Jean Harlow (1911-1937) was an American actress and sex symbol in the 1930s, the original Platinum Blonde of legend.
She was born as Harlean Carpenter 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 portrayed a floozy, who gets the guy at the end, and in Red-Headed Woman
, she played 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 provided 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 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: She 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).
- In Bombshell, a movie in which Harlow plays an actress, the studio specifically instructs her not to wear a bra.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The story goes that when she was a child, she was nicknamed "Baby", and only when she started school did she learn that it wasn't her actual name.
- Opera Gloves: She wore them in Dinner at Eight and The Public Enemy.
- 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.
- She Also Did: She wrote a novel, Today is Tonight, which wasn't published until 1965.
- Stage Mom: Her mother, aka Mama Jean.
- Stage Name
- Stealth Pun: According to an anecdote, she was once at dinner with Margot Asquith (wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, the former British Prime Minister), and kept pronouncing Mrs. Asquith's name with the 't' at the end. Eventually Asquith told her "No, Jean, the 'T' is silent, like in 'Harlow'".
- Those Two Actors: She and Clark Gable made six movies together.
- Womanchild: Reportedly she found a movie producer's young son making mud pies and recommended using egg whites to help them stick together better. That should give you an indication.