Blog it for Baby: Day Three of the Jean Harlow Blogathon

Day Three of the Jean Harlow Blogathon!

"A square shooter if there ever was one." - Spencer Tracy. (Image colorized by Victor Mascaro.)


Day three of the Blogathon is here and Jean’s 100th is one day away!

Tomorrow the Pictorial will be celebrating in high style, along with countless fans around the world, to commemorate the life of this unforgettable legend. Things are kicking into high gear around here, and if I haven’t replied to any requests to participate: I WILL! So keep those posts coming!


Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel

Christina runs Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel which is a real labor of love, dedicated to a neglected Hollywood actress. She’s joined the Blogathon with “Harlow & Dvorak at 100: An Appreciation,” and compares the difference between two women’s careers:

At first glance it seems that Jean Harlow and Ann Dvorak were worlds apart. Harlow was the wise-cracking platinum blonde who was able to use overt sexuality as a comedic weapon. Dvorak was the brooding brunette whose high-wire intensity played out best in dramatic form. Harlow landed at M-G-M, a studio who carefully crafted an on screen persona that film fans loved and sent her skyrocketing to the top of the box-office. Dvorak was at Warner Bros., a studio focused more on making movies than movie stars and who let Ann languish in mostly supporting roles unworthy of her talent …

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Freewheelin’ Pilgrim

Mark at Freewheelin Pilgrim has penned a love letter to a screen goddess. “The Boy Who Loved the Bombshell” is a sweet, sentimental and honest account of just why this 21st Century young’un just can’t get enough of an early 20th Century actress:

Jean Harlow is my celebrity crush. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? I mean, I’m 20 years old and she’s been dead for nearly 74 years. But it’s true. Whenever my friends sit around discussing who is “the hottest actress”, I always say “Jean Harlow”. This, naturally, gets a chorus of “huh?”s and “who’s she?”s. I simply tell them to look her up

My love for “Baby Jean” (my nickname for her) began at the tender age of 16. I was in Big W (a department store like K-Mart) for their quarterly DVD sale. I had my eyes set on the “Warner Brothers Gangster” DVDs I’d seen in the catalogue and, thankfully, I managed to get all 6. So I went home and put The Public Enemy on…

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Evangeline Holland

Evangeline Holland joins the Blogathon today with “The Platinum Blonde Goes Red.” In it she tackles the topic of the highly risky decision by MGM to cast the most famous blonde in movies as a red-head….

Jean was under contract to Howard Hughes at the time and his publicity director, Lincoln Quarberg, ran with the new phrase by organizing 3,000 Platinum Blonde Clubs and offering $10,000 to anyone who could replicate the “secret” forumla used to keep Miss Harlow’s hair its celebrated shade. Quarberg planted stories in the popular movie magazines to feed the fictional origins of Jean’s hair, claiming her luminous white tresses were the result of an accident at the beauty parlor…

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Harlean’s Heyday

Quickly becoming a favorite around here, Harlean’s Heyday is back today with a second installment in a series discussing they style that made Harlow a fashion icon. “Harlow’s Casual Style” is a treat because it undresses the image to uncover the real girl beneath it all:

Jean’s casual looks are quite a departure from the dramatic, curve hugging bias-cut gowns that largely mark her formal and on-screen style. It is actually her everyday style that I personally find the most inspiring.

In her own home you’d most frequently find a make-up free Jean Harlow wearing a pair of shorts, a polo shirt and tennis shoes. She didn’t wear stockings, not even during the winter months. Jean was an athletic lady, who played golf and tennis, rode horses and enjoyed swimming. Her flair for sports is certainly evident in her casual style….

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Platinum Page

Lisa Burks, the grand dame of Harlow blogging is back today with a great plug for the new Jean Harlow exhibit at The Max Factor Museum in Hollywood, which finally opens tomorrow:

The new Jean Harlow Exhibit, guest curated by Darrell Rooney, opens this Thursday (Jean’s 100th Birthday) at The Hollywood Museum in the Historic Max Factor Building. Back in the day, long before it was even a make-up museum, Jean often visited this building to be treated by Mr. Factor himself when it was his salon.


