Jean Harlow (born Harlean Harlow Carpenter; March 3, 1911 – June 7, 1937) was an American actress and sex symbol in the 1930s, the original Platinum Blonde of legend.She was born in Kansas City, Missouri. In the 1920s, she and her mother moved to Hollywood, and Harlean, taking her mother's name, went into acting. After several bit parts in silent films, she had her breakout role in the 1930 World War I movie Hell's Angels, produced by Howard Hughes. In this film, she coined the famous line "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" In 1931, she appeared in the classic gangster film The Public Enemy.While critics disliked Harlow, audiences loved her; her movies were successful, even in the middle of The Great Depression. Her films pushed boundaries; in Red Dust, she portrays a floozy who gets the guy at the end, and in Red-Headed Woman she plays an ambitious Gold Digger who sleeps her way to the top and doesn't receive any punishment for it.After the implementation of The Hays Code (which cracked down on sexuality, both in and out of films), she changed her image to a more mainstream, all-American type, but still remained a star. During the filming of her last movie, Saratoga, she fell ill, and was taken to a hospital. She died a few days later at the age of 26, from kidney failure (once rumored to be from the chemicals she used to dye her hair; now stated as a possible consequence of scarlet fever she had as a child).She was an idol of Marilyn Monroe.
This actress' work provide examples of:
- Dye Hard: Though she denied it, and was in fact naturally very fair — just not as fair as she appeared onscreen. Eventually, her hair actually had to be cropped short due to peroxide damage, meaning in some films she's actually wearing a wig. Some stories say that she bleached her pubic hair as well to maintain the illusion, but this is likely false.
- Fake Shemp: Harlow's sudden, shocking death from kidney failure came with Saratoga still unfinished. Louis B. Mayer and MGM considered throwing away all of her footage and re-shooting with a different actress, but after fans lobbied to see Harlow's last film, production continued. An actress named Mary Rees who looked like Harlow was used as her double in some scenes, with another actress doubling Harlow's distinctive voice. (Note the scene at the racetrack where Fake Jean Harlow holds a pair of binoculars to her face, and another scene with Hattie McDaniel where Fake Jean is shot from behind while wearing a wide-brimmed hat.)
- Going Commando: In Bombshell, a movie in which Harlow plays an actress, the studio specifically instructs her not to wear a bra. Harlow never wore any underwear, and some even say that she iced down her nipples before shooting a scene (which was one of many contributing factors for the Hays Code to crack down on immoral content in movies).
- He Also Did: She wrote a novel, Today is Tonight, which wasn't published until 1965.
- High Class Gloves: She wore them in Dinner at Eight and The Public Enemy.
- Pretty in Mink: Some of her movies gave her glamorous furs, such as a fox-trimmed dress in Dinner At Eight, and an ermine-trimmed dress in Personal Property.
- Retroactive Recognition: She appeared as an extra in a few Laurel and Hardy shorts at the very beginning of her career. Most notably Double Whoopee, where the back of her dress is accidentally ripped off.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: After she says her famous line in Hell's Angels, it's shown that she's already wearing a backless dress. In Dinner at Eight, her character says, during a party conversation about sunbathing: "You know, my skin's terribly delicate and I don't dare expose it." Then she turns around, revealing her backless dress.
- Stage Name: Born Harlean Harlow Carpenter, "Jean Harlow" was her mother's maiden name.
- Those Two Actors: She appeared in six movies with Clark Gable, five with Lewis Stone and four with Una Merkel.
- What Could Have Been: MGM was hoping to cast Harlow in a series of movies focusing on the character of Maisie Ravier. Harlow's death led to that role being played by Ann Sothern.
- Hell's Angels (1930)
- The Public Enemy (1931)
- Red Dust (1932)
- Red-Headed Woman (1932)
- Three Wise Girls (1932)
- Dinner at Eight (1933)
- Bombshell (1933)
- Libeled Lady (1936)
- Saratoga (1937)