“She didn’t want to be famous, she wanted to be happy”: Remembering Jean Harlow

**Above quote said by Clark Gable.

Today, Comet is remembering Jean Harlow on her 102 birthday, one of the most beautiful women to grace Hollywood.

“In the first sitting, I fell in love with Jean Harlow,” said photographer Charles Sinclair Bull. “She had the most beautiful and seductive body I ever photographed.”

Harlow paved the way for platinum blondes of the 1950s such as Mamie Van Doren and Marilyn Monroe. She died at the age of 26 in June 1937 of uremic poisoning brought on by acute nephritis.

“She was a square shooter if there ever was one,” Spencer Tracy said.

Harlow off the movie screen

Harlow with a young fan outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater in 1933.

Harlow with a young fan outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1933.

Watching the National Air Races of Los Angeles Municipal Airport in 1933. She raised the flag tobegin the races.

Watching the National Air Races of Los Angeles Municipal Airport in 1933. She raised the flag tobegin the races.

Celebrating the end of Prohibition, Harlow christens a truck load of beer in 1933. Pictured with Walter Huston.

Celebrating the end of Prohibition, Harlow christens a truck load of beer in 1933. Pictured with Walter Huston.

Harlow with fiance William Powell at William Randolph Hearst's birthday party in 1936

Harlow with fiance William Powell at William Randolph Hearst’s birthday party in 1936

Harlow lets out toads for a Horned Toad Derby in 1931.

Harlow lets out toads for a Horned Toad Derby in 1931.

Harlow with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, celebrating the 55 birthday of President Roosevelt. She was also helping raise funds for infantile paralysis.

Harlow with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, celebrating the 55 birthday of President Roosevelt. She was also helping raise funds for infantile paralysis.

 

 Harlow Fashion

Harlow was well known for slinky, white satin gowns. In April 2012, Time listed her as one of the top 100 fashion icons of all time.

Harlow

Harlow in her signature style of a slinky gown

Harlow in a suit designed by Adrian, who shares a birthday with her

Harlow in a suit designed by Adrian, who shares a birthday with her

Harlow in fur

Harlow in fur

Harlow in shorts

Harlow in shorts

Harlow in 1933. A gold and sequined gown with an Oriental influence

Harlow in 1933. A gold and sequined gown with an Oriental influence

Harlow in 1933 in riding clohes

Harlow in 1933 in riding clothes

Harlow on set of film "Personal Property" in 1937

Harlow on set of film “Personal Property” in 1937

Harlow and furry friends 

It’s said Harlow was a lover of animals. On the day Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, jut a month shy of 14, Rinty was no longer strong enough to go to his master’s side. Harlow, who lived across the street, came over and cradled his head in her lap as he died. Years before Lee Duncan had given her one of Rinty’s first puppies.

Harlow and her dachshund Nosey

Harlow and her dachshund Nosey

Jean Harlow hugging her Pomeranian, Oscar

Jean Harlow hugging her Pomeranian, Oscar

Harlow in 1936 with her dog

Harlow in 1936 with her dog

Jean Harlow in 1932 with a Borzoi

Jean Harlow in 1932 with a Borzoi

Harlow in her mother

When Harlow died, her mother estate was left to her mother which worth roughly $1 million.

Jean Harlow with her mother

Jean Harlow with her mother

Harlow and Jean Bello in 1935

Harlow and Jean Bello in 1935

Harlow and her mother in 1932

Harlow and her mother in 1932

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Saratoga: Harlow’s last curtain call

Jean Harlow’s death in 1937 at the age of 26 came to a shock to many; particularly those working on her last film “Saratoga.”

Jean Harlow and Anita Loos worked on several movies together such as “Red Headed Woman”

Anita Loos described in her 1977 book “Cast of Thousands: A Pictorial Memoir of the Most Glittering Stars in Hollywood”  waiting on the set with Clark Gable and other stars in the film for Jean Harlow to get out of the hospital.  Loos wrote the screenplay for “Saratoga” along with several other Jean Harlow films like “Red-Headed Woman.”  The book is divided up into different sections about several different actors that Loos encountered during her time in Hollywood, and a large portion is dedicated to working with Jean, Jean’s marriage to Paul Bern and her death.

The stars were under the impression that Harlow would get well again, the film would be completed and they would continue on with their usual business.  If I recall correctly, Loos said Harlow had been off the set for a few days and they continued shooting the scenes without her.  When they received the phone call of her death they were shocked and close friend Clark Gable (who nicknamed her Sis) was devastated.

I saw “Saratoga” two summers ago and thought it was entertaining but rather disturbing.  The film was incomplete when Harlow died, so several of her scenes had to be shot with her double Mary Dees and a voice double.

The scenes after Jean’s death are weird and uncomfortable to watch for a couple of reasons:

1. The fact that you know she is dead, even though you saw her before at the beginning of the movie
2. The covering of the face, the irritating fake voice and the thin scenes the double is in are disconcerting.  The voice drives me up the wall and part of you is like “Turn around, I want to see Jean’s  face” though you know darn well it’s not her.  The scenes with the double are so brief and fleeting that you can tell the crew was saying “Let’s wrap this up as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
3. The fact that Jean is in the last scene singing with Clark Gable on the train.  I guess this scene was shot earlier, but you almost think “Oh there’s Baby, she’s okay.”

Here are string of scenes that someone put together of Jean’s double taking over for the rest of “Saratoga”:

Here is a video of Jean acting in “Red Dust” (1932) so you can compare the voices:

Regardless of the double, the general plot of “Saratoga” is good and it has a strong cast including Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon, Frank Morgan and  Lionel Barrymore.  Clark Gable is his usual scoundrel, playing a gambler this time, who wins a ranch in a bet from Lionel Barrymore.  Now that he’s won Barrymore’s ranch, Clark is now trying to win over his daughter Jean Harlow. This was Harlow and Clark’s sixth and last film together.

With the star power here, this clearly wasn’t a B movie that they were throwing Jean in because they thought she was washed up. There was a lot of money at stake.  After Jean’s death, there were talks about shelving the movie and reshooting her parts with Virginia Bruce or Jean Arthur.  However, fans pleaded with MGM to let them get one last chance to see their Baby, according to IMDB.

Gable and Harlow in their last film together.

I have mixed feelings about reshooting with another actress or keeping Jean’s parts in the movie.  Jean and Clark have terrific chemistry, like always.  But frankly, the plot is predictable and typical of a Clark Gable movie.  I personally think it was only saved by Jean Harlow’s comedic wit and beauty.  Jean Arthur would have been terrible in the role and Virginia Bruce would have been just as predictable. The film would have fallen flat.

But at the same time, I almost wish the film had been shelved, much like Marilyn Monroe’s unfinished movie “Something’s Got to Give” (Though the difference is “Saratoga” nearly done and Monroe’s movie just starting).  I’m not saying that I’m not thankful to see one last glimpse of Jean alive and well, but it’s heartbreaking to watch.  You see her at the beginning of the movie very beautiful and very much alive.  It’s like watching someone on the street, knowing they are about to die, but they have no clue.

After 74 years, Jean Harlow is still loved and missed and “Saratoga” is still a bit disturbing. We love you Jean; happy 100th birthday.

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