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Jean Harlow- The Original Blond Bombshell


speedracer5
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I know that Jean Harlow is a Hollywood icon; or at least she's an icon of the Golden Era of Hollywood.  The AFI ranked her #22 female Hollywood star.  Through her films, I'm trying to figure out what quality she had and why she's such enduring symbol of Classic Hollywood.  Is it because she died young? Was it because her image was so different than that of her contemporaries like Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck and Greta Garbo?  I don't dislike Harlow, right now, I wouldn't cite her as one of my favorites; but I want to understand what she was all about and why she's such a big deal.  In fact, I would hope that she could become one of my favorites, because she's appeared in what seems to be many major films of the 1930s and with many of my favorite actors.  

 

So far, I've seen Harlow in:

 

-Libeled Lady, which is a fantastic film.  Great cast, especially with my favorites, William Powell and Myrna Loy.  

 

-Suzy, in which I liked Cary Grant; but overall, the film was okay; but nothing to write home about.  

 

-Dinner at Eight, Harlow's character seemed somewhat shrill and annoying; perhaps I should give her another chance. The film as a whole was entertaining, especially Billie Burke.

 

I own the TCM Greatest Legends collection featuring Jean Harlow.  Like I said on a different thread, I initially bought it because it contained Libeled Lady which didn't seem to be available on DVD on its own.  I wanted Libeled Lady to complete my William Powell/Myrna Loy collection.  This collection also features: China Seas, Dinner at Eight and Wife Vs. Secretary.  I haven't seen China Seas or Wife Vs. Secretary yet.

 

I have Bombshell recorded and I'm looking forward to next month when I believe that Red Headed Woman and Red Dust are playing.  

 

I guess all I want to know is: what is the big deal about Harlow? 

 

I feel like I want to be a fan.  I don't know why; but there's something there in the Harlow persona that I've seen, that I want to anticipate her films airing on TCM and be excited about watching them.

 

I hope I've made sense here.  I know what I'm trying to say; but sometimes, it's hard to put your thoughts and feelings into actual text that makes sense to others who don't know you outside of the image you convey online.

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I think Harlow was funny, pretty and sexy.  Once she showed her comedic talent, her popularity soared.  I really like her in RED DUST and LIBELED LADY.  I've never seen SUZY, but my understanding is it is one of her lesser efforts.  CHINA SEAS is pretty good but not quite as good as RED DUST.    She's the original platinum blonde and, in my opinion, the best.  She was great with wisecracks.  I think she was talented and apparently her co-stars liked her a lot and I'm sure you know she and William Powell were in love.  She wanted to get married but he was reluctant because his previous marriage had failed.  But he did love her and he paid for her funeral and always made sure there were flowers on her grave.  She married producer Paul Bern (before becoming involced with Powell) who committed suicide shortly thereafter.  It was quite a scandal at the time.  Harlow loved the sun but if she dared spend time in it she got terrible sunburns because she was so pale.She died from a kidney lllness way too soon.  I think the public loved her because of her talent and sex appeal and overcoming tragedies.  She wasn't "movie star" and seemed like a regular person.  I like her and even though she's not Barbara or Bette, I enjoy her films and if my favorite William Powell loved her, well that's good enough for me.

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Comedy takes many forms, but Harlow more or less cornered the market with her unique combination of Sexy and Seductive, Dumb yet Quick-Witted, Angry and Unreasonable yet Conciliatory and Sweet, and Naive yet Worldly.  It's the tension between those contradictory traits that makes her so fascinating to watch.

 

The material she had to work with was decidedly uneven, and after 1933 the production code took a bite out of her style (with the exception of Libeled Lady), but if you can get to these five for at least one or two viewings I think you'll understand why some of us (and plenty of critics) see her as the finest comedienne that Hollywood has ever produced.

 

Red Dust - Savor the way she interacts with Gable and gives every bit as good as she gets, right from the first minute she pops onto the scene.

 

Red-Headed Woman - This is Harlow's least "sympathetic" role in conventional terms, but also the one where she lived up most fully to her "Bad Girl" side.  The ending is probably more defiant of the Production Code than any movie of that era, in that the "Bad Girl" not only doesn't pay for any of her sins, but she ends up thumbing her nose at society and winding up with both a Sugar Daddy and a lover on the side.  I can't imagine that this was Pope Breen's favorite film.

