Jean Harlow

Annie Lee | Dec 18, 2023

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Harlean Harlow Carpenter (Kansas City, Missouri, March 3, 1911-Los Angeles, June 7, 1937), better known as Jean Harlow, was an American actress. Known for her portrayal of "bad girl" characters, she was the leading sex symbol of the early 1930s and one of the defining figures of the pre-code era of American cinema. Often dubbed the "Blonde Bombshell" or "Platinum Blonde," Harlow was popular for her screen persona "Laughing Vamp." Harlow was in the film industry for only nine years, but became one of Hollywood's biggest movie stars whose image in the public eye has endured. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Harlow 22nd on its list of great female screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema.

She was first hired by business tycoon Howard Hughes, who directed her first major role in Hell's Angels (1930). After a series of films that were poorly received by critics, and Hughes' loss of interest in her career, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought out Harlow's contract in 1932 and cast her in leading roles in a series of hits based on her comedic talent: Red-Headed Woman (1932), Red Dust (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Reckless (1935) and Suzy (1936). Harlow's popularity rivaled and later surpassed that of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's leading ladies, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. She passed away at the age of 26 from kidney failure while filming Saratoga. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer completed the film with the use of body doubles and released it less than two months after his death; it became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's most successful film of 1937, as well as the highest-grossing film of his career.

Harlean Harlow Carpenter, was born in a house located on Olive Street, Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911. His father, Mont Clair Carpenter (1877-1974), son of Abraham L. Carpenter and Dianna Beal, was a dentist who attended dental school in Kansas City. He came from a working-class background. His mother, Jean Poe Carpenter (1891-1958), was the daughter of wealthy real estate broker Skip Harlow and his wife, Ella Williams. In 1908, Skip arranged his daughter's marriage to Mont Clair Carpenter. Ella was a minor at the time and became resentful and unhappy in the marriage, but the Carpenters remained together in a Kansas City home owned by her father.

They called her "The Baby," a nickname she was accustomed to and one that lasted for the rest of her life. It wasn't until she turned five that she learned her real name was Harlean, when the staff and students at Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls used the name. Harlean was always very close to her mother, who was extremely protective. It was reported that her mother had instilled in her daughter the feeling that she owed her everything she had; "She was always all mine!" said Mama Jean about her daughter in interviews.

When Harlean was finishing school, his mother filed for divorce. On September 29, 1922, she finalized the divorce by mutual consent, giving sole custody of Harlean to his mother. Although Harlean loved his father, he did not see him often after the breakup.

In 1923, 32-year-old Jean Carpenter took her daughter and moved to Hollywood in hopes of becoming an actress, but was told she was too old to begin a film career. Harlean enrolled at the Hollywood School for Girls, where she met Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joel McCrea and Irene Mayer Selznick, but dropped out at age 14 in the spring of 1925.

Because their finances were dwindling, Jean and Harlean returned to Kansas City after Skip Harlow gave them an ultimatum that he would disinherit their daughter if they did not return. Several weeks later, Skip sent his granddaughter to a summer camp located at Camp Cha-Ton-Ka, Michigamme, Michigan, where she contracted scarlet fever. Jean Carpenter traveled to Michigan to care for Harlean, paddling across the lake to the camp, but was told she could not see her daughter.

Harlean then attended Ferry Hall School-now Lake Forest Academy-in Lake Forest, Illinois. Jean Carpenter had an ulterior motive for her daughter to attend this particular school: it was near the Chicago home of her boyfriend, Marino Bello.

1928-1929: worked as an extra

While living in Los Angeles, Harlean befriended young aspiring actress Rosalie Roy, whom she drove to Fox studios for a date. While waiting for Rosalie, Fox executives approached her, however, she told them she was not interested. Still, she received letters of application for a casting. A few days later, Rosalie Roy bet Harlean that she didn't have the guts to show up for an audition. Unwilling to lose the bet and pressured by the enthusiasm of her mother, who was with her in Los Angeles at the time, she went to Central Casting and signed with her mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow.

After several casting calls and several job offers rejected by Harlean, Mother Jean finally pressured her to accept a job at the studio. Harlean appeared in her first film, Honor Bound (1928), as an unbilled "extra" for $7 a day and a box lunch, common pay for such work. This led to a pay increase to $10 a day and small roles in features such as Moran of the Marines (1928) and Charley Chase's lost film Chasing Husbands (1928). In December 1928, Harlean, as Jean Harlow, signed a five-year contract with Hal Roach Studios for $100 a week. She had small roles in the 1929 Laurel and Hardy shorts Double Whoopee, Liberty and Bacon Grabbers, the latter of which gave her a co-starring credit.

