What is it about the Blonde Hollywood Sex Siren? It seems to me to be the LEAST desirable peak for any woman to want to climb. The slope appears to be always slippery, the reputation COMPROMISED, the fall always precipitous, the ending always TRAGIC...
Anna Nicole Smith
Even those that did not die before their time knew horrible tragedy. Lana Turner, the "Sweater Girl", whose breasts greeted you first when you rounded a corner, the story goes, was being beaten by boyfriend, hood "Johnny Stompanato, when her young daughter, Cheryl Crane, put an end to his brutality by shoving a kitchen knife into his chest...
Location, Location, Location.
There must be SOMETHING about the location. The other blonde "Starlets" of the world have fared far better than their Hollywood counterparts:
"Foreign" female stars seem to have lived better lives, some even making it to CONGRESS in their respective countries, than ANY Hollywood Blonde...
No, there is something about Hollywood itself....
You get there, and it is a disappointing, SHABBY looking place.
You can't EAT it.
You can't KEEP it.
And you certainly can't STAY there.
You can have SEX with it, but it doesn't MATTER.
It doesn't CARE.
You make it big in Hollywood, you can have it ALL.
You just can't keep any of it...
Hollywood has had more than it's share of Tragic Blondes. This is the story of just ONE of them.
Harlean Harlow Carpenter was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3rd, 1911. Her mother immediately started referring to her as "The Baby" and the name stuck with Jean Harlow all of her life. Despite what you may have heard about her, she really wasn't a voluptuous woman at all. According to friend Myrna Loy, she really rather had the body of a ten or eleven year old child. Jean, of course, grew and blossomed during the years that Loy knew her, but she was still, in her own mind, no Sex Symbol.
To Jean Harlow, it was merely her Hollywood Image that in no way reflected anything about herself....
Jean Harlow's mother was the REAL "Jean Harlow", a fact she never let daughter Harlean forget. "Jean Harlow Carpenter". It was Harlow's mother whom moved her to Hollywood, California, 1923, in search of her own dreams of Hollywood stardom. But, Jean, Sr., was 34 at the time, no young starlet.
Jean Harlow's mother was a determined woman that did not take "No" easily. Young Harlow contracted "Scarlet Fever" while away for the summer at camp. Her concerned mother drove 100 miles to the camp to bring her daughter home, but all roads to the camp were blocked.
The desperate Mrs. Carpenter "borrowed" a boat, rowed it across a lake and retrieved her daughter...
Young Jean Harlow married a wealthy man at the age of 17, but the marriage did not work out. She quietly divorced and moved back in with her mother...
Young Jean had no desire whatsoever to be an actress. None whatsoever. In fact, she was "discovered" in the manner that every young woman in the world wished would happen to them:
She was sitting in a car, waiting for a friend to return from an audition, when two studio executives made their way across Santa Monica Boulevard and offered her a contract.
She turned them down!
When she told her friend, she expressed disbelief and bet Jean that she made the whole thing up. Harlow drove home and told her mother about the contract offer, and her mother also doubted her word...
So, Jean made her way back to the studio, FOX, and took them up on their offer.
She didn't exactly make an auspicious start. She was immediately cast in bimbo roles that she just could not take seriously. There was really no way to showcase her "hidden" talent: that she was really a very funny comedienne...
Jean Harlow, at the start of her career, was viewed a lot like Jessica Lange was at the start of HER career:
Good to look at, but not a serious actress. It took King King to bring Jessica Lange serious attention, and the same would have been true for Jean Harlow, who was originally cast in the role that made Fay Wray famous.
Harlow could not take the role, but it was okay. She was shooting "Hell's Angels" for Howard Hughes, the part that skyrocketed her to fame.
Her platinum blonde locks caused a SENSATION. Half the women in America dyed their hair to match.
She made several GREAT movies in whirlwind fashion, became good friends with the TRUE stars of Hollywood, who appreciated her good humor and pluck.
But, she started to grow ILL. Even the slightest cold seemed to last and last.
Her eyes were becoming more and more sensitive to LIGHT, a malady common at the time, due to the extremely bright studio lights, but Jean seemed to have a more severe reaction than most. She was gaining weight....
She married Paul Bern and moved into the home that would make Sharon Tate and Charles Manson infamous.
Paul Bern, as well, it turned out. Was it Suicide or Murder, in the case of the mysterious death of the husband of Young Jean Harlow? She was never really a suspect, but the silent accusations began to further erode her health...
She was rushed into a STUDIO marriage not long afterward, to cinematographer Harold Rosson, but the union only lasted 7 months.
And Jean was still getting sicker. Paler. Grayer. Heavier. Lethargic...
Friend Clark Gable was so concerned that he had several of his doctor friends give her a complete examination, but they all diagnosed "Fatigue" and "Nerves", the typical Hollywood ailments.
Gable was convinced that there was something far worse, but the only person that would listen to him was fellow actor and Jean's current beau, actor William Powell.
Jean's mother began to grow annoyed at all the medical experts that were dropping by at all hours to examine her daughter, something she was later to have cause to regret. She forbade the MGM Studio doctors access to her home....
Jean grew sicker. Powell panicked when Jean informed him that she could no longer see him very well.
Over the protests of her mother, Powell called Clark Gable over. The two men, ashen with alarm, called for an ambulance.
Jean was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital. She was comatose upon arrival.
Jean Harlow passed away on Monday, June 7th, at 11:37 am, from Cerebral Edema, a symptom consistent with Kidney failure.
When word of the tragedy reached the normally boisterous MGM commissary, the daily meeting ground of every comic trying out his new material, actors spilling out their woes to one another, singers SINGING and piano players tickling the ivories, NOT A SOUND WAS HEARD FOR WELL OVER 3 HOURS.
Just an occasional SIGH and whimper...
Despite all the rumours, despite all the talk of alcoholism, drug use, abortion, suicide, etc., the REAL culprit behind her death was that bout with SCARLET FEVER that she had as a child. It seriously compromised her KIDNEYS.
It was WHY she was always sicker than most whenever she had the slightest illness. There was no Kidney Dialysis in the 1930's, so what actually killed Jean Harlow was Kidney Failure. Her body was filled with toxins that the kidneys normally filter out. The trapped toxins caused her brain to inflame and SWELL...
There was NO CURE, no technology to filter out the POISONS...
Hollywood lost one of it's greatest stars, through no fault of her own, and a dangerous precedent was set for whomever wanted to be the next Platinum Blonde....