There is a popular expression that says blondes have more fun – but once upon a time people had a different perspective on things. During a time when nearly every leading lady in Hollywood was a brunette, one platinum blonde actress came along and altered everyone’s perception of beauty.
Harlean Carpenter, the woman who would later become known as Jean Harlow, was born March 3, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri. Her childhood was plagued with illnesses, from meningitis at age five to scarlet fever at age fifteen. Yet despite her constant struggles with her health, Jean’s mother was intent on helping her daughter become an actress. In fact, Jean only took up acting to please her mother – she initially wanted to be a housewife.
At age sixteen, Jean was living in Los Angeles with her then-husband, Charles Fremont McGrew (a marriage that lasted for only a couple of years). After small roles in more than a dozen films, Jean landed the iconic role as Helen in Howard Hughe’s 1930 film, Hell’s Angels. Her character was all around seductive and sultry, but it was Jean’s blonde locks that inspired thousands of copycat hairdos across the country.
Her on screen ventures went on to include films such as Libeled Lady, The Public Enemy, and no fewer than six movies with Clark Gable. She effectively played both dramatic and comedic roles that helped cement her status as an icon.
Marilyn Monroe often referred to Jean as her idol, and it was reported that graphic novelist Frank Miller looked to Jean as one of the inspirations behind Catwoman. She married twice more after divorcing Charles – in 1932, to director Paul Bern and in 1933 to cinematographer Harold Rosson. Neither marriage lasted long.
Unfortunately, Jean’s childhood illnesses eventually caught up with her. In 1937, she became sick with acute renal failure. Shortly after, at the age of 26, Jean Harlow passed away.
Though her acting career only lasted ten years, Jean Harlow appeared in over thirty movies. She remains the sparkling girl of Hollywood’s Golden Era.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.