In March 1929, she separated from Hal Roach, who broke their contract after Harlow told him, "You're breaking up my marriage, what can I do?" In June 1929, Harlow divorced her husband and moved in with her mother Jean and Bello. After her separation from McGrew, Harlow continued to work as an "extra" in films such as This Thing Called Love, Close Harmony and The Love Parade (all 1929), until she landed her first speaking role in Clara Bow's The Saturday Night Kid. Harlow and her husband divorced in 1929.

1929-1932: star as a platinum blonde

In late 1929, Ben Lyon discovered Harlow, an actor filming Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels; another account mentions Angels' lead cameraman Arthur Landau as the man who saw her and suggested her to Hughes. Hughes reshot most of his originally silent film with sound and needed an actress to replace Greta Nissen, whose Norwegian accent was undesirable for her character. Harlow screen-tested for Hughes, who cast her and signed her to a five-year, $100-a-week contract on October 24, 1929. During filming, Harlow met Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive Paul Bern.

Hell's Angels opened in Hollywood at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on May 27, 1930 and became the highest-grossing film of that year, surpassing even Greta Garbo's sound debut in Anna Christie. The film made Harlow an international star. Although popular with audiences, critics were less enthusiastic.The New Yorker called her performance "simply awful," although Variety magazine admitted, "No matter what degree of talent she one is starving to possess what she has."

Despite her relative success with Hell's Angels, Harlow again found herself in the role of an "uncredited extra" in the Charlie Chaplin film City Lights (1931), although her appearance did not make the final cut. With no other projects planned for Harlow at the time, Hughes decided to send her to New York, Seattle and Kansas City for the Hell's Angels premieres. In 1931, her Caddo Company loaned her to other studios, where she gained further attention by appearing in The Secret Six, with Wallace Beery and Clark Gable; Iron Man, with Lew Ayres and Robert Armstrong; and The Public Enemy, with James Cagney. Although the success of these films ranged from moderate to successful, critics scoffed at Harlow's acting ability. Hughes sent her on a brief publicity tour to boost her career, but this was not a success as Harlow was afraid to make personal appearances.

Harlow briefly dated Abner Zwillman, who bought her a bejeweled bracelet and a red Cadillac, and made a large cash loan to studio head Harry Cohn to obtain a two-picture contract for her at Columbia Pictures. The relationship ended when he reportedly referred to her in derogatory and vulgar terms when speaking to other associated criminal figures, as revealed in secret surveillance footage.

Columbia Pictures first cast Harlow in a Frank Capra film with Loretta Young, originally titled Gallagher for Young's lead character, but renamed Platinum Blonde to capitalize on Hughes' publicity about Harlow's "platinum" hair color. Although Harlow denied that her hair was bleached, the platinum blonde color was achieved with a weekly application of ammonia, Clorox bleach, and Lux soap flakes. This process weakened and damaged Harlow's naturally ash-blonde hair. Many female fans began coloring their hair to match hers, and the Hughes team organized a series of "platinum blonde" clubs around the country offering a $10,000 prize to any beautician who could match Harlow's shade. No one could, and the prize went unclaimed, but the publicity scheme worked and the "Platinum Blonde" moniker stuck with Harlow. Her second film for that studio was Three Wise Girls (1932), with Mae Clarke and Walter Byron.

Later, Paul Bern arranged with Hughes to borrow her for MGM's The Beast of the City (1932), co-starring Walter Huston. After filming, Bern booked a 10-week personal appearance tour on the East Coast. To the surprise of many, especially Harlow herself, she sold out every theater in which she performed, often appearing in one venue for several nights. Despite critical disparagement and bad roles, Harlow's popularity and following were large and growing, and in February 1932, the tour was extended for six weeks.

According to Fay Wray, who played Ann Darrow in RKO Pictures' King Kong (1933), Harlow was the original choice to play the blonde screaming heroine, but she had an exclusive contract with MGM during the film's pre-production phase, and the role went to Wray, a brunette who had to wear a blonde wig.

When mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel came to Hollywood to expand casino operations, Harlow became the informal godmother to Siegel's eldest daughter, Millicent, when the family lived in Beverly Hills.

