Jean Harlow died on the 7th July 1937; the actress was born into the heart of a middle-class American family, daughter of a dentist and of a housewife, she was converted into American cinema’s first “Blonde Bombshell” of the Thirties and an authentic sex symbol, much before Marilyn acquired her world fame.
Jean’s mother was so protective that their mother-daughter relationship was nearly converted into something unhealthy. Following her parent’s divorce, her mother managed to obtain custody over Jean who would not see her father more than once more during her life.
Her mother used to call her “Baby” instead of by her forename. This ended up confusing the young girl so much that she didn’t know her real name until she started school.
Jean was famous for completely ignoring the strict American morals of the period.
Some of her most famous sayings:
• “I like to wake up each morning with a different man”
• “I find underwear uncomfortable and besides my female body parts need to breathe”.
• “I am not a born performer; nobody knows that better than I do. I may have hidden talent but I also have to work hard, listen carefully, repeat everything over and over again until I manage to get through a scene”
• “Men like me because I don’t wear bras. Men like me because I don’t seem like a girl who would steal their husband. At least not for long…”
19 curiosities about her short career:
- At the height of her success, many of her female fans dyed their hair platinum blonde like her, even Howard Hughes organized a competition in which the hairdresser that got the closest to the actress’s tone of blonde would receive a prize of 10,000$.
- At 21 years of ageHarlowsigned a contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, after paying Hughes 30,000$. It was at this point thatHarlowbecame a superstar.
- During the filming of “Red Dust” her second husband, Paul Bern, was found dead in their house, with rumours following that Jean Harlow had murdered him. The MGM executives didn’t take long to resolve the case of his death, assuring thatBern’s death had been a result of suicide, alleging that he had suffered from impotency as the motive. This didn’t harmHarlow’s career in any way, in fact she became even more popular than before.
- She was idolised by Marilyn Monroe. Curiously, both of them played the lead roles in their respective last films (Saratogaand The Misfits) with Clark Gable.
- The only colour sequence that exists of Jean Harlow is in her first film “Hell’s Angels”, a drama about the First World War in 1930. A rare and extremely expensive (for its time) eight minute sequence.
- She was the first actress in cinema to appear on the front cover of “Life” magazine in May 1937, just a month before her sudden death.
- She always carried two talismans: one chain on her left ankle, which you can see in many of her films, and a dressing table mirror in her dressing room. She would always check her reflection in it before filming.
- She never wore underwear and always slept naked.
- She followed a strict diet so as not to put any weight on, on a base of vegetables and salads.
- She used to put ice on her nipples before filming a scene so that she would appear sexier.
- She was known as the original “blonde bombshell” much before Marilyn.
- In 1937 a few days before finishing the filming of “Saratoga” she died of a kidney infection derived from a scarlet fever from which she had suffered when she was a small child and that had nearly taken her life.
- In order to finish the filming she was substituted by Mary Dees, who was exclusively filmed from behind. Her voice was dubbed by Paula Winslowe. This fact meant that “Saratoga” became the biggest box office success of 1937.
- The film did not only suffer the calamity of the actress’s death; Lionel Barrymore tripped over a light cable and broke his hip for the second time; this confined him to a wheelchair for 10 years. Following a significant weight loss he was able to walk again, however with many difficulties.
- Jean’s epitaph simply says “Our Baby”, just as her mother used to call her.
- She was buried in the gown she wore in the film “Libeled Lady”.
- The singer Gwen Stefani embodied Jean Harlow in a brief role in “The Aviator” by Martin Scorsese.
- Following the legend the famous dog “Rin Tin Tin” died in her arms in 1932.
- The American singer Madonna pays tribute to her, just as she did to other great stars of the time, in the song Vogue 1990.
At Vintage by López-Linares want to dedicate our June Icon to Jean Harlow.
She was Marilyn’s favourite actress, the true icon that inspired her, the one that she copied and admired throughout her likewise short cinematographic career.
So deep was her admiration for her that she was her inspiration during her whole life. I think that this fact helped Marilyn become and stand out as the icon from amongst the others icons.
Sequence from her last film “Saratoga”
In this sequence we can see how the actress Mary Dees substitutes Jean without letting her face be seen.