 

Bombshell - This isn't so much a "screwball comedy" as it's an "exasperation comedy", with poor Lola being put upon by her mooching family and her low life (but very efficient) publicity agent, when all she wants to do (impossibly) is get a moment to breathe.  The final denouement of the scene in the country is an absolute stroke of screenwriting genius.

 

Dinner at Eight - Her genius here is her pitch-perfect interaction with Wallace Beery, as the spoiled gold digging wife to her crude nouveau riche (but about to be broke)  husband.  Her sarcastic exchanges with Beery are ones for the ages. 

 

Libeled Lady - Another "exasperation comedy" role for Harlow, and maybe her best movie, even if it's not her very best role.  But when you've got a perfect script, and a cast that includes William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and the perfectly cast Walter Connolly, you can't go wrong.

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-Dinner at Eight, Harlow's character seemed somewhat shrill and annoying; perhaps I should give her another chance. The film as a whole was entertaining, especially Billie Burke.

 

Worth it just for the reaction and response of Marie Dressler to Harlow's observation.

 

I guess all I want to know is: what is the big deal about Harlow?

 

IMO, she was a diamond in the rough. Had she lived longer, she coulda been a contender. I think she was exploited (hopefully with her permission) for her in-yer-face sexuality, her lack of a bra, and her obvious knowledge of the way of the world. She was Carole Lombard without the polish. I disliked her over-tweezed eyebrows, but otherwise found her an amazing package, much like Marilyn Monroe, only Jean was a better actress.

 

Gone too soon is all I think, everytime I see her.

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Well I didn't quite "get" Jean Harlow either. Funny you mention Lombard because I like her even less.

 

Photographs of Harlow have kept her "icon" status, imho. She was pretty and a good actress, but her image epitomizes 1920's glamor, I think that's what people see for the most part.

Her make up was outrageous-thin black lips, glittery eyeshadow and those high pencil thin eyebrows! It just doesn't translate well today. And that shrill voice! Oy!

 

But watch her films, especially RED DUST and CHINA SEAS (my personal favorite) and you may come around. She plays a loose sort of woman, so the harsh make-up fits the charactor. She's brash, but again, it fits her. She's very good in LIBELED LADY & DINNER AT 8, but you've seen those.

 

It is very sad she died young, or we may have seen her in color with better make-up & sound....making her more accessible to modern audiences. She's a snapshot in time which both works for her & against her, I think.

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-Dinner at Eight, Harlow's character seemed somewhat shrill and annoying; perhaps I should give her another chance. The film as a whole was entertaining, especially Billie Burke.

 

Worth it just for the reaction and response of Marie Dressler to Harlow's observation.

 

I guess all I want to know is: what is the big deal about Harlow?

 

IMO, she was a diamond in the rough. Had she lived longer, she coulda been a contender. I think she was exploited (hopefully with her permission) for her in-yer-face sexuality, her lack of a bra, and her obvious knowledge of the way of the world. She was Carole Lombard without the polish. I disliked her over-tweezed eyebrows, but otherwise found her an amazing package, much like Marilyn Monroe, only Jean was a better actress.

 

Gone too soon is all I think, everytime I see her.

 

 

Got a kick out of the scene in "Dinner at Eight", 2 telephones within 12 feet of each other when Jean Harlow was in bed. Don't know who's lazier, Jean or her maid. Lol.

 

bedroom+maid+Jean+Harlow+Dinner+at+Eight

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I absolutely LOVE Jean Harlow and I have since I was a kid and read an article about her along

with other sex symbols who died young. I saw her photo and thought she was absolutely beautiful.

For several years I was only able to see her in "Public Enemy" which was probably her worst performance. Once I began viewing her MGM films I realized why she was so popular.

 

I think there are several reasons why Jean is an icon. She died young and she was at the height of her fame when she died. She was an "original"; the sexy, brassy platinum blonde with a heart of gold.

Her performances in such movies as Bombshell, Dinner At Eight, Red Headed Woman and Red Dust

are classic. In "Dinner At Eight" she stole the show away from such popular seasoned actors such as Marie Dressler and the Barrymore brothers. When the production code was enforced she was able

to change and soften her image. One of the best examples of the "softer" Harlow was in "Wife Versus Secretary". She radiates a soft gentle natural beauty and shows how effective she can act in dramatic scenes. Another example of her effective dramatic ability was in "Suzy". She could play the range from comedy to drama very effectively.

