Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow was born Harlean Carpentier on March 3, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, to a dentist and his wife. At 16, Harlow ran away from home and married a businessman, Charles McGrew who was 23. Soon after they were married, the couple moved to Los Angeles where Harlow found work as extras in films. In 1928 and 1929, Harlow had bit parts in eleven films. Harlow divorced McGrew in 1928 and found luck in short films like Double Whoopee with Laurel and Hardy. Harlow's big break came in 1930 in Howard Hughes' World War I movie, Hell's Angels. Jean's big break came in 1930, when Hughes sold her contract to MGM.

Harlow became America's sex symbol in Platinum Blonde (1931). Harlow paired with Clark Gable in six films, starting with The Secret Six (1931). During the second film with Gable, Red Dust (1932), Harlow received news that her second husband, Paul Bern, had committed suicide. Afraid that the death would affect production, Louis B. Mayer contacted Tallulah Bankhead to replace Harlow. This was unnecessary as Harlow finished the film in 1932.

In Dinner at Eight (1933), Harlow played the wife of a business tycoon opposite Lionel Barrymore. In the same year, Harlow was Lola in Bombshell, a parody on Harlow's life. Later that year, she married Hal Rossen and the union lasted eight months. Harlow starred in three more movies with Gable: China Seas (1935), Wife Vs. Secretary (1936), and Saratoga (1937). During the filming of Saratoga, Harlow became ill with uremic poisoning and passed away with cerebral edema on June 7, 1937 at the age of 26. The film was finished with long angled shots and a double. The film became a hit, partly due to Harlow's death. Jean Harlow is often the paradigm against which other sex symbols are compared.

There's a wonderful (and I hope apocryphal, for Ms. Harlow's sake) story about Jean Harlow meeting an English aristocrat named Lady Margot something-or-other. "Margot" is of course pronounced "Margo", but Ms. Harlow didn't know that, and she pronounced the 'T'. Lady what's-her-name graciously replied, "The 'T' is silent, as in 'Harlow' ". Just let that sink in for a while.

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