Sinamatic Salve-Ation

A highly literary entry comes from Ariel at Sinamatic Salve-Ation and the Blogathon is very proud to present it to you readers.  “Jean Harlow and the Magnetic Fields Get Lost” takes its inspiration from a modern rock album and effectively paints Harlow’s portrait in what is a most beautiful piece:

This is my first blog for the Jean Harlow blogathon, which is being done to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday (March 3rd). In a way, I felt compelled to write for this because Harlean Harlow Carpenter née Jean Harlow was only 26 years old when she died. She deserves a little more recognition. We all know about Marilyn, but without the original Platinum Blonde, Ms. Monroe wouldn’t’ve had a high heel to stand on…

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Via Margutta 51

We’re so pleased to Via Margutta along for the Blogathon! Clara’s blog  is a thorough delight as is her entry for the Blogathon: “Red-Headed Woman Meets Twitter.”  You read that right, and you gotta see this—it’s just a real kick and the icing on the cake for a day of stellar Harlow blogging!

My favorite tweet so far in the Lil Andrews/Bill Legendre affair:

@Lil: OMG!

Read it here


Jean Harlow, Evolution of an Actress – Part 1

The Platinum Blonde in June 1931

For Jean’s centenary and for the duration of this Blogathon, I thought it would be fun to take a step back and observe the panorama of Harlow’s growth as an actress. From awkward, unprincipled newcomer, to highly gifted and lovable comedienne over the span of just a few years.

Now… I don’t know about you, but I certainly remember the first day of work at my first big job. A day I’d like to forget, but can’t– like that memory of tripping down the stairs in High School it’s just burned in your subconscious forever. I still wince at the memory of how nervous, and therefore how AWFUL, I was at my first real job. Learning your duties on the fly, jumping in the deep end of a strange new world is nothing short of terrifying. That fear of drowning lurking behind every every teensy weensy wrong move.

Unlike Jean Harlow, my first “big job” was inside a four walled office in a strip mall in the suburbs and only I have to live with the still painful memory of just how much of a novice I was at it.

For Jean, it was photographed in glorious silvery nitrate, splashed on a screen twenty feet tall, viewed by untold millions of people and dissected and criticized by the public press. Preserved for all eternity.

Harlean Carptenter became an actress because she had to pay the bills, simple as that. She’d been living the high life in Los Angeles with her young and newly wealthy husband and only turned up at the studios in order to win a bet from a friend that she didn’t have the guts to do it. But when she split from her husband and suddenly had her mother and stepfather to support, she had only one option to exploit: movie work.

The starlet circa 1930

And so Jean Harlow was born. And so an image was created. Her striking beauty and figure made her a natural for the movies. Her talent as a dramatic actress?

Well. A few things to keep in mind when watching Jean’s early features. A thoroughly inexperienced young girl was suddenly thrust into the glaring Hollywood spotlight, expected to have the acting chops that matched her image, and when it proved an arduous, was more or less devoured by the critics. She was also the sole supporter of a manipulative opportunist (her mother, Jean Harlow) and a flamboyant charlatan (her stepfather, Marino Bello) and the pressure for her to succeed was relentless.

Her first big break came when independent filmmaker and entrepreneur Howard Hughts cast her in the lead of his first Hollywood picture, Hell’s Angels. (The decades have been kind to Harlow’s performance– her rough edges and unpolished manner have a certain raw appeal.) But Harlow was plagued with insecurities about her acting on the set of Hell’s Angels resulted in a poignant exchange between her and director  James Whales saying.

Harlow in the only color footage of her in existance: the two-strip Technicolor segment of Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels (1930). Hardly Shakespeare, but brevity was definitely the soul of her character's wit.

"Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" Harlow thought it was the corniest line ever written. Time has proved otherwise.

“Tell me exactly what you want,” Harlow pleaded with Whale, “and I’ll do it.”

He shot back, exasperated, “I can tell you how to be an actress, yes. But I can’t tell you show to be a woman.”

Her work in The Public Enemy proved little better and the critics universally panned her acting ability. Especially next to the explosively talented newcomer James Cagney, Harlow is notably tense and reseved.

“She was embarrassing,” recalled co-star Mae Clark, “just embarrassing.” One critic concurred with the simple statement: “Jean Harlow is awful.”

And still, the public came. She had something, obviously, but how to present it?

Enter Platinum Blonde. (A film that Eve’s Reel Life did a fabulous job of analyzing for the blogathon.) The film’s title was changed to fit its increasingly popular female lead. This early Frank Capra film is best remembered for the exceptional performance of the lead, Robert Williams. Harlow plays the same sexual conquest as before but with this film Harlow has a leg to stand on: even if her acting talents were still in the process of being defined, one thing was quite clear. The public was coming to see her.

But Harlow was not the only one fighting to make a successful transition. Hollywood itself was also in the midst of a very clunky transition from silent to sound. (Hell’s Angels itself a veritable documentary of the sound revolution). It’s interesting to note that Jean’s acting improved with each film, right along with the same technology that would, ever so ironically, wind up providing Jean with her key strength: dialogue.

Harlow opposite Cagney in The Public Enemy

Languishing under her contract with Howard Hughes, she was finally acquired, thanks to the manic persistence of MGM producer (and future husband) Paul Bern where she was very reluctantly (Thalberg’s desperate last resort) cast in the most “unfilmable” movie in Hollywood, a racy sex film called Red Headed Woman. But the film had the good fortune of being adapted by the fast and witty screenwriter Anita Loos, who penned the red-headed Lil Andrews with sass and zippy one-liners.

Jean Harlow fired off the lines like a six-shooter at the OK Corral.

Harlow’s hard work  was about to pay off. Although she resented being painted to the public as a salacious man-eater, the result was solid gold. MGM had a formidable star on their hands. The Legion of Decency had a hernia. The critics took note.

The rest was history.

Blog it for Baby: Day One of the Jean Harlow Blogathon

The Jean Harlow Blogathon Day One!

Today The Jean Harlow Blogathon kicks off and we are off to a roaring start! Thoughtful, imaginative and introspective—everyone is really putting out some beautiful work which just amps up the excitement of what’s in store for the rest of the week.

Thanks to all the participants who have jumped on board for this special week of activity! Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?

color by Victor Mascaro

Carole & Company:

Vincent from Carole & Co., who has been a major supporter of this Blogathon, has created an alternate universe in which real-life friends Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard have swapped careers. Let’s Switch” is a winsome short story that asks us to tap into our imagination and wonder how might they have fared in the other’s films:

Harlow, Lombard: Let’s switch!

For the centenary of Jean Harlow’s birth, I tried to find a way to commemorate it – especially since this will be part of a Harlow blogathon at “The Kitty Packard Pictorial,” a superb site on Harlow, classic Hollywood and popular culture (

An entry linking Carole Lombard and Harlow isn’t easy. Although they were good friends and were beloved by casts and crews throughout filmland, no picture of them together has ever been discovered – a holy grail among both fandoms. Carole’s first husband, William Powell, later had an intense, but ill-fated, romance with Harlow, and Lombard’s second husband, Clark Gable, was renowned for his steamy romantic films with Jean (although in real life, they were good friends, never lovers).

So, what’s a writer to do? Use imagination, that’s what. I’m going to create an alternate universe where Lombard stars in Harlow’s movies, and vice versa. How might these silver screen goddesses have fared in each other’s films?

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Kevin Scrantz runs a fascinating blog called Clarosureaux and specializes in colorizing and restoring vintage photography. He’s also a Jean Harlow enthusiast as you will find in his post Harlow Centenary:

March 3 will mark Jean Harlow’s 100th birthday, so pretty much my entire blog will be devoted to her for the next couple of weeks

As part of the celebration of her hundredth year, the Max Factor Museum in Hollywood will be hosting a new Harlow exhibit that contains such cool items as her Packard and a mural that once hung in Paul Bern‘s Benedict Canyon home depicting Harlow, Joan Crawford, and a host of other MGM stars as medieval courtiers.

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Eve’s Reel Life

Oh that Lady Eve Sidwich! Her Eve’s Reel Life blog is a real treasure trove : an intelligent blend of thoughtful prose and painstaking research and she has really outdone herself with “Platinum Blonde and Beyond“. Here she takes a look at one of Harlow’s early features, Platinum Blonde, and within the contextual framework of Harlow’s early career she does a marvelous job of pinpointing what makes Platinum Blonde pivotal:

It was her trademark, her calling card and, in 1931, the name of a film in which she received third billing. Platinum Blonde had originally been intended as a vehicle for top-billed star Loretta Young but, by the time it was released, the film’s title had changed and changed again until it was an outright reference to pale-haired co-star Jean Harlow. It was not Harlow’s breakout picture, that had come with Hell’s Angels (1930), nor is it generally cited as one of her great classics, but Platinum Blonde was pivotal – it proclaimed her stardom.

In 1931, the 20-year-old starlet was still under an oppressive five-year contract with Howard Hughes, producer/director of Hell’s Angels. She had proven her appeal in the film, but Hughes had no projects in the works for her and most Hollywood insiders believed he was mismanaging her career. Harlow’s then-friend/future husband Paul Bern arranged for her loan to MGM for The Secret Six (1931) an underworld drama with Wallace Beery and not-yet-famous Clark Gable.

Immediately after, she was loaned out to Universal for an unsympathetic role in The Iron Man (1931), a boxing drama with Lew Ayres. While still on that project, she went back to MGM for retakes on The Secret Six and began work on her next film, this time on loan to Warner Brothers for the gangster classic The Public Enemy (1931), with James Cagney. Her fourth film in five months was for Fox, Goldie (1931), a comedy with Spencer Tracy. Of these films only The Public Enemy was an unqualified hit, and it was a blockbuster, but it was Cagney who became the overnight star…Harlow’s allure was noted, but her performance was widely panned.


The Hollywood Revue:

Angela with The Hollywood Revue is a super swell dame and, in honor of Jean’s centenary, she has published a great review of one of Jean Harlow’s best films, Wife vs. Secretary. It’s also in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the film’s release back on Febraury 28 1936:

Van Stanhope (Clark Gable) seems to have it all: he’s a very successful magazine publisher, he’s been very happily married to Linda (Myrna Loy) for three years, and he’s got Whitey (Jean Harlow), the best secretary he could ever want.  Most wives would be worried about their husbands having secretaries, who look like Whitey, but Linda trusts Van completely and she has every reason to.  At least she trusts him until all the suggestions from friends and family that Whitey must be one of those secretaries finally start to get to her.  But Linda isn’t the only one jealous of Van and Whitey’s working relationship.  Whitey’s boyfriend Dave (James Stewart) wants to marry her, but she loves her job and doesn’t want to quit to stay at home.

When Van decides to take on a new business venture, he has to keep it top secret from everyone, including Linda.  Whitey is the only person who knows what’s going on.  So when he says he’s been at a club all afternoon one day, Linda does a little investigating and finds out he wasn’t at the club all day, he was with Whitey.  Linda begins to fear that all those insinuations were right after all, she has no idea that he and Whitey were working together on the new business deal.  Things get even worse when at a company skating party, Linda thinks Van and Whitey look like a little too friendly and she asks Van to transfer Whitey to a new job.  Van refuses and Linda eventually decides she’s being ridiculous and Van promises to take her on vacation soon to make it up to her.

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The Platinum Page:

Ah, the lovely Lisa Burks. If you’re a fan of Harlow’s you almost certainly have spent many an hour at her Platinum Page. It was the first such one on the Internet dedicated to Harlow and is still the place to go for anything and everything related to her. It is hardly surprising, then, that in her post Harlow 100 Week she has proposed a truly beautiful gesture in Jean’s honor:

This weekend I had my thinking cap on to come up with some article ideas, when my friend and fellow Harlow fan Reg Williams pinged me about his efforts to encourage fans to fill Jean’s room in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale with flowers.