She also had "star quality"; she stood out in photos not just because of her hair but because she had that certain something. There have been several blondes since Jean who tried to emulate her but

no one will equal the original "Harlow".

I'm very happy that most of her films were made at MGM and are available for viewing. I would love if TCM could obtain a few of her early lesser known films just to be able to see her at the start of her career. TCM has shown "Hell's Angels" which sky-rocketed her to stardom but I would also enjoy seeing her in Iron Man with Lew Ayres, The Saturday Night Kid with Clara Bow and Goldie which is her rarest film.

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I know that Jean Harlow is a Hollywood icon; or at least she's an icon of the Golden Era of Hollywood.  The AFI ranked her #22 female Hollywood star.  Through her films, I'm trying to figure out what quality she had and why she's such enduring symbol of Classic Hollywood.  Is it because she died young? Was it because her image was so different than that of her contemporaries like Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck and Greta Garbo?  I don't dislike Harlow, right now, I wouldn't cite her as one of my favorites; but I want to understand what she was all about and why she's such a big deal.  In fact, I would hope that she could become one of my favorites, because she's appeared in what seems to be many major films of the 1930s and with many of my favorite actors.  

 

So far, I've seen Harlow in:

 

-Libeled Lady, which is a fantastic film.  Great cast, especially with my favorites, William Powell and Myrna Loy.  

 

-Suzy, in which I liked Cary Grant; but overall, the film was okay; but nothing to write home about.  

 

-Dinner at Eight, Harlow's character seemed somewhat shrill and annoying; perhaps I should give her another chance. The film as a whole was entertaining, especially Billie Burke.

 

I own the TCM Greatest Legends collection featuring Jean Harlow.  Like I said on a different thread, I initially bought it because it contained Libeled Lady which didn't seem to be available on DVD on its own.  I wanted Libeled Lady to complete my William Powell/Myrna Loy collection.  This collection also features: China Seas, Dinner at Eight and Wife Vs. Secretary.  I haven't seen China Seas or Wife Vs. Secretary yet.

 

I have Bombshell recorded and I'm looking forward to next month when I believe that Red Headed Woman and Red Dust are playing.  

 

I guess all I want to know is: what is the big deal about Harlow? 

 

I feel like I want to be a fan.  I don't know why; but there's something there in the Harlow persona that I've seen, that I want to anticipate her films airing on TCM and be excited about watching them.

 

I hope I've made sense here.  I know what I'm trying to say; but sometimes, it's hard to put your thoughts and feelings into actual text that makes sense to others who don't know you outside of the image you convey online.

I've always hated that term "blonde bombshell". I think it goes back to a song from the '50s with that title that I heard as a little kid. It really s u c k e d.

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We're of a similar mind on this, speedracer.  I've always sort of wanted to like Jean Harlow more than I do; if William Powell and Myrna Loy loved her, then I should too.  And I do like her, but I don't see what the "big deal" is either.

 

I really enjoyed her playing against type in Wife vs. Secretary, and of her more typical roles my favorite is in Libeled Lady.  But when she's playing a character in that vein, a little goes a long way for me -- as a foursome, Libeled Lady gives me just the right amount of her. 

 

I think her unexpected death at a young age plays a role in her enduring legacy, but it's just one factor.  I will say I'm often struck by how unguarded and happy she looks in candid photos, so she may be one of those people who just had a certain energy that comes through the screen and makes her interesting to watch pretty much regardless of what she's doing.  I don't feel that way myself, but I can sort of see it.

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We're of a similar mind on this, speedracer.  I've always sort of wanted to like Jean Harlow more than I do; if William Powell and Myrna Loy loved her, then I should too.  And I do like her, but I don't see what the "big deal" is either.

 

I really enjoyed her playing against type in Wife vs. Secretary, and of her more typical roles my favorite is in Libeled Lady.  But when she's playing a character in that vein, a little goes a long way for me -- as a foursome, Libeled Lady gives me just the right amount of her. 

 

I think her unexpected death at a young age plays a role in her enduring legacy, but it just one factor.  I will say I'm often struck by how unguarded and happy she looks in candid photos, so she may be one of those people who just had a certain energy that comes through the screen and makes her interesting to watch pretty much regardless of what she's doing.  I don't feel that way myself, but I can sort of see it.

