Harlow: The battling Carols

Carroll Baker, Jean Harlow, Carol Lynley

I just finished the worst movie ever.  So what better thing to do than write a blog about it while the disgust is still fresh!

As a last minute contribution to the Jean Harlow Blogathon,  I decided to watch the 1965 Carroll Baker version of the movie “Harlow” so I could critique how she was portrayed after her death.  You may think, “Why did she say version?” Because there are two movies made in 1965 called “Harlow.”

One movie stars Carroll Baker as Harlow and Angela Lansbury as her mother and it is in color.  The other movie, which is lesser known, stars Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers as her mother and is in black and white.

This question plagues me: Why are there two movies about Jean Harlow in 1965? Any answers?

I watched Baker as “Harlow” knowing it would be pretty awful, but I wasn’t aware how awful it would be.  Within the first eight minutes, I was growing weary thinking “Do I really want to watch this?” and I’m not sure if Baker had even spoken yet.

The movie was inaccurate about a lot of things. Jean was married 3 times-they only had her married once. Jean died of uremic poisoning- they said she died of pneumonia.  All of the movies she made were phony titles like “Love Me Forever” and “Luscious Lady,” none of which are real movies.  Sure she was sexy in her movies, but she was also FUNNY.  They really ignored the fact that she was funny and wise cracking in all her films.

Overly dramatic scene with Leslie Neilson

I was also really confused about who people were supposed to be.  Peter Lawford’s character Paul Bern was a real person, but many of the other names were not (I IMDBed it).  Mike Connor’s character Jack Harrison wasn’t real and I couldn’t figure out who he was supposed to be the whole movie.  The only conclusion I drew was maybe Clark Gable, but Harlow and Gable were good friends, I’m not sure if they were lovers. I’m pretty sure that Martin Balsam as the studio head was supposed to be Louis B. Mayer, but I’m also not positive.

The use of fake names isn’t surprising. In 1965, several of the people talked about in this movie-minus Harlow-were still alive. Similarly in “The George Raft Story,” Betty Grable’s name wasn’t used because she didn’t want any part of the film. I’m just not sure why they used fake movie titles, unless there was some sort of copy right issues.

However, I’ve seen a couple clips from the Carol Lynley version and there is a Marie Dressler character and it looks like they are working on the film “Dinner at Eight.”  I actually am interested in seeing this version, because from the clips I’ve seen, it may be a little more accurate-hopefully.  I at least thought Lynley looked a little more like her.

I am really curious who has seen this movie and thought it true. I’m no Jean Harlow expert, but I questioned a lot that was going on. One thing’s for sure: I intend on reading a biography about her so I can see what her life was really like. I guess it’s lucky that a book just recent came out about Jean called “Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937” by Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira.

I will now share a few of the notes I took while watching this movie. Enjoy!
-Bouffant 60’s hair and cheesy 1960s music.
-Corny. Already struggling to stay tuned in 8 minutes in
-On personal appearance, Harlow dances around in an awfully 60s manner in the 1930s
-Cover of Photoplay looks more like Marilyn Monroe than Jean Harlow.
-“Your bedroom is never empty and always busy, judging by the sounds I always hear from it”- Harlow to Marino. My, my this certainly is a post-1964 movie!
-Corniest Line: “I can get books at the library, music at the record shop, but where do I go to become a bride and a mother.”
-Bern and Harlow were married for about 2 or 3 months, not 3 days before he killed himself
-“Oh Marino I need help, the kind of help you seem to be an expert in.”  Oh dear, is Jean trying to seduce her step father? Noooooooooo
-Another dumb line: “She didn’t die of pneumonia. She died of life.” She also didn’t die of pnemonia.
-And now we are singing a corny song…….with a montage of Carroll Baker

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26 thoughts on “Harlow: The battling Carols

  1. Pingback: The Jean Harlow Blogathon: Day 6 & 7 « The Kitty Packard Pictorial

  2. Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only one who didn’t like this one. I was going to review it for the blogathon, so I watched it the other day. But it was so bad I couldn’t find any positive things to say about it. I’m not a Jean expert so I didn’t feel I could comment on its accurateness, but your review really helped shed some light.


    • I honestly couldn’t find anything good in it. Haha that made it pretty easy to blog about. I thought Martin Balsam and Red Buttons did fairly good jobs, but that’s about it.

      Peter Lawford was stiff and it was hard to believe he of all people had a hard time making love lol. I’ve never been a Carroll Baker fan either and found her outbursts and flirting chuckles reaaaally irritating.


    • Why not what? Why didn’t I like it?

      It reminded me a lot of the 1964 movie “The Oscar” with Stephen Boyd. It was one of those late 60s, sensationalist films.


  3. I’ve never seen either version of “Harlow” out of respect for Jean, but based upon this review, the Baker “Harlow” makes the dreadful “Gable And Lombard” (which also had Red Buttons in the cast) look like an Academy Award best picture nominee.


