ACTRESS, PIN-UP GIRL
“In the first sitting I fell in love with Jean Harlow.
She had the most beautiful and seductive body I ever photographed.”
—Charles Sinclair Bull (portrait photographer)
Jean Harlow was the original Blonde Bombshell, famous for movies, pin-up posters, and her ability to make front-page news of Hollywood magazines with everything she did. “The Platinum Blonde,” as she was called from a 1931 movie of the same name, was the ultimate sex symbol and tabloid darling. She was also the precursor to today’s troubled young stars, with money to burn, multiple marriages, and a life cut short by tragedy.
THE EARLY YEARS
Harlean Harlow Carpenter was born on March 3, 1911, and spent her early years in Kansas City and the surrounding area. Her father was a successful dentist, so the attractive young girl grew up in comfortable surroundings when many people were struggling to make ends meet. She was often sick as a youngster, which included meningitis at age five and scarlet fever at age fifteen, which was a precursor to an illness that afflicted her in the twenties.
She was a teenager when her parents divorced, which is when she and her mother moved to Los Angeles to begin their new lives. It didn’t take the young girl long to grow up in the big city. She met a successful banker, married him, and moved to Beverly Hills, all before she was seventeen.
RISE TO FAME
Harlow yearned to be a movie star, but her husband and her father tried repeatedly to thwart her efforts. She landed a small part in the movie Moran in the Marines, but her husband’s opposition to her career choice forced her to put acting on hold for a while. She eventually became frustrated by his efforts to control her future, so she left him and took roles as a production extra. By this time, she had registered her name with an acting agency as Jean Harlow, and the name stuck.
She was still young (only nineteen by the time she was married and separated), beautiful, and full of ambition. She had the right combination of sexual allure and tenacity to make her a star, which is exactly what producers in Hollywood
helped her achieve.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Harlow was still an unknown actress when the eccentric moviemaker Howard Hughes picked her for the lead role in the movie Hell’s Angels. Her blonde hair was an instant draw, sending peroxide sales soaring as women tried to copy her look. The exposure she received from women for the hairstyle and men for her seductiveness made her an overnight success. She soon picked up plenty of movie roles, with money rolling in to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per appearance, which was a huge sum in the early 1930s. Over the next seven years, she appeared in more than twenty movies, which included starring roles in The Public Enemy with James Cagney and Red Dust with Clark Gable.
When she was twenty-six, her life took a tragic turn. She had just started shooting the movie Saratoga with Clark Gable. She began getting sick on the set, but doctors were unable to determine what was causing her ailments. She was hospitalized in the middle of shooting the movie, and she died a short time later from uremic poisoning on June 7, 1937. The film was completed with long-angle camera shots and a body double. Saratoga went on to be the highest grossing film of 1937 as fans packed theaters to see how the producers finished the movie without her.
*She was married two times during her short life, plus she was engaged to actor William Powell from Kansas City when she passed away.
*She was ranked twenty-two on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Legends” list.
*She appeared on the cover of LIFE Magazine in 1937, making her the first movie actress with that honor.