I just updated my Shelfari book shelves which, if you're curious about my reading habits, you can see towards the bottom of this blog, right side.
While on the glorious vacation of my last post, I read two books: "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown and "Harlow" by Irving Shulman. The Dan Brown book was a fun read, the perfect beach book. But I zipped through it and needed something new. I found a 40 year old paperback copy of a book I'd read in junior high, "Harlow". It was an original paperback and I wondered if I had remembered her story with any reliability. I had but I hadn't. I was now reading about a woman from the perspective of a woman. I'd admired her as a child, loved her movies which I watched on tv with my mother. I was intrigued by her tragic marriage, unfulfilled love affair with William Powell of "The Thin Man" fame and her unexpected, some say "preventable" early death.
Jean Harlow has always held my fascination. She was beautiful, sassy, sexy and impossibly blonde. The terms "blonde bombshell" and "sex goddess" were coined for Jean. She started the "platinum blonde" craze because her hair, described as baby fine, and blonde had a whiteness to it. She may have enhanced it onscreen via the bottle but she was always towheaded. Thousands of women dyed their hair platinum blonde to emulate her.
I loved her speech mannerisms and hard edged dialect. She began her career playing scandalous parts. Her characters were typically girls from blue collar backgrounds who, through sex, brains and/or hard work managed to make their way in the world of men, show business, the white collar environment, even the jungle. My favorite examples: "Wife Vs Secretary", "Dinner at Eight", "Red Dust", "Bombshell", "Red Headed Woman".
I love her comedy, her sarcasm, her wit. She would stand toe to toe with the biggest stars in the business and be on equal footing. Over the years, her acting has been derided but I think she's terrific.
Harlow was very photogenic with lovely cheekbones, a dimpled chin, a kewpie doll mouth and that shimmering hair which demands your attention. In the 1930s, studio photographers were the best in the business. She left a large library of fabulous images.
My favorite Jean Harlow movie is "Dinner at Eight". It's considered a comedy classic. Written for the stage by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, it was adapted to the screen in 1933. Here's the most famous clip from this oft quoted film.
The following video is a bit long but contains lovely photographs of a true screen legend who was just getting started. Jean Harlow died of renal failure in 1937. She was 26.