If you’d like to participate, contact The Flower Shop at Forest Lawn to place your order. Please note, Forest Lawn’s $3 placement fee will apply.  The delivery location is Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Benediction, Private Family Mausoleum Room #34, Crypt B.

How will we know if the goal is met? Being a private room, special permission is needed to visit in person. The Platinum Page is on the case and will be working our contacts to bring you officially sanctioned updates, so stay tuned!

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Keep the links coming, everyone!

Join in the celebration and email The Pictorial!

The Kitty Packard Pictorial of the Month: Jean Harlow

harlow1I am going to be closed off to the world tonight, January 10, as TCM airs a 5-film tribute to the silver screen’s original (and my favorite) platinum blonde bombshell, Jean Harlow, with Dinner At Eight (1933), Bombshell (1933), Platinum Blonde (1931), Hold Your Man (1933) and The Public Enemy (1931).  This being the case, I felt it to be the perfect opportunity to introduce a new Kitty Packard Pictorial feature: the Pictorial of the Month.  The Pictorial of the Month will be a special spotlight on a classic icon of yesteryear and it is only appropriate that our inaugural Pictorial should belong to Miss Harlow as she is the reason this blog is even here to begin with.

Jean Harlow’s tragically short 26 years of life were marked with tragedy, disappointments, heartbreak and, of course, a tremendously successful screen career. Her intensely sensual on screen presence ignited American movies and gave the world something it had never before known: the blonde bombshell. She was beautiful, true, but hers was an attainable beauty that led even Harlow herself to admit that “men like me because I don’t wear a brassiere. Women like me because I don’t look like a girl who would steal a husband.” She was a natural comedienne with a gift for belting out the difficult, rapid-fire dialogue that made some of the best films of the mid 30s truly unforgettable.  She was not, even by her own admission, a great actress and because of this awareness Harlow worked hard at her craft and eventually would successfully hone her screen personality into one of the most enduring in motion picture history: the sassy, saucy girl from the wrong side of the tracks.


But Jean Harlow’s on screen character belied the real girl underneath. She was not Dinner at Eight’s common-as-the cold Kitty Packard, nor Red Headed Woman’s amoral Lil Andrews.  Harlean Carpenter was a shy dentist’s daughter with a heart of gold from a perfectly respectable middle class Kansas City family. She was an actress simply because it was her job and would have been quite happy darning socks for a household of little Harleans. Her mild nature and her mother’s constant presence led her to be known as ‘the baby’ around the MGM. Unlike her rivals like Joan Crafword, Harlow was known for knitting and hemstitching in between takes, was something of a bookworm and was generous to a fault.

The story of Jean Harlow’s movie stardom is a curious one indeed since it was never truly her career–it belonged to her mother, Jean Harlow. And by extension, one could argue that Jean Harlow didn’t really ever have a life of her own–it too belonged to her mother who had an extraordinarily firm grip on every aspect of her daughter’s life.  Throughout Harlean’s childhood, her relationship with her mother was of uncommon closeness. Harlean had health issues as a child including a bout of scarlet fever, which only added to Mother Jean’s protectiveness.


After Mother Jean’s divorce in the early 1920s, she packed up and moved herself and her only daughter out to Hollywood where Harlean attended the Hollywood School for Girls and Mother Jean pursued her dream of acting.  She was beautiful, but simply too old, and with her dreams thwarted, they were soon headed back for Missouri. There, Mother Jean married a man of questionable work ethics named Marino Bello. Not long after, a 16-year-old Harlean eloped with a young businessman who had a large inheritance. She left school forever and the headed for the West Coast with her new husband where they lived lavishly in the Los Angeles social circles. She was free of her Mother for the time being, but Mother Jean and her husband weren’t far behind. When Harlean’s marriage fell apart, she realized that there was only one way to support herself and her mother and father-in-law in their accustomed fashion.  Having done movie work before, purely as a laugh (she’d been bet by a friend that she didn’t have the guts to audition), it was the only professional experience she actually had to her credit and, urged by a mother obsessed with living out her thwarted dreams through daughter, Harlean adopted her mother’s name and became a regular at Fox Studios’s central casting.