 

Well you stated my view of Harlow very well.     I do enjoy many of the movies she was in but the movies I like best are where Harlow isn't the main attraction.     Libeled Lady is a good example with Platinum Blonde being another.  While the title would suggest the movie is built around Harlow the plot centers around the male star, Robert WIlliams,  and there is also Loretta Young (who I find to be a lot more beautiful then Harlow).

 

But thanks to TCM,  I'm now a fan of Harlow.    I really wasn't until a few years ago.     

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Thanks everyone for your opinions.  I'm glad I'm not alone on wanting to like Jean Harlow; but haven't been able to do more than just observe her in her films.  I figured that part of her allure is due to her early death--which is tragic.  For someone so young, she had a lot of health problems.  I believe that it was determined that a childhood bout with scarlet fever contributed to her early death due to kidney failure.  I think during the making of Libeled Lady (?) she was recovering from a really bad sunburn, which I remember reading was called "sun poisoning."

 

I read that she also didn't wear underwear, for some reason, I thought maybe that was part of her appeal, or at least contributed to her sex symbol image. 

 

I still find her voice kind of annoying.  Not a sexy voice at all.  Very shrill; but it works somewhat for her comedic parts. 

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I have been collecting on Jean Harlow for over twenty years. I love her looks and the way she acts. The platinum blonde years are my favorite when I think she was sexy her brownette years she was more mature and ladylike. Too bad she did not live longer to see what her career held in story for her and what her life with William Powell would have been like.....

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Thanks everyone for your opinions.  I'm glad I'm not alone on wanting to like Jean Harlow; but haven't been able to do more than just observe her in her films.  I figured that part of her allure is due to her early death--which is tragic.  For someone so young, she had a lot of health problems.  I believe that it was determined that a childhood bout with scarlet fever contributed to her early death due to kidney failure.  I think during the making of Libeled Lady (?) she was recovering from a really bad sunburn, which I remember reading was called "sun poisoning."

 

I read that she also didn't wear underwear, for some reason, I thought maybe that was part of her appeal, or at least contributed to her sex symbol image. 

 

I still find her voice kind of annoying.  Not a sexy voice at all.  Very shrill; but it works somewhat for her comedic parts. 

Her voice works more than "somewhat" for her comedic parts. She had one of the great comedic voices in film history.

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Well, everyone who knows ME will also know that I think Harlow was FAR more attractive and sexier than Marlene Deitrich( I don't even CARE if I spelled it right!).  I mean, the closest description I can GIVE for Marlene is..."Face like an OSTRICH!"

 

Sepiatone

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Marlene Dietrich was one of the great actresses of all time, and almost never mailed in a performance, but she was about as sexy as a B&D assembly line worker.*  Harlow could have lightened up on the pancake powder, but her whole demeanor was infinitely more inviting than that  German Nursehound fish known as Lily Marlene.

 

*Not that there's anything wrong with that. :)

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Marlene Dietrich was one of the great actresses of all time, and almost never mailed in a performance, but she was about as sexy as a B&D assembly line worker.*  Harlow could have lightened up on the pancake powder, but her whole demeanor was infinitely more inviting than that  German Nursehound fish known as Lily Marlene.

 

*Not that there's anything wrong with that. :)

I have to agree that I can find many actresses that I think are more attractive than Dietrich-- although I envy her legs.  While I am not familiar with much of her work, I can say that I really enjoyed her small role in Touch of Evil

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i dunno.

 

the bleached hair and penciled brows.      :(

 

i did like her paired with wallace beery.

 

why do blondes have more (allegedly) fun?

I'm not a fan of Harlow's look either; but I blame it on the trends of the 1930s.  Had she not died in 1937, I wonder if she would have toned down her look or gone back to her natural look when the 1940s started.  Bette Davis had the bleached hair and penciled brows too in the early to mid 30s; but by the end of the decade, she had returned to her natural hair color and a more natural looking makeup. 

 

I don't know why blondes supposedly have more fun.  I have brown hair and I seem to be doing fine.

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I'm not a fan of Harlow's look either; but I blame it on the trends of the 1930s.  Had she not died in 1937, I wonder if she would have toned down her look or gone back to her natural look when the 1940s started.  Bette Davis had the bleached hair and penciled brows too in the early to mid 30s; but by the end of the decade, she had returned to her natural hair color and a more natural looking makeup. 

 

I don't know why blondes supposedly have more fun.  I have brown hair and I seem to be doing fine.