1932-1937: successful actress at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Paul Bern was now romantically involved with Harlow and talked to Louis B. Mayer about buying out her contract with Hughes and signing her to MGM. Mayer about buying out her contract with Hughes and signing her to MGM, but Mayer declined. MGM leading ladies came across as elegant, and Harlow's on-screen personality was less so to Mayer. Then Bern began urging his close friend Irving Thalberg, MGM's head of production, to sign Harlow, noting her popularity and established image. After initial reluctance, Thalberg agreed, and on March 3, 1932, Harlow's 21st birthday, Bern called her with the news that MGM had purchased her contract from Hughes for $30,000. Harlow officially joined the studio on April 20, 1932.

At MGM, Harlow was given superior film roles to showcase her looks and budding comedic talent. Although her on-screen personality changed drastically during her career, one constant was her sense of humor. In 1932, she starred in the comedy Red-Headed Woman for which she received $1250 a week. It was the first film in which she "looks like an actress," playing a woman who manages to be amoral in a film that neither moralizes nor punishes the character for her behavior. The film is often noted as one of the few films in which Harlow did not appear with platinum blonde hair; she wore a red wig for the role. While Harlow was filming Red-Headed Woman, actress Anita Page walked past her in the studio parking lot without recognizing her. She later told Page that the snub had made her cry until she saw herself, noticed the red wig and burst out laughing when she realized Page hadn't recognized her. "That shows you how sensitive she was," Page said. "She was a lovely person in many ways." She went on to star in Red Dust, her second film with Clark Gable. Harlow and Gable worked well together and co-starred in a total of six films. She was also paired several times with Spencer Tracy and William Powell. MGM began trying to distinguish Harlow's public persona from her screen personas by issuing press releases that her childhood surname was not the common "Carpenter" but the elegant "Carpentiér," claiming that writer Edgar Allan Poe was one of her ancestors, and publishing photographs of her doing charity work to change her image to that of an American woman. This transformation proved difficult; Harlow was once heard to mutter, "My God, must I always wear a low-cut dress to be important?"

During the making of Red Dust Bern, her husband of two months, was found dead in their home; this created an enduring scandal. Initially, Harlow was suspected of having killed Bern, but her death was officially ruled a suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound. Louis B. Mayer feared negative publicity from the incident and intended to replace Harlow in the film, offering the role to Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead was horrified by the offer and wrote in her autobiography, "To curse the radiant Jean for the misfortune of another would be one of the most pitiful acts of all time. I told Mr. Mayer so." Harlow remained silent, surviving the ordeal and becoming more popular than ever. A 2009 biography of Bern claimed that Bern was, in fact, murdered by an examiner and that MGM executives rearranged the crime scene to make it appear that Bern had committed suicide. After Bern's death, Harlow began an indiscreet relationship with boxer Max Baer, who, though separated from his wife Dorothy Dunbar, was threatened with divorce proceedings naming Harlow as a co-defendant for alienation of affection, a legal term for adultery. After Bern's death, the studio did not want another scandal and defused the situation by arranging the marriage between Harlow and cinematographer Harold Rosson. Rosson and Harlow were friends, and Rosson went along with the plan. They quietly divorced eight months later. In 1933, MGM realized the value of the Harlow-Gable team-up with Red Dust and paired them again in Hold Your Man (1933), which was also a box-office hit. In the same year, she played Wallace Beery's adulterous wife in the all-star comedy-drama Dinner at Eight, and played a pressured Hollywood movie star in the wacky comedy Bombshell with Lee Tracy and Franchot Tone. The following year, she teamed with Lionel Barrymore and Tone in The Girl from Missouri (1934). The film was an attempt by the studio to soften Harlow's image, but suffered censorship problems, so much so that its original title, Born to Be Kissed, had to be changed. After the success of Hold Your Man, MGM cast the Harlow-Gable team in two more successful films: China Seas (and Wife vs. Secretary (1936), with Myrna Loy and James Stewart. Stewart later talked about a scene in an automobile with Harlow in Wife vs. Secretary, saying, "Clarence Brown, the director, was not very happy with the way I kissed. He made us repeat the scene a half-dozen times. I blew it on purpose. That Jean Harlow did kiss well. I realized that until then, I had never really been kissed."