Her bit in the Laurel & Hardy silent laffer Double Whoppee was memorable for some very obvious reasons but the roles were largely very forgettable. And then came Howard Hughes. In 1929, Hughes was in the middle of re shooting his massively over budget wartime epic Hell’s Angels when Jean was brought to his attention.  He hired her on the spot. Her role as the vamping girl toy Helen (which features the only color footage of Harlow in existence) floored audiences but was slammed by the critics who called her, among other things, just ‘awful.’ The movie was a box-office grand slam. She had something–even if it wasn’t a pair of acting chops. Her next roles were more of the same bad girl floozy type that Hells Angels had pigeonholed her as and, as a result, made Louis B Mayer quite indifferent to the urging of producer Paul Bern to try and acquire Harlow from Hughes. She just wasn’t, in Mayer’s opinion, a lady. But when Bern bended Irving Thalberg‘s ear, Thalberg listened and MGM bought Harlow from Hughes.


Jean’s rise to superstardom wasn’t overnight. Harlow was placed in the lead role for Red Headed Woman with Chester Morris and then opposite MGM’s top male star, Clark Gable, in Victor Fleming’s Red Dust. Both were tremendously popular with audiences and both were tremendously troubling to the censors, leading to increased efforts to enforce the unpopular Hays Production Code. These roles were manipulative women who lacked any type of moral instinct, slept their way around town, drank and spoke in thinly veiled innuendos. Because Harlow nailed the characters so well, it led many to believe that was who she was. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. In real life, the role was reversed: it was Harlow who allowed herself to be manipulated by those she loved most and she worked hard to keep her mother approving and to keep her father-in-law, whom she disliked intensely, quiet. Of course it needs to be said that she didn’t exactly make the best decisions. But since when do 21 year old’s make good decisions?


Paul Bern, the producer that had brought Harlow to MGM proposed to her in 1932. She was 21. He was 43. The marriage was a mistake from the beginning and lasted all of two months, ending when Bern was found dead in their home from a shot to the head. MGM were masters of staving off scandal and they put round the story that Bern had shot himself in the head because he was impotent and incapable of consummating his marriage with Harlow, getting the idea from a note supposedly ‘left’ by Bern’s body. The note read simply: “you understand that last night was only a comedy.” (The Paul Bern death could fill the pages of a novel, so for more information on the mystery pick up a copy of David Stenn’s most excellent Harlow biography Bombshell.) Bern was Irving Thalberg’s best friend and at first he and wife Norma Shearer, along with a number of Bern’s other friends, shunned Harlow. But even after Harlow was cleared of any involvement with Bern’s death and the Hollywood community began to rally around her in support, Harlow blamed herself entirely and felt unworthy of the sympathy of any of her colleagues. It worsened Harlow’s already considerable inferiority complex she suffered from under her mother’s autocratic rule and she developed two excesses: an overdeveloped guilt complex and a growing dependency upon alcohol.


Recovery from scandal is hard enough today even in our ultra-permissive society, but in those days scandal could literally mean the end of your career. But after Paul Bern’s death, Harlow’s career skyannex-harlow-jean-reckless_01rocketed into superstardom. Bombshell, Dinner at Eight Hold Your Man, China Sea. She had found her knack for comedy. The critics suddenly found themselves praising her street-smart approach. Dinner at Eight was a George Cukor’s masterpiece. Bombshell was Jean Harlow as Jean Harlow–it was practically an autobiography and she was positively infectious. China Sea was yet another Harlow-Gable smash. Then came Reckless. Harlow could neither sing nor dance, and here she was expected to star in a film about a famous singer. Her mother’s constant presence on the set added to the pressure. A fellow dancer in the cast recounted stories of Harlow getting hungry and her mother allowing her daughter a scant ration of cottage cheese and shredded carrots each day. The film was a flop.

