Film history: Focus on Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow, America’s Platinum Blonde since the early 1930s, soon became one of MGM’s top stars of the decade. Originally working in comedy shorts including Hal Roach’s “Double Whoopee” (1928) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and as an extra in films such as “Love Parade” (1929) and Chaplin’s “City Lights” (1931), she gained popularity in the World War I aviation epic “Hell’s Angels” (1930).

William A. Wellman’s “The Public Enemy” (1931) with James Cagney, and Frank Capra’s “Platinum Blonde” (1931), launched her as America’s new sex symbol with a floozy screen persona, but after signing at MGM in 1932, she was transformed from a sexpot into a subtle and refined actress with a natural flair for comedy who became a superstar, with frequent co-stars William Powell (two films), Myrna Loy (two films), Spencer Tracy (three films) and Clark Gable (six films). MGM films until her death at age twenty-six include “Red-Headed Woman” (1932), “Red Dust” (1932), “Dinner at Eight” (1933), “Reckless” (1935), “Suzy” (1936), “Libeled Lady” (1936) and her final film “Saratoga” (1936) which she didn’t finish as she died during filming. MGM completed the film using a double.

Three times married, her second husband was writer-director and Irving G. Thalberg’s right-hand man Paul Bern for a short while in 1932 until his death at age forty-two (suicide). Her third husband was legendary cinematographer Harold Rossen (1895-1988) from 1933 until 1934.

Jean Harlow, 26
(Harlean Harlow Carpenter)
b. March 3, 1911, Kansas City, Kansas
d. June 7, 1937, Los Angeles, California (uremic poisoning brought on by acute nephritis)