies theories about what really happens, was it really suicide? Did Jean kill him? An inquest officially ruled Bern’s death a suicide.
Many would imagine that the scandal would have destroyed Harlow’s career, instead she actually became even more popular. Appearing opposite Clarke Gable in ‘Hold Your Man’ and in that same year ‘Dinner at Eight’ was also released. Harlow was by the mid-1930’s one of the most famous actresses, her films were making MGM money when other studios were barely scraping by. After another failed marriage, Harlow found love with former co-star William Powell. With her career going from strength to strength, romance and a public who loved her, you would think that the sky was the limit for the youthful, sexy Harlow.
Tragically, Harlow will be young forever. She died on 7th June 1937 at the tender age of 26 of Kidney failure. She had been working of her final film ‘Saratoga’. Rumours persist that her mother caused her death by not allowing Jean to admitted to hospital (Being a Christian Scientist, believing that prayer alone would cure her daughter). Even if her mother did delay in calling for help, there would not have been any treatment to save Jean. There was no dialysis or transplant in existence.
Here is an interesting story that ties in with Harlow and Bern. In their old house, many years later, an aspiring star was staying there. One night she saw a figure, resembling Bern in her bedroom. She ran screaming out her room, down the stairs towards the living room. There she saw an apparition of her own butchered body hanging from a banister. The actress’s name was Sharon Tate.