Harlow was fed up with people thinking she was ‘that kind of a girl,’ and MGM went about the business of remaking her image with one smart move: her platinum locks were darkened to ‘brownette.’ Harlow was thrilled. “No woman will ever be afraid of me again,” she said with relief at finally not having to live up to the platinum image that was so very much unlike herself. Her roles in Riffraff and Wife vs. Secretary were a complete 180 from the Lil Andrews and Kitty Packards of the past.


Reckless had brought her into the life of the older and urbane William Powell. Jean truly believed that she had finally met the love of her life. It is no secret that Harlow loved Powell considerably more than he did her, but they became serious lovers nonetheless. The did get along well together and Powell was very good for her in that he taught her a lot about taking control of her finances as well as trying to get her to take steps to try and pry her from her mother and father-in-laws dominance. But the problem was that Powell didn’t understand that Harlow was completely unlike the other girls he normally went with. Whereas the likes of Carol Lombard were street tough and brilliantly witty, Harlow was shy, sensitive and overly eager to please. Powell was a great put-down artist—he knew Harlow had a brain and was nothing like her on screen characters, but he liked to make digs at her about it nonetheless.

Although it may have very well been all in fun, his digs inwardly devastated the insecure Harlow. He thought that Harlow could just take it, the way everyone else could. He thought wrong. Harlow was heartsick over Powell’s unwillingness to marry her and her drinking worsened. The perpetually guilt-stricken Harlow could never hope to understand that it was not her fault: Powell was simply afraid to marry her.


Myrna Loy, Powell’s famous co-star, became a close confident of Jean’s during her roller coaster relationship with Powell and called her friendship with Harlow one of her ‘most treasured.’Loy is also one of the many people who noticed a marked change in Harlow’s appearance and urged her to consider seeing a doctor. Harlow had started to put on weight and was frequently tired and irritable. But in spite of her personal uncertainty, her pictures continued to be solid blockbusters. Libeled Lady was one of the best comedies of the 30s and her next film Saratoga re-teamed her with Gable.


But the people around Harlow knew she wasn’t well. George Hurrell had to retouch her photographs and her extreme unhappiness had begun to changer her very personality. Close friend Rosalind Russell had to make repeated trips to local bars to take Harlow home. Russell would later say that Harlow became “a sad girl, driven by her mother, madly in love with a man who wouldn’t marry her and drinking too much.” Russell was very concerned when she saw Harlow, who was not an angry or violent person, become blatantly hostile. It was the other end of the pendulum. Biographer Stenn says “the more she drank, the more she hated her mother. She became verbally abusive. On film, Harlow’s fury was funny. Off screen, her tantrums were terrifying.


Filming for Saratoga was not smooth going and Harlow became increasingly unwell. No one could have dreamed that MGM’s ‘baby,’ all of 26 years old, was dying. The rumors of the cause of her death were far-fetched and blown out of proportion for years, but Jean’s death was the result of uremic poisoning and kidney failure. The scarlet fever she suffered in her childhood had doomed her and her kidneys had been failing for years. True, she was misdiagnosed, but even if she had been properly diagnosed, in the 1930s there was no such thing as dialysis for kidney failure. Nothing could have been done to save her. And even if there had, her Doctor later said that Harlow ‘didn’t want to be saved. She had no will to live whatsoever.’

It took years for a devastated William Powell to recover from Jean’s death. Without her ‘baby,’ Mother Jean deteriorated into an eventual state of complete dementia. Workers at MGM left their sets, unable to work when they heard the news. Harlow probably would have never believed any of it.


But Harlow’s image has passed on into immortality and her spirit is preserved perfectly on celluloid. Long after we’re gone, the simple dentist’s daughter from the Midwest who never thought anything of herself will still be there for the world to see: beautiful, young and eternal.