Harlow was consistently voted one of the strongest box office attractions in the United States from 1933 onward, often outperforming her female colleagues at MGM in audience popularity polls. By the mid-1930s, she was one of America's biggest stars and, it was hoped, MGM's next Greta Garbo. Still young, her star continued to rise while the popularity of other female stars at MGM, such as Garbo, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, declined. After her third marriage ended in 1934, Harlow met William Powell, another MGM star, and quickly fell in love. The couple were reportedly engaged for two years, but differences ranging from previous marriages to Powell's uncertainty about the future prevented them from publicly formalizing their relationship. The two co-starred in her next film Reckless (her voice was dubbed with that of skilled vocalist Virginia Verrill.

Suzy (1936), in which he played the title role, brought him the most recognition over his four-time co-stars Tone and Cary Grant. While critics noted that Harlow dominated the film, it was a reasonable box office success. He then starred in Riffraff (1936) a financial disappointment that co-starred Spencer Tracy and Una Merkel. Later, the release of the worldwide hit Libeled Lady (1936), in which she was outdone by Powell, Loy and Tracy, brought good reviews for Harlow's comic performance. She then filmed W. S. Van Dyke. Van Dyke's comedy Personal Property (1937), co-starring Robert Taylor. It was Harlow's last full film appearance.

Marriages and relationships

On September 21, 1927, Harlow, at the age of 16, secretly married Charles McGrew, four years her senior. Shortly after the ceremony, her husband moved from Chicago to Beverly Hills. Two months after their marriage, at the age of 21, she received some cash from a trust fund. In 1928, the husband and wife moved to Los Angeles, settling into a house in Beverly Hills, where the future actress lived in an affluent neighborhood, learning a lifestyle there that, according to Stenn, resembled that of writer Francis Scott Fitzgerald. McGrew hoped to separate his wife from his mother, fearing that too close a relationship between the two women could be devastating to their marriage. Soon both, and McGrew in particular, began abusing alcohol. On June 11, 1929, they divorced, and Harlow moved into the apartment of her mother and stepfather, Marino Bello. At the hearing, she admitted to the court that McGrew was "vulgar and offensive."

In 1929, the actress became involved with New Jersey crime family boss Abner "Long" Zwillman, nicknamed "New Jersey's Al Capone." His earnings from illegal alcohol production and other illegal interests amounted to $40 million a year. He gave Harlow the most expensive gifts, including a charm bracelet and a red Cadillac, and offered the actress and her mother to move to a new home. He pressured the then head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn - according to sources, he paid him $500,000 - to sign a contract with Harlow for two films. Since Hughes steadfastly refused to pay the raise, Zwillman himself raised his salary to $1,000 per week. Secret tapes revealed that the mobster spoke of Harlow in an offensive and vulgar manner in conversations with other members of the criminal group.

She met her second husband, an influential film producer, Paul Bern, on the set of Angels of Hell (1930). They became engaged in June 1932 and married on July 2. Their marriage lasted less than two months. On September 5, Bern was found dead by police at his Easton Drive home in Beverly Hills, causing an uproar in the community. A crowd of reporters also appeared at the scene. Various speculations began to surface that Harlow was involved in her husband's death, but an autopsy confirmed that she died as a result of suicide by gunshot to the head. At the time, the actress was working on the set of the film Red Dust (1932). Louis B. Mayer, fearing the negative effects of publicity, considered removing Harlow from the production, and Tallulah Bankhead offered her role. The actress issued a statement about Bern's death to the police and jury.

Following Bern's suicide, the actress had an affair with professional boxer Max Baer, who was married to Dorothy Dunbar. As the athlete planned to file for divorce, the press began to suggest that Harlow was responsible for the breakup of the marriage. After Bern's mysterious death, MGM representatives did not want another scandal involving the actress. To this end, on September 18, 1933, the studio arranged her marriage to cinematographer Harold Rosson, who agreed to participate in a fictional affair. They had previously collaborated on four films: The Second Hand Wife (1932), The Caprice of the Platinum Blonde (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933) and In Your Arms (1933). They had an amicable relationship. They were married in Yuma, Arizona, while working on Explosive Blonde (1933). Harlow admitted in an interview with reporters that it will be one of the few Hollywood marriages that will survive. They divorced on March 11, 1934, secretly from the public, after eight months of being together. The actress stated that Rosson was "rude to my friends, brooding and nervous, which made his wicked character a constant brutality."