    • Oh my goodness, I looked up “Gable and Lombard” and the 4.8 stars on IMDB it recieved along with the tagline “It was the wildest, wackiest love affair Hollywood ever knew” make it looks hoooorrible. haha

      It’s so hard to make movies well known movie stars like Clark Gable or Carole Lombard too and get an actor who actually can look/act/sound like them. (I often wonder why they didn’t get Liv Tyler to play Ava Gardner in “The Aviator”). But most of all, you have to make sure it’s accurate. Idk about “Lombard and Gable” but “Harlow” was soo ridiculous


  4. I agree. I thought it might at least be an amusingly bad movie, but I *hated* Harlow. After having read the David Stenn biography, I knew that it was a huge insult to Harlow and to top it off–it was so boring. I don’t know why they bothered. This boring, pointless flick had nothing to do with Harlow.


    • Oh my gosh, I agree soooooo much about it being boring. I mean the acting and all that is horrible as it is but just it draaaaaaaaagged and was so dull. Like I said above, after 10 minutes or so I was ready to stop it and take a nap because I was falling asleep lol


  5. Agreed – Both stunk. We’re still waiting for the real story told with respect. In the mean time, I hope people will pass on these turkeys.


    • Have you seen the one with Carol Lynley? I want to see it to compare.

      I do wonder how many people view this and think it’s true…I hope not many.


  6. Strange, I just watched the Baker version last nite. It is awful and pretty much ended Baker’s career in movies in the United States. She first played a Harlow part in The Carpetbaggers, quickly following up with Harlow. She got terrible reviews for her acting, her “sophmoric” figure, and the whole movie is fiction tho it says it is based on then best selling book. Of course they couldn’t touch the lurid parts covered in the book. Before her death Marilyn Monroe and columnist Sydney Skolsky visited Harlow’s mother Mama Jean, she gave her blessing for Monroe to do the part which MM had been looking into for several years to be filmed by MM productions. Monroe and Baker would have been about the same age when they would have done the role, but frankly both may have been too old at 35 to play Jean who died at 26. As to the Carol Lynley version, I have it and don’t bother, its worse than the Baker version, much worse. Talk about made up characters. Efrem Zimbelist Jr. plays a cross between Gable and William Powell. Yes, there is a reference to Dinner at Eight, at least they used real movie titles. But it was filmed in a strange process called eletronovision or something giving it a grainy appearance. What it looks like is one of those old Kinoscope TV shows from the 50’s. Both Lynley and Baker are too thin and neither voluptuous enough to play a sex symbol. As a side note it is somewhat interesting to watch Peter Lawford play Paul Bern, Harlow’s husband who commits suicide, tho that has been revised to probably be murder. After all, here he is playing opposite a blonde sex symbol and suicide/murder is involved. Sound familiar, Lawford was up to his eyeballs in the death of Marilyn Monroe and its coverup.


    • I didn’t realize that hurt her career! And now that you mention it, the film and Paul Burn part is very similar to what was going on with Peter Lawford and Marilyn Monroe.
      Thanks for clearing up Efrem Zimbelist, I really had noooo idea. And funny that the Carol Lynley one is worse! I guess it’s so bad it can’t even be qualified as a “camp classic” like I suppose this one is. It’s a shame that Jean’s name was slandered for whatever reason in the 1960s by all of these salacious books. Apparently people like Roz Russell and Myrna Loy started going on talk shows to clear up their friend’s name.


      • Myrna Loy spent a lot of time taking up for her friends. After Christina Crawford wrote Mommmie Dearest, Myrna tried telling her side of the Joan Crawford story, and she openly spurned speaking to Christina, which I think happened a lot. Well, She single handedly destroyed a legend. But, the damage had been done, and for all time I think.


      • I had heard that Myrna Loy and Roz Russell defended Jean Harlow when all of those lurid 1960s books came out about her, I wasn’t aware that she also defended Joan Crawford. Myrna seemed like a great woman.
        I agree. It’s such a shame how Christina has put such a huge stigma on her mother’s stardom. Today’s audiences who aren’t as familiar with Joan’s wonderful films just see her as the crazy woman in Mommy Dearest :/


  7. I remember when both Harlows came out, though I never saw either one. I have no doubt you’re right about Carroll Baker’s version, but you’re mistaken on one point: There weren’t “all those” lurid books about her, but only one, Harlow: An Intimate Biography by Irving Shulman, just about the most scurrilous Hollywood bio ever written (and that’s a crowded field!).

    As bad as the Baker Harlow may be, the buzz in ’65 was that the Carol Lynley version was even worse. My favorite comment at the time: “I walked out in the middle of it — and I was on a plane!”


