If you love old movies, particularly comedies, you might be a fan of actress Jean Harlow. Although she only lived to the age of 26, she is remembered by fans born decades after her death on June 7, 1937.
The actress was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter (sometimes spelled Carpentier in studio press releases) in Kansas City, Missouri, on Mar 3, 1911. The daughter of a dentist, she received her formal education at Ferry Hall School in Chicago and at the Hollywood School for Girls, according to the New York Times. When she became interested in acting, she appropriated the first two names of her mother, Jean Harlow Carpenter, considered a major force behind the actress’s fast fame.
When Jean Harlow was just 16, she married a businessman. After moving to Los Angeles, she was able to get roles as an extra in silent films.
Although Harlow is remembered her roles roles in comedies, it was her platinum hair and appealing body that caused her to gain quick notice. Film executives noticed her in the Laurel and Hardy movie Double Whoopee in 1929. She played opposite Clara Bow in The Saturday Night Kid the same year.
The actress’s star began a meteoric rise thanks to the efforts of Howard Hughes, who put her under contract and cast her in Hell’s Angels because of difficulties with start Greta Nissen’s Swedish accent. Her wisecracks drew notice from critics and viewers alike.
Harlow made six firms in 1931. Hughes arranged for her to make a publicity tour and loaned the actress out to other studios. Though critics downplayed any talent, and the public reacted with shock to her blatant sexuality on the screen, she developed a following.
Her career advanced after MGM purchased her contract in 1932 and gave her meatier roles. She proved to be a good actress, as well as funny and sexy. As she played opposite leading men like Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, her fan base grew. Two of her most popular films were Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust.
Jean Harlow ushered in the era of bleached blonde entertainers. Following her were legendary blondes Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, Jayne Mansfield, Anna Nicole Smith and Scarlett Johansson.
Jean Harlow became ill in Los Angeles while filming Saratoga. Just 10 days later, she died after completing fewer than 20 films. The studio initially released no details about the cause of death.
Several years later, however, the public learned that Harlow had suffered from kidney disease the majority of her life and that the precise cause of death was uremic poisoning. The actress was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, according to findagrave.com.
Jean Harlow married three times. At the time of her death, she was engaged to actor William Powell.
Though she had died years before I was born, Jean Harlow was still a topic of household conversation in the Ohio community where I grew up. Locals considered her chemically pale hair scandalous. My mother insisted the bleach Harlow used to lighten it was the cause of her death.