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Jean Harlow Overview:

Legendary actress, Jean Harlow, was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on Mar 3, 1911 in Kansas City, MO. Harlow died at the age of 26 on Jun 7, 1937 in Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) Cemetery in Glendale, CA.

Early Life

Jean Harlow was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on March 3, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. She was born to relatively well-to-family. Her mother, Jean, came from wealthy family who arranged for her to marry dentist, Mont Clair Carpenter. Bitter in what little say she had in her own marriage, Jean formed an intensely strong bond with her only child. She dotted and coddled her daughter, whom she called "Baby" so much that Harlow didn't learn her legal first name until she was enrolled at the Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls at the age of five. In 1916 Harlow contracted meningitis, the first her many health problem that would plague her for the rest of her short life.

 In 1923, Harlow's mother filed for divorced, which went uncontested. She was then rewarded full custody of their daughter and because her mother forbade it, the young girl would rarely see her father thereafter. The next year Mother Jean relocated to Hollywood in hopes of pursuing a film career but returned two years later after little success. In 1925, at the age of 15, the young Harlow became sick with scarlet fever while attending summer camp. Later that year, while attending Ferry Hall School in Lake Forest, Illinois, the younger Harlow met nineteen-year-old heir Charles McGrew. When Harlow turned 16 she married McGrew and left home, much to the chagrin of her mother. The two soon moved to Los Angeles, where Harlow initially enjoyed life as a wealthy debutant, with aspirations of becoming a wife and mother. However, soon the two began to drink heavily and would later divorce.

Early Career

While enjoying the life of a socialite, Harlow also began to receive casting calls from central agencies. Although she initially rejected the offers, her mother pressured her to accept the calls. She appeared in her first film, Honor Bound, as an uncredited extra. This lead to smaller parts in silent shorts such as Chasing Husbands, Liberty, and Why Be Good?. It was at this time Harlow began to credit first name as "Jean" a name proposed by her mother. Harlow was soon noticed by silent films producer Hal Roach and in 1928 signed a five-year contract at $100 a week. She appeared in the Laurel and Hardy short film Double Whoopee, demonstrating her impeccable comedic timing. She appeared in only two more films for Roach before terminating her contract, citing her failing marriage as the reason for leaving. Six months later, the marriage was over and Harlow moved back with her mother. She continued to act in Hollywood, mostly as extra or in small roles. In 1929, Harlow appeared in her first talkie, the Clara Bow Vehicle The Saturday Night Kid.

Hollywood Success

In 1929, at age of 18, Harlow received her big break in the film Industry. With sound pictures now the standard, Director/entrepreneur was forced to reshoot much of his next film Hell's Angels, to change it from silent to sound. The films head actress, Greta Nissen, had a heavy Norwegian accent deemed unfit for American consumption. Harlow caught the eye of Hughes, who offered the young starlet a screen-test. She got the part and was signed a year contract. The film was a smash hit, becoming the second highest grossing film of 1930. Harlow was an immediate hit, representing the next generation of Hollywood sex symbol. And although she was beloved by audience's everywhere, critics were not so bewitched by the young starlet - a common criticism being she had more curves than talent. In 1931 she was lent to Warner Brother's studio for the William A. Wellman gangster flick The Public Enemy. She followed that up with the Todd Browning boxing drama Iron Man. Although she remained popular with audiences, she was continually offered subpar roles. Soon, MGM Producer Paul Bern took notice of the beautiful young actress and the two became romantically involved.


Despite the objections of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Bern made it his mission to sign Harlow to MGM Studios. Mayer rejected the idea of signing Harlow due to her less than innocent reputation and thought she lacked the grace and elegance to be an MGM leading lady. Bern then turned to Head Producer at MGM, Irving Thalberg. Although reluctant, Thalberg agreed to sign the girl and in 1932 MGM bought the remainder of Harlow's contract for 30,000 dollars. She instantly saw a dramatic increase in quality of the roles offered, with many scripts focusing on her comedic talents and not just her looks. Her first film for MGM was 1932's Red-Headed Woman. While shooting her next film John Ford's Red Dust, Harlow experienced terrible personal tragedy. While making the film, Bern was found shot dead in their home. Although some speculated Harlow had killed him, Bern's death was officially labeled a suicide. Despite the scandal Red Dust was a massive hit and Harlow's popularity only grew.

