Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Star of the Month



BIRTH: March 3, 1911

DEATH: June 7, 1937

AGED: 26 yrs old

DIED FROM: Cerebral Edema caused by uremic poisoning due to Kidney failure

REAL NAME: Harlean Carpenter

NICKNAME: Baby-she thought that was her real name until she went to school. Sis but only by Clark Gable. The Blonde Bombshell; The Platinum Blonde

MARRIAGES: 3-a rich playboy, Charles McGraw(1927-1928), Producer, Paul Bern (1932), Harold Rosson (1933-1934)

AFFAIRS: Abner Zwillman, notorious mobster; Max Baer, a famous boxer.

ENGAGED: William Powell

TALENT: Knew how to make sex OK before and during the censorship stronghold. 

KNOWN FOR: Being Godmother to Bugsy Siegel’s daughter. Cradled the famous dog, Rin Tin Tin when he was dying of old age. She was known for her peroxide, bleached hair and extreme, penciled in eyebrows. Wearing a lot of white gowns and, no underwear so had to, apparently, dye her pubic hair platinum. Took ice cubes to her nipples so they would stick out from the outfits she wore. 

This is one famous, classic film star that Marilyn Monroe idolized and where that term, blonde bombshell, was coined( by Howard Hughes). She was pretty free-spirited even though she and her mom were extremely close. Her mom credited herself for making “Baby” famous when, in fact, she and her mobster husband, often took advantage of their daughter’s fame and money.  When Harlow married Paul Bern, an MGM Producer, married, no one expected he was to die 2 months later leaving behind a note ending it with, “Remember, last night was only a comedy.”  The suicide by gunshot still stands but I don’t buy it nor do I buy that he had underdeveloped genitalia because, simply, this gal would never have  been with him as she loved sex, in my humble opinion. I believe, like a book I read ( I can’t think of it now…Maybe, it’s called “Deadly Illusion.”) that he was still married to his first wife whom he had institutionalized and never told anyone. She escaped and he had to tell his “new” wife about his actual wife but asked Jean to leave so he could talk to his first wife. This first wife shot and killed Paul Bern with MGM execs covering up the fact that their star was involved with a bigamist. His first wife was found a few days later, drowned and, it seems, she jumped off a bridge into the river. Jean Harlow never talked about it.  She married her 3rd husband, with his understanding, since they were good friends, to ward off unwanted publicity from her affair with the boxer, Max Baer because his wife was going to name Harlow in the divorce proceedings. 

She met and fell hard for William Powell who was quite a bit older than her, but they seemed to be quite happy until she started to get weaker. People commented on how she looked ashen and bloated but, when she saw a doctor, he misdiagnosed her. She was making her last film, Saratoga Trunk with her friend and oft-filmed companion, Clark Gable when she collapsed on set. When Gable went to visit her,  he could smell urine on her breath but, by this time, it was too late and, she died at only 26. For decades and, in many of my books, it was written that Her mother, Mama Jean, a devout Christian Scientist, refused to have her looked at by a doctor, but that seems to be debunked and, let’s face it, MGM would never let one of their stars languish like this without a doctor because she was too much of a commodity for them.

She was actually too young to die.


1. Hell’s Angels-1930

2. Public Enemy-1931

3. Platinum Blonde-1931

4. Red-Headed Woman-1932

5. Red Dust- 1932

6. Dinner At Eight-1932

7. Bombshell-1933

8. China Seas-1935

9. Wife Vs Secretary-1936

10. Libeled Lady-1936


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  2. What a tragedy to die so young! Thanks for that fascinating back story on Jean Harlow. I'd only read the underdeveloped genitalia story. Dinner At Eight is one of my favourite classic films!

    1. Yeah that story never sounded right to me but when I read that book, it all fell into place.

  3. Hi, Birgit!

    Sorry I'm late, dearie. I've been on the road all day and just now getting back.

    Jean Harlow is a name I remember hearing many times in my youth. From discussions about her on blogs like yours, I was aware that she took ill and died very young, an untimely death that apparently could have been prevented had she or the studio sought a second opinion regarding her diagnosis and treatment. What a terrible waste.

