Cast & Crew
A special hosted by Sharon Stone on the life and career of actress Jean Harlow.
Louise Scher Mcquade
Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
Vivian Van Natta
Michael A White
Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell
It all started for Harlow in Kansas City, Missouri where she was born Harlean Carpenter in 1911. Despite later film roles, which created a less-than-classy image, Jean Harlow was born into an upper middle-class family. Her mother, Jean Harlow Carpenter's, own dreams of stardom had been transferred into high hopes for her daughter. And these hopes found an outlet when a young Harlean eloped at just 16 with a businessman and moved to Los Angeles. As the story goes, she auditioned for her first film on a dare using her mother's name, Jean Harlow (which she kept), and was immediately given work as an extra. Within two months, Harlow got featured bit parts in movies like Liberty (1929) with Laurel and Hardy.
But it was the Howard Hughes produced 1930 film Hell's Angels that would make Harlow a star. The movie was originally slated as a silent feature, staring Norwegian actress Greta Nissen. But Hughes, following his business instincts, decided sound pictures were the wave of the future and decided to turn Hell's Angels into a talkie. But that would mean losing his leading lady, as Nissen's accented English failed to register clearly for American audiences. Hughes' search for an unknown replacement would prove to be a major break for Jean Harlow, who eventually won the role. For her part, in one of the most expensive productions to date, Harlow was paid a meager (by Hollywood standards) $100 a week. But the return on her career would be astronomic.
In Hell's Angels, Harlow brought a relaxed, easygoing sensuality to the screen. She had, as the documentary terms it, a "bold look and an even bolder immorality" that at the age of 19 would "redefine sex in cinema." A line from Hell's Angels even made its way into the vernacular. Audiences were delighted and scandalized when Harlow asked, "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" Also of note in Hell's Angels was the 2-strip Technicolor party sequence - the only color footage of Jean Harlow.
Hughes signed Harlow to a five year contract before making Hell's Angels - and upon the picture's success he loaned Harlow out to the studios for big bucks and sold her image widely for advertising. The final pay off came in 1932 when Hughes sold Harlow's contract to MGM for $30,000. The studio was originally hesitant to take on Harlow, due to her highly eroticized screen presence which was not at all typical for their leading actresses then. But producer Paul Bern wanted Harlow for The Beast of the City (1932). He also found a place in Harlow's personal life, becoming her second husband. Unfortunately, Harlow's marriage to Bern became the stuff of Hollywood legend when it took a tragic turn - Bern committed suicide a few months after the wedding. Despite all kinds of speculation, supposed suicide notes and MGM cover ups, the suicide was rumored to have been precipitated by the appearance of Bern's mentally unstable, common law wife, according to Harlow: The Blond Bombshell.
Despite the tragedy, Harlow's career flourished with hits like Red Dust (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933). Harlow was at the top of her stardom when she died suddenly during the making of Saratoga (1937). She had starred in only 20 pictures and was just 26 years old when she died on June 7, 1937. For years, legend had it that Harlow died because her strict Christian Scientist mother refused her medical treatment. But according to the documentary, Harlow had long suffered from kidney disease - and received the best medical treatment available. It was not enough. A double was used to complete Saratoga.
Producer: Paul Boorstin, Patrick Faulstich
Director: Jom McQuade
Screenplay: Paul Boorstin
Film Editing: Jom McQuade
Music: Scott Roewe
Cast: Jean Harlow, Sharon Stone (host).
BW&C-48m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames