Thursday, 3 March 2011

"Harlow, Jean. On the cover of a magazine"

"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."

We have a centenary to celebrate today - for today one hundred years ago, that original "glittering shining star in the firm-a-ment" the radiant Jean Harlow was born.

Mostly known for her archetypal Hollywood glamourous image, the "Platinum Blonde" played up to her reputation as brassy and sassy, the girl who reputedly never wore a bra or knickers and bleached her pubes, but in reality was a privately-educated daughter of a respectable family.

From being "discovered" by Howard Hughes in 1930 to her untimely death in 1937 at the age of 26 (from kidney failure), the former Harlean Carpenter brought a sense of sexual energy to the screen that was magnified when the gossip columnists picked up on some of the more racy details of her personal life, including the mysterious suicide of her second husband (was it really because she laughed him out of the bedroom for being - ahem - a little less than expected?), and her passion for Carole Lombard's ex William Powell.

Certainly her movies were considered scandalous at the time - her on-screen chemistry with co-stars such as James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and especially Clark Gable was at times almost steamy, and her movie The Red-Headed Woman was even banned in Britain!

My favourite anecdote is on her famous meeting with the society hostess and wit Margot Asquith:
“Jean Harlow kept calling her by her first name, or kept trying to: she pronounced it "Margott". Finally Margot set her right. `No, no, Jean. The t is silent as in Harlow.'”

Many have pondered on exactly what direction this remarkable woman's career might have taken if she had not died so young, but suffice to say "age will never tarnish her". Hers was the biggest, most spectacular funeral service Hollywood had ever seen. More than 250 invited guests crowded into the small chapel, including Gable, Tracy, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, William Powell, Lionel Barrymore and the Marx brothers. An estimated $15,000 worth of floral tributes surrounded Harlow's coffin, and MGM studio security guards assisted cemetery staff and police in keeping fans outside the cemetery gates. The brief funeral service started with Jeanette MacDonald singing "Indian Love Call," one of Harlow's favorite songs, and ended with Nelson Eddy singing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life."

In a suitably camp tribute for her centenary, a new Jean Harlow exhibition opens today at The Hollywood Museum in the Max Factor Building in Los Angeles.

A new book Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937 is being published to mark the occasion.

Jean Harlow on IMDB


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