In the late spring of 1934, she met William Powell, an actor associated with MGM. After the release of Girl from Missouri (1934), they began seeing each other regularly. The actress wanted a child, but Powell, after two failed marriages - to Eileen Wilson and Carole Lombard - and a son, did not want any more children. Both maintained publicly that they were "just friends." Powell contributed to Harlow's mother's divorce from Marino Bello in late 1935 when she discovered that the "Mexican mines" he was selling didn't really exist. Jean Poe Carpenter invested part of her daughter's savings in a bogus enterprise. After her mother's divorce, Harlow managed her estate herself.

Political points of view

Jean Harlow was a supporter of the Democratic Party. In 1936 she actively participated in the campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, for whom she voted during the presidential election. Her participation upset some members of the Republican Party who urged her not to flaunt her political sympathies while giving interviews when the campaign was underway. Roosevelt made no secret of the fact that he was a Harlow fan.

In January 1937, Harlow and Robert Taylor traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in fundraising activities associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday for the organization later known as the March of Dimes. The trip was physically taxing for Harlow and he contracted influenza. She recovered in time to attend the Academy Awards ceremony with William Powell.

Filming of Harlow's final film Saratoga, co-starring Clark Gable, was scheduled to begin in March 1937. However, production was delayed when she developed sepsis after a multiple wisdom tooth extraction and had to be hospitalized. Nearly two months later, Harlow recovered and filming began on April 22, 1937. She also appeared on the May 3 cover of Life magazine in photographs by Martin Munkácsi.

On May 20, 1937, while filming Saratoga, Harlow began to complain of illness. Her symptoms - fatigue, nausea, fluid retention and abdominal pain - did not seem very serious to the studio doctor, who thought she was suffering from cholecystitis and influenza. The doctor was unaware that Harlow had been ill for the previous year with severe sunburn and influenza. Friend and co-star Una Merkel noticed Harlow's on-set weight gain, gray pallor and fatigue.

On May 29, while Harlow was filming a scene in which her character had a fever, she was clearly sicker than her character and leaned against her co-star Gable between takes and said, "I feel terrible! Take me back to my dressing room." She requested that the assistant director telephone William Powell, who immediately left his own film set, to escort her back home.

The next day, Powell checked on Harlow and found that her condition had not improved. He contacted her mother and insisted that she cut short her vacation to be at her daughter's side. Powell also called a doctor. Because Harlow's previous illnesses had delayed the shooting of three films-Wife vs. Secretary, Suzy and Libeled Lady-there was initially little concern regarding this latest episode of a recurring illness. On June 2, it was announced that she was again suffering from influenza. Dr. Ernest Fishbaugh, who had been called to Harlow's home to treat her, diagnosed her with an inflamed gall bladder. Mother Jean told MGM that Harlow was feeling better on June 3 and that her co-workers expected her to return to the set on Monday, June 7, 1937. Press reports were conflicting, with headlines reading "Jean Harlow seriously ill" and "Harlow recovers from crisis of illness." When she did not return to the set, a concerned Gable visited her and later commented that she was severely swollen and that he smelled urine on her breath when he kissed her, both signs of kidney failure.

Dr. Leland Chapman, a colleague of Fishbaugh's, was called in to give a second opinion on Harlow's condition. Chapman acknowledged that he was not suffering from an inflamed gallbladder, but was in the final stages of kidney failure. On June 6, 1937, Harlow said he could not see Powell clearly and could not tell how many fingers he was holding up.

That night, she was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where she slipped into a coma. The next day, at 11:37 a.m., Harlow died in the hospital at the age of 26. In the doctor's press releases, the cause of death was cerebral edema, a complication of kidney failure. Hospital records mention uremia.

Rumors circulated for years about Harlow's death. Some claimed that her mother had refused to call a doctor because she was a Christian Scientist or that Harlow had refused hospital treatment or surgery. From the onset of her illness, Harlow had been cared for by a physician while resting at home. Two nurses also visited her home and various equipment was brought in from a nearby hospital. Harlow's grayish complexion, recurrent illnesses and severe sunburns were signs of the disease. Toxins also adversely affected her brain and central nervous system.

Harlow suffered from scarlet fever when he was 15 years old, and speculation has suggested speculation that he suffered post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis after the incident, which may have caused high blood pressure and ultimately kidney failure. His death certificate lists the cause of death as acute respiratory infection, acute nephritis, and uremia.

