8 Apr 2010

Screen Icons: Jean Harlow

Baby faced Jean Harlow was marvellous mischief, easily taking the title of Hollywood's good time gal in her short and scandalous 26 years.

The starlet known as Jean Harlow was actually born Harlean Harlow Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri, and in a tale made for the silver screen, ran away from home at just 16 years old, marrying the first of her three husbands, a 23 year old business man named Charles McGrew, arriving in Hollywood soon after their union.

It was a disastrous marriage but it got Jean to Tinseltown, where she secured work as an extra and in film shorts until she won her big break in Howard Hawks' epic Hell's Angels, a perfect title for Harlow if there ever was one.

Following this, Jean really caught America's attention in a sultry role in Platinum Blonde and went on to make Red Dust, directed by John Ford, starring alongside Clark Gable, who she made six films with. With him, she more than matched for on screen charisma and off screen gossip, especially when her second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, committed suicide.

The release of Red Dust made Jean a star and she soon cemented this status with films such as the comedic Dinner at Eight and the scandalous Hollywood parody Bombshell, after which she had another short lived marriage to cinematographer Harold Rosson.Later movies that really showed Jean's talent were the adventurous China Seas and Saratoga, which turned out to be her final film as she died from uremic poisoning during filming in 1937.

Perky, sexy and always entertaining, Jean knew how to blend a sensational appearance with her innocent looks, cultivating an iconic style that took in her trademark soft platinum blonde curls and slinky dresses in silk or satin that daringly drew attention to her assets, which she apparently iced before she walked on set to make sure that all eyes were fixed solely on her.

Legendary claims about the savvy
Harlow were that she never wore underwear and slept nude, a quote that clearly had quite an impression on a young Marilyn Monroe who credited her as her hero.

Jean's public persona was also enhanced by tales such as her partying with brewery employees the night that prohibition ended in 1933, smashing a bottle of beer over the first truck lined up to deliver legal alcohol. It was stories such as this that reportedly endeered Harlow to the mob, with notorious figures including her former lover Longy Zwillman bankrolling her two picture deal with Columbia Pictures whilst she was godmother to the daughter of the infamous Bugsy Siegel.

Though many consider other actresses of the era far more beautiful than Jean Harlow, few are remembered as being as attractive as the baby faced bombshell, whose appeal lied in a dangerous look in her eye that suggested that she loved trouble, and it loved her right back.

Jean Harlow described her reason for success best herself: “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.”

Apollonia Gish

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