    However, Jean is not an actress whose work I have closely followed. I can think of several reasons. In general, early talkies and films of the 1930s do not interest me as much as films released in the 40s and later. Perhaps I was spoiled by blonde bombshell MM. Perhaps I prefer softer, kittenish characters like those often played by MM to the hard nosed, tough talking dames Jean often played.

    I'm sure you know that Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies was played by Max Baer Jr., son of the famous boxer with ties to Harlow.

    Thank you for shining the spotlight on Jean Harlow, a fine actress whose life was cut tragically short, but whose legend lives on. Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday, dear friend BB. I'll be back to see you tamale on Song Day Wednesday!

  4. I knew she died young, but I did not know it was due to kidney failure. Yikes. They so should have caught that sooner.

  5. I knew she was young when she died, but I had no idea she was THAT young...

  6. She was scary young when she first married as well!

  7. Jean is a big favorite of mine, so I heartily approve you choosing her for this month’s spotlight!

    At the beginning of her brief career she was painfully uncomfortable (her work in The Public Enemy is particularly mechanical) and stiff in front of the camera, though she still radiated a strong presence that drew the audience’s eye to her. Even she was aware of this and commented on it in her typical plainspoken way, but she worked hard and after MGM bought her contract and Paul Bern took an interest in her she blossomed. She was never completely comfortable in drama but she found her niche in comedy and at her best few match her special magic.

    A lot of her private life was a monkey show but mostly not of her doing. The whole Paul Bern mess seems almost too odd to be true, not sure if he could have been convicted of bigamy since Dorothy Millette was merely his common-law wife and no actual ceremony took place but I do believe it was she who shot him and then wandered away to San Francisco and leapt from the ferry to her death.

    Jean’s look was very distinctive and very much of its time but I think she would have adapted and changed with the times. After China Seas where she was the full-on platinum blonde of legend she and Louis B. Mayer worked together to soften her appearance and broaden her appeal. Her softer look and more natural hair color (supposedly wigs since over bleaching had destroyed her hair several years before) and a move into more refined roles would have kept her from being trapped in the bombshell strait-jacket. It was working too, where some of her contemporaries careers were faltering she was a cash cow for the studio and was to be loaned to 20th Century Fox for “In Old Chicago” at the time of her passing. Such a shame but I doubt that even if she had been properly diagnosed that there was much at the time the medical profession could have done once her kidneys were damaged by scarlet fever, though they might have been able to prolong her death for a few years.

    Through the years I’ve managed to see all her films, so many for such a short career! A mixed bag but my top ten would run in this order:

    Red Dust-she and Gable are pure sex on a stick in this.
    Libeled Lady-her best performance in a film full of wonderful work.
    Dinner at Eight
    Wife vs. Secretary
    China Seas
    Red-Headed Woman
    Personal Property
    The Secret Six
    Hold Your Man

    The biggest missed opportunity in her filmography was her pairing with Cary Grant in the disappointing “Suzy” which starts well and then deflates into turgid soap opera misusing both performers gift for comedy. There were plans in place to reunite the pair much more ideally in “Topper” but her death prevented that.

    By the way her final film is titled Saratoga not Saratoga Trunk (a weird misfire with Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper). Saratoga is a weird viewing experience if you know the backstory. You spend most of the time distracted by the knowledge that only about 2/3 of her scenes are actually Jean (sometimes it switches back and forth between her doubles and she within the same sequence!) and for most of it she doesn’t look well.

    1. I know it’s not Saratoga Trunk…ughh either I just mindlessly wrote that or my iPad decided to finish what it didn’t need to…lol. I’m so glad you enjoyed my writing here. You’re right tht he was just common law but I just think of it as married…my bad. I believe she would have evolved and would have been in so many great roles but we shall never know.

    2. I also meant to say that love your line up of your favourite Harlow films and I have to agree. Can you imagine being at the funeral hearing Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy since Indian Love Call?

  8. She really worked hard in her short time, didn’t she?

    1. She did work hard and was in many movies for her short life.

  9. I've heard of Jean Harlow, but have never seen her in film or knew anything about her. So sad, but at least medical diagnoses have come a long way since she died.

    1. Today, she would have been in and out of the hospital and she would have kept on going.