Harlow was buried in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale in a private room of multi-colored marble, which William Powell bought for $25,000 - $471,000 today. She was buried in the dress she wore in Libeled Lady and in her hands she held a white gardenia along with a note Powell had written, "Good night, my dearest darling." Harlow's inscription reads, "Our Baby."

Spaces were reserved in the same room for Harlow's mother and Powell. Harlow's mother was buried there in 1958, but Powell married actress Diana Lewis in 1940. After his death in 1984, he was cremated and his ashes buried in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.

MGM planned to replace Harlow in Saratoga with Jean Arthur or Virginia Bruce, but due to audience objections, the film ended up using three doubles - Mary Dees for close-ups, Geraldine Dvorak for long takes and Paula Winslowe to dub Harlow's lines - and rewriting some scenes without her. The film was released on July 23, 1937, less than two months after Harlow's death, and was a hit with audiences, grossing US$3.3 million in worldwide rentals and becoming MGM's most successful film of the year, as well as the highest-grossing film of her career.

Jean Harlow is considered a pop culture icon and a symbol that contributed significantly to the popularization of the image of a blonde sex bomb. According to Anne Helen Petersen, author of Hollywood's Golden Era Scandals, Harlow was the prototype of a "blonde sex bomb" with a reputation for being a "sexual firecracker". According to the writer, "on screen, she was unabashedly sexy and unbridled in her desires, clearly enjoying dressing men as if they were gloves (...) The perfectly arched and lined eyebrows, extremely fashionable at the time, helped her appear sly or childish, sinful to the limit or completely innocent."

In promotional photos she often appeared in long, draped satin art deco dresses. She disliked wearing underwear. According to Petersen, what made her unique was "the distinctive eroticism mixed with the gaiety of Clara Bow and the predatory sexuality of a silent film vampire." The distinctive platinum shade of her hair, something new at the time, secured Harlow's star status and became her trademark until the end of her career. It was said to "resemble the color of pale salted caramel (...) It was striking, almost eccentric, but overall beautiful." In the era of black-and-white photography, when film executives realized that light hair was becoming increasingly fashionable, they actively promoted the image of blonde actresses, including Harlow and Mae West.

According to critics, the film characters she created "took what they wanted and acted the way they wanted. Victoria Sherrow admitted that for the film Hell's Angels (1930), Harlow appeared in tiny costumes and suggestive outlines, and her pencil-arched eyebrows became a trademark. Portrait photographer Clarence Sinclair Bull stated, "At my first session, I fell in love with Jean Harlow. She had the most beautiful, seductive body I have ever photographed. She was also the first actress whose picture appeared on the cover of Life magazine -May 1937-.

After Harlow's untimely death in 1937, imitations of her style began to emerge; women were increasingly willing to bleach their hair, and the sale of hydrogen peroxide increased significantly. In addition, fine satin dresses enjoyed great popularity. Harlow, through her "blonde bombshell" image, became the main inspiration for many later actresses, including Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.

On September 25, 1933, Harlow stamped with her hands and feet, and signed the concrete slab at the entrance of Grauman's Chinese Theater. In 1937, French composer Charles Koechlin composed in her memory the piece "Épitaphe de Jean Harlow, Opus 164". Blues musician Leadbelly, while in prison, wrote in tribute to the prematurely deceased actress the song "Jean Harlow". Harlow's legacy as an actress and personality lasted long after her death. On February 8, 1960, for her contribution to the film industry and its development, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6900 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1996, the actress's name was ranked 49th on Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time. In June 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her 22nd on its list of Greatest Actresses of All Time.

Harlow's image was associated with advertising campaigns and branded products such as Lucky Strike (1931). Along with Hedy Lamarr, she was the main inspiration for the American cartoonist and comic book creator Bob Kane when creating the fictional character of Catwoman, known for the series about Batman's adventures.

In 1965, two biographical films on the life of the actress appeared on the screens, made by the Harlow studio of Paramount Pictures -dir. Gordon Douglas-, where Carroll Baker starred in the title role, and distributed by Magma of the same title -dir. Her relationship with producer Howard Hughes was the leitmotif of The Dream Factory -1978, directed by Larry Buchanan-, starring Lindsay Bloom and Victor Holchak.

In August 1993, the documentary Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell, presented by actress Sharon Stone, aired on the Turner Classic Movies channel. In 2004, Martin Scorsese made the biographical film Aviator, in which Gwen Stefani played the role of Harlow.

The photo of the actress appears alongside Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, Groucho Marx, Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre on the cover of Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits compilation album (1974). In the first line of the song "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes, from the studio album Mistaken Identity (1981), the actress's hair was described as "golden". American singer Madonna modeled herself after Jean Harlow's image and persona on several occasions in her work; on the covers of the single "Secret" and the album Bedtime Stories (1994), she is characterized as an actress. In the verse of the song "Vogue" (1990), in which Madonna sings about Hollywood glamour, Harlow's name appears alongside many other film icons of the 1930s and 1940s.

The actress' memorabilia from the films Platinum Blonde (1931) and Blast Blonde (1933) are housed at the Hollywood Museum. Donelle Dadigan said at the time, "The Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor building is the perfect place to experience Jean Harlow's life, having often used Mr. Factor's hair and makeup services. It was there that she became a 'blonde bombshell.'" Since 1995, Margaret Dement's image of Harlow has been on a 150-meter high wall in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, known as the Missouri Wall of Fame, covered with a colorful mural of famous people associated with the region and state. A wax figure of her likeness is at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California.


Harlow wrote a novel entitled Today is Tonight. In Arthur Landau's introduction to the 1965 paperback edition, Harlow stated around 1933-34 his intention to write the book, but it was not published during his lifetime. Harlow's stepfather, Marino Bello, sold the unpublished manuscript at some studios.Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, had prevented the book from being sold by imposing a court order on him using a clause in Harlow's contract: his services as an artist could not be used without MGM's permission. After his death, Landau writes, his mother sold the film rights to MGM, although no film was made. Publishing rights passed from Harlow's mother to a family friend, and the book was finally published in 1965.

In a career that lasted less than 10 years, Harlow appeared in 35 feature films on the screen.

In 1933, she was among the top ten most profitable American actresses. Six films featuring her were compiled in the top ten box-office highlights of the year. Four of Harlow's films have been nominated for at least one Oscar in each category. All ten productions featuring the actress, adjusted for inflation, exceeded $100 million in domestic box-office receipts.

Three of his films: City Lights (1931), Public Enemy (1931) and The Caprice of the Platinum Blonde (1932) were entered in the National Film Registry.


  1. Jean Harlow
  2. Jean Harlow
  3. En los comunicados de prensa del estudio, el nombre de la actriz a menudo se escribía como Carpentier. Estaba relacionado con el cambio de su imagen.[6]​
  4. Según el biógrafo David Bret, el campamento de verano estuvo lleno de aventuras; aparte de su enfermedad, Harlow tuvo su primera relación sexual con uno de los campistas.[15]​
  5. ^ Mashon, Mike; Bell, James (April 30, 2014). "Pre-Code: Hollywood before the censors". Sight & Sound. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  6. ^ McDonald, Paul (2012). Hollywood Stardom. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118321669.
  7. ^ Vieira, Mark A. (2009). Irving Thalberg: boy wonder to producer prince. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-520-26048-1.
  8. ^ Parish, Mank & Stanke 1978, p. 192.
  9. ^ Flynn, Jane (1992). Kansas City Women of Independent Minds. Kansas City, MO: Fifield Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-9633-7580-3. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  10. (en) « Jean Harlow | Biography, Movies, Death, & Facts », sur Encyclopedia Britannica (consulté le 3 mars 2020).
  11. a et b Jacques Mazeau, Destins tragiques de Hollywood, édition l'Archipel, 2006 (ISBN 978-2-8418-7723-2), page 46.
  12. Jean Harlow, d'Irving Shulman, édition stock, 1966, page 46 : « Quand elle eut neuf ans, ses parents se séparèrent sans larmes, ni grincements de dents, mettant fin à une union qui s'étaient révélée une lourde erreur... ».
  13. DVD Couples et Duos - Volume 3 : « Bello qui se disait descendant d'aristocrate, était un petit escroc qui utilisait l'argent de sa belle fille pour entretenir sa maîtresse. ».
  14. Jean Harlow, d'Irving Shulman, édition stock, 1966 page 75.
  15. 1 2 Ciccarelli B. L. Jean Harlow // Harlow, Jean (03 March 1911–07 June 1937), film actress (англ.) // American National Biography Online / S. Ware — New York City: Oxford University Press, 2017. — ISSN 1470-6229 — doi:10.1093/ANB/9780198606697.ARTICLE.1800528
  16. 1 2 Jean Harlow // — 2005.
  17. Dearest Dear. Unfortunately, this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. You understand that last night was only a comedy. I love you. Paul.

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