The next year she teamed with Clark Gable again in Hold On To Your Man. In 1933 she starred in the George Cukor ensemble comedy Dinner at Eight. In the film, she plays Kitty Packard - lonely wife of a business tycoon in the middle of her own business deal. The film was a smash hit and one of the biggest moneymakers of the year. MGM studios cast Harlow in the 1934 romantic comedy The Girl from Missouri in hopes of shaping her new image into a classy and elegant film actress. Although critics panned the film, it remained one of top grossing films of the year. Harlow starred opposite future fiance, William Powell, in the 1935 Victor Fleming romance Reckless. That same year she team with Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell in the action-adventure film China Sea.

Final Films and Death

In 1936 Harlow played opposite Spencer Tracy in Riffraff. That same year she starred with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and James Stewart in the romantic comedy Wife vs. Secretary.  At this point in her career, Harlow was one of the biggest stars in the Hollywood and credited with keeping MGM out of bankruptcy during the early years of the Great Depression. In 1936, Harlow starred with William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy in the screwball comedy Libeled Lady. The film was one of the biggest hits of the year, grossing over 2.5 million at the box office and gaining a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. In late 1936, Harlow released her final fully completed film¸ Personal Property opposite Robert Taylor. As part of a promotion tour for the film, Harlow and the rest of the cast flew to Washington D.C after shooting, attending a celebration for President Roosevelt's 55th birthday.

In 1937 Harlow was cast along side Clark Gable to star in the comedy Saratoga. Shooting was delayed half-way through production due to an illness Harlow received as a result of a wisdom tooth extraction. She returned to set after recovering but soon fell ill once more and shooting was delayed again. On May 30th, fianceWilliam Powell went to Harlow's home to check on her condition. When she clearly had yet to improve Powell called a home doctor who diagnosed Harlow with influenza. Although many thought she would improve, six days later she had trouble seeing and Powell once again called the doctor. When he arrived on the scene, Harlow had labored breathing and slipped into a deep sleep. That evening Harlow was admitted into the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where she slipped into a coma. The next day on June 7th, 1937 Jean Harlow died of kidney failure. She was only 26 years old. Her final film Saratoga, already 90 percent shot, was completed using a body-double. The film was the second highest grossing of the year.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Jean Harlow's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #23 on Sep 25, 1933. Harlow was never nominated for an Academy Award.

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Jean Harlow Quotes:

Jerry Dexter: I thought a ride in the park would
Jerry Dexter: calm your nerves.
Cassie Barnes: Well there's nothing wrong with my nerves.
Jerry Dexter: No?
Cassie Barnes: No.
Jerry Dexter: Well maybe you'd come with me. I need the air.
Cassie Barnes: Yeah? Well I'm giving you the air.

Lillian 'Lil': Well you son-of-a-sea-snake! Have you got on my new pajamas?
[Sally hesitates guiltily]
Lillian 'Lil': Yeah, well you shake right out of 'em, Hortence.
Sally: [annoyed] Alright!
Lillian 'Lil': I'm too important these days to sleep informally.
[removes her blouse]
Lillian 'Lil': What if there'd be a fire?
Sally: You'd have to cover up to keep from being recognized.
[camera pans down to Lil's legs as Sally hands her the silk pajama pants]
Lillian 'Lil': [climbing into the pajamas] Say love, let's have a little more respect from you, now that I belong to one of the fine old families...
Sally: Oh, yeah? If I were you I'd go a little bit slow.
Lillian 'Lil': Whaddyou mean by that?
Sally: Well, Bill Legendre and his wife might get together and decide that you were merely a strange interlude.
Lillian 'Lil': Strange interlude, nothing! When I kiss 'em, they stay kissed for a long time.
Sally: Well, see you don't get left holdin' the bag, sweetheart, full of nothin' but air. You better hang on to that bootlegger of yours.
Lillian 'Lil': [incredulous] What? Go on with Al after Bill Legendre? Oh no, I've started on the upgrade, and whatever happens, baby, I'm in the big leagues now.

Magistrate: Well I hope you'll be very happy and don't forget to invite me to your silver anniversary.
Gladys: It'll have to be in the next six weeks!

read more quotes from Jean Harlow...

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Jean Harlow on the
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Jean Harlow Facts
Of her final performance in Saratoga (1937), critic Graham Greene wrote "Her technique was the gangster's technique - she toted a breast like a man totes a gun".

Went on a salary strike from MGM in 1934, during which she wrote a novel, "Today is Tonight." The book was not published until 1965.

A new musical called "In Hell With Harlow" about an after-death meeting between her and Protestant WWII martyr Dietrich Boenhoffer never reached the stage. The production, written by best-selling author Paul L. Williams, was to star Dawn Winarski and Greg Korin.

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