    • Ah, thank you for the correction 🙂 I had read some things about Myrna Loy and Roz Russell defending her after “books” came out so I was under the impression that there were several. The Carroll Baker version is pretty bad haha, there were points where I just sat there not knowing what to think.
      That is a hilarious comment about walking out on a plane hahaha. Thanks for sharing!


  8. Pingback: Updates for Today! | Journeys in Classic Film

  9. On the Carol Baker version: Both films are not very good and both are for the most part fiction. With that said, the Paramount version has one thing that is outstanding, the title sequence combined with the score by Neil Hefti. The shots in this opening sequence before we meet Harlow on the lot, tell us everything about the location and much about the kind of life an extra lived at that time (down to the details of makeup that no camera would ever see). So when the title sequence ends and we are on Harlow, we know her.

    The entire shot sequence is beautifully put together, from the guys waiting at the gate for their 6am call, to getting to the stage. Old time film making at it’s best. Hefti’s score, reitterates and grows with the shots. Something to be learned here. Except for cuts, the sequence is one of the logest opening shots in a film and compares to ‘The Player’ which has no cuts at all.

    Other than that, the film is a loss, too saccrine to take. Youtube has a version of the titles, interesting for any indie film maker to watch to see how to introduce a character and location before you even meet them.


  10. I agree the Caroll baker film is terrible, but I remember seeing this film on TV when I must have been about 12 years old. I was absolutely captivated, and had no idea it was about a real person. It was years later that I finally had the chance to see the real deal, when a TV series called ‘The Love Goddesses’ screened ‘Red-Headed Woman’. I think this early memory has given me a very soft spot for the 1965 ‘Harlow’, including the lovely colour, magnificent (but very 1960’s Neil Hefti soundtrack, and flash (but inaccurate) costuming and wigs. I’ve been fascinated by the Carol Lynley version, so really interesting to see the review above. I think it might have been a case where I thought that must be the better version. Oh, well, maybe a decent version will be made one day-though it would meet the perennial problem-how do you find someone with the same unique appearance who can also act and recreat star power at this level?


  11. It’s 2:30 am and 4 years after the original post but I am sick with a head cold and was cruising YouTube for old movies when I discovered this horrible but wonderful movie HARLOW starring Carol Lynley. And although I agree with all of your opinions about the movie I still think it is FABULOUS!! (imho of course). And let me tell you why.

    Yes, I agree HARLOW starring Carol Lynley was a total train wreck. This movie was badly researched, badly written, badly costumed, badly acted, badly shot, and badly edited and I’m even willing to bet the food on set was badly made. All of this is true, and when you put all those bad things together what you get is CAMP!

    [Camp: noun; something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of it’s being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant, or teasingly ingenious and sentimental].

    I really don’t know much about Jean Harlow’s real story or her personal life but I do love her movies. She was beautiful (sort of) and funny and sassy and best yet, sounded like a New York cab driver. So if you leave all that behind and watch this movie without thinking of Jean Harlow and all the historical inconsistencies this movie presents you might really enjoy it more.

    Like a bad cold, just relax into it. Maybe do a shot of NyQuil every time someone mentions coconut water. Or blow your nose every time Ginger Rogers muggs for the camera as she tries for another Oscar. And we all know Carol Lynley’s career was never huge but she really was beautiful in 1965 and she did try her damndest to make this work but the poor kid just didn’t have what it took. The other actors were fine, at least we can say they earned their paychecks. I especially loved Hermione Baddeley as Marie Dressler. However I’m pretty sure Canadian born Marie did not have a thick Cockney accent in real life.

    Finally, let’s talk about the costumes and the sets. I smell nepotism is all I can say. If I wasn’t familiar with the time period that Jean Harlow had made movies I never would have guessed this movie was supposed to take place in the 20s and 30s. Carol Lynley was the only person dressed in period costume (wont mention the bad wigs) and everyone else just sort of showed up in their own clothes. The same goes for the sets. Nothing was period specific. I suspect the director hired some local college theater majors (more likely his sister’s kid and friends) to set dress this mess with whatever they had lying around.

    But best of all, best of all there was a long dramatic speech before the melodramatic death scene in the end. To include a weird, held too long, close up shot of Carol. I LOVED it. I loved everything about this piece of caca. I love YouTube. I love lamp. I love NyQuil.

    And that’s my 2 cents.




  12. I, too was a young woman when I saw the movie Harlow with Lindley in it. I knew nothing about Jean Harlow but the movie impressed me. I thought it was great; however, I wasn’t around in the 30’s so I couldn’t critique it if I wasn’t there. I have told several friends along my life journey that they should see this movie because I actually ENJOYED it! There!


  13. I’m watching this right now on Amazon Prime and Googled to figure out who the hell is who in this duuuuuuumb movie and thank god it took me to you. This is so 60’s it hurts.


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