 

Yeah, and let us not forget about Bette's "close friend" Joan Crawford's penciled-in eyebrows back when SHE first hit the scene...

 

joan-crawford.png

 

 

...and then later on when she went to a more "natural" eyebrow look in the '50s and '60s...

 

 

 

crawford.jpg

 

(...I guess Joan never heard the ol' expression, "A happy medium", eh?!) LOL

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Yeah, and let us not forget about Bette's "close friend" Joan Crawford's penciled-in eyebrows back when SHE first hit the scene...

 

joan-crawford.png

 

 

...and then later on when she went to a more "natural" eyebrow look in the '50s and '60s...

 

 

 

crawford.jpg

 

(...I guess Joan never heard the ol' expression, "A happy medium", eh?!) LOL

Haha.  I always found that Joan's "natural" eyebrows gave her a somewhat terrifying quality.  I don't know why.  She doesn't carry off the thick brow as well as Audrey Hepburn.  In that second picture of Crawford, she looks like she's wearing a Joan Crawford Halloween mask!

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I'm not a fan of Harlow's look either; but I blame it on the trends of the 1930s. Had she not died in 1937, I wonder if she would have toned down her look or gone back to her natural look when the 1940s started. Bette Davis had the bleached hair and penciled brows too in the early to mid 30s; but by the end of the decade, she had returned to her natural hair color and a more natural looking makeup.

 

I don't know why blondes supposedly have more fun. I have brown hair and I seem to be doing fine.

Actually,.Harlow had already started do tone down her look, in the last.few films. It would probably gone further had she lived.

 

Bette Davis was forced by WB into a more conventionally "glamorous" look, once the studio decided she could be a big asset, started to build her and give her star parts, @ 1933/34. This only lasted.for a handful of films,, as she got rid of the platinum hair, and went to a more natural look by 1935. She always had that rebellious streak, and refused to be fit into a predesigned mold for long.

 

A better example of a Harlow wannabe would be Alice Faye. Since her film debut in 1933, she sported the platinum hair, pencil thin eyebrows, and brassy persona pinched directly from Harlow. However, in late 1935, soon after the merger of Faye's studio, Fox, with Darryl Zanuck's 20th Century Pictures, that Zanuck decided she could be a major star, and had her tone down the Harlow look; her hair reverted to a honey blonde, her eyebrows were grown in, and her brassiness onscreen Was.much subdued. She soon became one of the top stars in Hollywood, until she turned her back and walked away in 1945.

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Yeah, and let us not forget about Bette's "close friend" Joan Crawford's penciled-in eyebrows back when SHE first hit the scene...

 

joan-crawford.png

 

 

...and then later on when she went to a more "natural" eyebrow look in the '50s and '60s...

 

 

 

crawford.jpg

 

(...I guess Joan never heard the ol' expression, "A happy medium", eh?!) LOL

Joan Crawford,.a.trendsetter during her most popular period of the early to mid 1930s, was actually the star who started the trend away from the pencil thin eyebrows, which she herself wore in the late.1920a and very early 30s. She did this gradually, film by film from about 1931. By around 1934 it was obvious,.and continued through the rest of the 30s,, and into the 40s..and beyond. The only reversal to this was for THE WOMEN, when she went for a.more thin look.
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Haha.  I always found that Joan's "natural" eyebrows gave her a somewhat terrifying quality.  I don't know why.  She doesn't carry off the thick brow as well as Audrey Hepburn.  In that second picture of Crawford, she looks like she's wearing a Joan Crawford Halloween mask!

While she may have started the thick eyebrow look, which was very popular in the 50s, by then the very mature Joan Crawford could never compete with all the young.stars.and.starlets who wore them thick. Crawford's whole countenance by then was (purposely) terrifying.

 

Another young star in that decade known for her thick eyebrows was Elizabeth Taylor, in her case, for setting off her violet.eyes.

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While she may have started the thick eyebrow look, which was very popular in the 50s, by then the very mature Joan Crawford could never compete with all the young.stars.and.starlets who wore them thick. Crawford's whole countenance by then was (purposely) terrifying.

 

Another young star in that decade known for her thick eyebrows was Elizabeth Taylor, in her case, for setting off her violet.eyes.

 

And lets not forget Dorothy Malone, and especially after she went blonde in the mid-1950s but still kept those thick dark brows of hers...

 

dorothy-malone-written-on-the-wind-escri

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