Monday, March 1, 2010

Jean Harlow (1911-1937)

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Actress. While only in the spotlight for ten short years, life was cut short by her untimely death and one can only speculate as to what might have transpired had she had a normal lifespan. Jean Harlow was married three times with a fourth on the horizon in William Powell. She appeared in forty one movies, was voted to the American Film Institute's list of the greatest actresses of the Golden Age and became the first movie actress to appear on the cover of Life Magazine. Her first feature film "Hell's Angels" drew an estimated crowd of 50,000 people at Grauman's Hollywood Theatre during its Premier. Her personal life was the substance that the tabloid media thrived upon: The suicide of her second husband, her relationships with gangsters, nude photos at the age of 17, problems with a greedy stepfather and a supposed abortion. Jean was the product of an overbearing, divorced, failed actress mother who prodded, trained with encouragement toward show business. She was born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, her father a dentist. During a move to Los Angeles, she quickly found work as an extra and worked bit parts in films taking the maiden name of her mother, Jean Harlow. She was paired with Hollywood's leading men, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and William Powell thus becoming the cinema's chief money maker. Her mother was a constant presence in her life. She changed her roles from sensuous to comedienne making films such as 'Platinum Blonde,' 'Red-Headed Woman,' 'Red Dust,' 'Bombshell' and 'Hold Your Man.' Other well-remembered films include 'Dinner at Eight,' 'China Seas' and 'Libeled Lady.' She suffered from scarlet fever at 15 which probably led to the kidney disease which took her life at the young age of 26. Her funeral was an extravaganza staged at Forest Lawn, Glendale. Her co-star in five movies, Clark Gable was a pallbearer and Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy sang at the ceremony. A huge banquet followed the service and while a band played, mourners reminisced and remembered Jean Harlow. She was entombed in a private chamber in the Great Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Glendale.

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