Jean Harlow, with her soft come-hither body, platinum blonde hair, and keen
sense of humor, is recognized as one of the most gifted and blatantly sensual
stars of the 1930s. Harlow endured much pain during her 26 years. Born Harlean
Carpenter in Kansas City, she was the daughter of Jean Harlow Carpenter (whose
name the actress appropriated for the marquee), the complex, often oppressive
force behind her daughter's sudden rise to fame. When she was only 16, the young
Harlow eloped with a businessman and moved to Los Angeles, where she began appearing
as an extra in silent films. She was particularly noticed for her appearance
in a 1929 Laurel and Hardy short Double Whoopee. That year she also played a
small role opposite reigning sex symbol Clara Bow in The Saturday Night Kid.
In 1930, Harlow got her first real break from Howard Hughes, who cast her in
his World War I drama Hell's Angels after he found the film's original star
Greta Nissen's Swedish accent incomprehensibly thick. It was in this film that
she uttered the immortal words "Would you be shocked if I changed into
something more comfortable?" Harlow's wise-cracking presence in the film
soon attracted much attention, and Hughes sent her out on a publicity tour and
loaned her to other studios. In 1931 she appeared in six films; while her performances
were often panned by critics and audiences were initially shocked by her almost
lurid onscreen sexuality, she gradually began to develop a following. She achieved
real fame in 1932 when MGM bought her contract and decided to give her more
substantial parts. In films such as Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust (both 1932)
Harlow demonstrated that she was not only extremely sexy and funny, she was
also a first-rate actress; by the year's end she was a bonafide star playing
opposite some of the industry's most popular men, including Clark Gable and
Spencer Tracy. Unfortunately, as her professional career flourished, her personal
life began to deteriorate, beginning with the alleged suicide of her second
husband Paul Bern. Though there was a subsequent scandal surrounding his demise,
it did not impact Harlow's popularity. Later she ended up briefly married to
cinematographer Harold Rosson, and then had a long engagement with MGM star
William Powell. While filming Saratoga in 1937, Harlow suddenly fell ill; ten
days later, on June 7, she died at age 26. During her reign, Harlow had starred
in less than twenty films. At the time of her death, no details as to why she
died were released, but several years later it was revealed that Harlow had
suffered from kidney disease most of her life, and that she died of acute uremic
poisoning. Her life has been chronicled in several biographies and two subsequent
movies, both named Harlow.
Saratoga (1937) .... Carol Clayton
Personal Property (1937) .... Crystal Wetherby
Libeled Lady (1936) .... Gladys Benton
Suzy (1936) .... Suzanne 'Suzy' Trent
Wife vs. Secretary (1936) .... Helen 'Whitey' Wilson
Riffraff (1936) .... Harriet 'Hattie'/'Hat' Tuttle
China Seas (1935) .... Dolly 'China Doll' Portland
Reckless (1935) .... Mona Leslie
The Girl from Missouri (1934) .... Edith 'Eadie' Chapman
Bombshell (1933) .... Lola Burns
Dinner at Eight (1933) .... Kitty Packard
Hold Your Man (1933) .... Ruby Adams
Red Dust (1932) .... Vantine 'Miss Van'/'Lily' Jefferson
Red-Headed Woman (1932) .... Lillian 'Lil'/'Red' Andrews Legendre
The Beast of the City (1932) .... Daisy Stevens, aka Mildred Beaumont
Three Wise Girls (1932) .... Cassie Barnes
Beau Hunks (1931) (uncredited) .... Jeanie-Weenie (in photo)
Platinum Blonde (1931) .... Anne Schuyler
Goldie (1931) .... Goldie
Iron Man (1931/I) .... Rose Mason
The Public Enemy (1931) .... Gwen Allen
The Secret Six (1931) .... Anne Courtland
City Lights (1931) (uncredited) .... Extra in restaurant scene
Hell's Angels (1930) (as Jean Harlowe) .... Helen
New York Nights (1929) (uncredited) .... Party Girl
Weak But Willing (1929) (uncredited)
This Thing Called Love (1929) (uncredited) .... Bit Part
The Love Parade (1929) (uncredited) .... Woman applauding in theater box
The Saturday Night Kid (1929) (uncredited) .... Hazel
Bacon Grabbers (1929) .... Mrs. Kennedy
Thundering Toupees (1929)
Double Whoopee (1929) .... Swanky blonde
The Unkissed Man (1929) (uncredited)
Close Harmony (1929) (uncredited)
Why Is a Plumber? (1929) (uncredited)
Why Be Good? (1929) (uncredited) .... Bit Part
Fugitives (1929) (uncredited) .... Bit Part
Liberty (1929) .... Woman in cab
Chasing Husbands (1928)
Moran of the Marines (1928) (uncredited) .... Bit part
Honor Bound (1928) (uncredited) .... Extra
-Married to Harold Rosson (13 September 1933 - 1935) (divorced)
-Married to Paul Bern (2 July 1932 - 5 September 1932) (his death)
-Married to Charles Fremont McGrew (1927 - 1929) (divorced)
-Was the godmother of Millicent Siegel, daughter of the notorious mobster
-Dated the notorious mobster Abner "Longy" Zwillman, who secured
a two-picture deal for Harlow with Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures by loaning
Cohn $500,000 in cash. He also purchased her a jeweled charm bracelet and
a red Cadillac.
-Was photographed nude at age 17 by Hollywood photographer Edward Bower Hesser
in Griffith Park in 1928.
-Her funeral wasn't the average funeral. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, took
charge and made it a Hollywood "event." He had Jeanette MacDonald
and Nelson Eddy sing his favorite song, "Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life"
,in the church chapel, followed by a huge banquet with an orchestra.
-She was at a dinner party and kept on addressing Margot Asquith (wife of
prime minister Herbert Asquith) as MargoT (pronouncing the 'T'). Margot finally
had enough and said to her "No Jean, the T is silent, as in Harlow".
-Had two famous superstitions: She always wore a "lucky" ankle
chain on her left leg (visible in some films if you look closely), and had
a "lucky" mirror in her dressing room. She wouldn't leave the room
without first looking at it.
-Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA, in the Great Mausoleum,
Sanctuary of Benediction, at the end of the corridor, on the left side, second
to the last private room marked "Harlow."
-Favorite brand of cigarette - Fatima.
- Never wore any underwear and always slept in the nude.
-She had to stick to a strict diet to keep thin, eating mostly vegetables
-She used to put ice on her nipples right before shooting a scene in order
to appear sexier.
-Her birth name was Harlean Carpenter - the first name an amalgam of her
mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow, which she later took as her stage name.
At the height of her career, it came out that this wasn't her real name, and
the insatiable public wanted to know what her real name was. The studio released
her 'real' name as Harlean Carpentier. The 'I' they added in her last name
was done to make it sound more foreign and romantic.
-Following the end of her third marriage she met actor William Powell. They
were together for two years, but Jean became ill and died before Powell proposed
-Known as the "original blonde bombshell", pre-dating Marilyn Monroe
as a blonde sex symbol.
-On the day Hollywood canine superstar Rin Tin Tin died at age of 16 (112
in doggie years), Harlow, who lived across the street from his master, Lee
Duncan, came over and cradled the dog's head in her lap as the famous pooch
made his final exit to Doggie Heaven.
[On Hell's Angels (1930)] "When I was making a personal appearance,
I'd always sneak in the back of the house to watch the zeppelin airplane attack.
I never failed to get a tremendous thrill out of it. I probably saw that scene
hundreds of times."
"I was not a born actress. No one knows it better than I. If I had any
latent talent, I have had to work hard, listen carefully, do things over and
over and then over again in order to bring it out."
"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. At least not for long."