By Chantel Theunissen
After just a decade of movie making her star was shot down - but it was
enough time to make a legend out of the original screen goddess - Jean
Jean Harlow was born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3,
1911. The daughter of a successful dentist, she had a comfortable
upbringing. But teenage rebellion got the better of her and when she was 16
when she ran away from home and eloped with a young Kansas businessman by the
name of Charles McGrew.
The couple relocated to Los Angeles, where Jean's natural beauty and ease in
front of the camera led to some work as an extra in movies. Jean soon caught
the acting bug and over the next couple of years she was able to make a
living on bit parts. However her marriage to McGrew was a disaster and they divorced after 2 years. Jean now threw all her energies into pursuing an
After three frustrating years her hard work paid off. In 1930 she landed a
dream role in a big budget movie called "Hell's Angels". The movie was a
hit, and Jean became MGM's newest starlet - complete with her own $60,000
contract. Her 1931 flick "Platinum Blond" cemented her bankability. With her
sassy attitude and voluptuous figure she became the ultimate object of
desire for red blooded males across the globe. But the movie moguls ensured
that the marketing spin on Jean created something more than the usual breed
of cinema starlet; she became the first real screen goddess.
In 1931 MGM took a gamble and paired Jean with hunky heartthrob
Gable. The gamble worked. The duo were terrific together, creating an
unforgettable onscreen chemistry. Millions were made for MGM and the fame of
both actors' were elevated to extraordinary levels. Harlow and Gable did a
total of 6 films together. During the filming of their second film "Red
Dust" Jean received the news that her second husband of only a few weeks,
Paul Bern, had apparently committed suicide. Many believe, however, that
Bern's former partner Harlow Bern (ironically both his lovers had the same
name)- who took her own life a few days after his death- murdered him.
MGM executives thought the tragedy might threaten production, so Louis B. Mayer rang another actress to prepare to take over Jean's role. But this
proved unnecessary. Jean soldiered on and finished the movie which became an
instant hit. This film not only increased her popularity within the general
public, but also made a few critics - who had been more than ready to trash
her previous roles - give grudging respect to the actress.
MGM now made films that were tailored to Jean's 'personality', meaning that she played a succession of women who had more beauty than brains. In "Hold
Your Man" she played a character who was loosely based on herself, allowing
her to indirectly poke fun at her family. At the end of 1933 she married Hal
Rossen but it was a shaky relationship that only lasted 8 months.
In 1935 Jean & Clark Gable got together to do their sixth film together,
"Saratoga". During the filming Jean was hospitalized and diagnosed with uremic poisoning. Ten days later she was dead. A shocked world was
devastated at the inexplicable passing of the screen's brightest star. How
could the world's sexiest woman be taken away at just 26 years of age? It
wasn't until the 90's that it was revealed that she had suffered from a
kidney disease since her teens. Saratoga was finished using Jean's double,
Mary Dees and a lot of long angle shots. Not surprisingly, it was the
highest grossing film of 1937. In 1965 2 screen biographies of her life were
made, neither of which did justice to the brief but stellar existence that
was Jean Harlow.
Chantel Theunissen is a freelance writer and
film student from New Zealand. This is her second submission to
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.
Other Jean Harlow Pages:
Jackson's Jean Harlow Page -- The Blonde Bombshell!
A Tribute to Jean
Harlow The original Blonde Bombshell would have been in her 90s today.
Instead, she died tragically at the age of 26, after only a decade of movie
appearances, leaving her fans wanting more.
Wife vs Secretary -- A mini-review of
the 1936 film right here on this site as part of Cliff's DVD Collection.