NAME: Harlean Carpenter; changed name to: Jean Harlow
BORN: March 3rd, 1911
PARENTS: Father: Mont Clair Carpenter; dentist. Mother: Mother Jean Bello
DIED: June 7th, 1937
CAUSE OF DEATH: Kidney failure
BURIED: Forest Lawn Glendale; Los Angeles, California
The movie star, Jean Harlow, was the sex symbol of the 1930s, who portrayed frankly sensuous types. Harlow adopted her mother’s maiden name, worked as a film extra, and from 1928 played bit parts in comedies at the Hal Roach Studios. Hell’s Angels (1930) was a box-office hit that established her stardom and initiated a nationwide craze for platinum-blonde hair. Paired with Hollywood’s most popular leading men, including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and William Powell, Harlow became one of the cinema’s chief money-makers by the early 1930s. She emerged as a comedienne in such films as Platinum Blonde (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932), Red Dust (1932), Bombshell (1933), and Hold Your Man (1933), with even greater success.
Other well-remembered films in which she appeared include Dinner at Eight (1933), China Seas (1935), and Libeled Lady (1936). Harlow was married briefly to the motion-picture executive Paul Bern, whose suicide in 1932 caused widespread scandal. The following year she married the Hollywood cameraman Hal Rosson (married 1933, divorced 1935). Her untimely death from uremic poisoning occurred during the filming of Saratoga (1937).
Harlean Carpenter was born on March 3rd, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother, known as Mother Jean, never allowed Harlean to see her father, who was a dentist, but she would sneak visits to see him throughout her short life.
After divorcing her father, Mother Jean moved the young Harlean to Hollywood to try her hand at stardom. Soon marrying a man named Marino Bello, Mother Jean once again moved Harlean to Chicago, where she attended high school.
She suffered illnesses throughout her life – meningitis at age 5, scarlet fever at age 15. At age 16, Harlean married 23 year old Charles McGrew, and moved to Beverly Hills. Her ambition was to be a mother and wife, but to please Mother Jean she became an extra in short films. Never wanting to become a star, she accepted a staring role in “Why is a Plumber?” in 1927. Divorcing her husband after 2 years of marriage, her career was about to take off.
In 1930, movie producer and entrepreneur Howard Hughes became interested in Jean and cast her in Hell’s Angels. In Hell’s Angels, she spoke the now famous line, “Would you be shocked if I changed into something more comfortable?” Jean’s appearance in Hell’s Angels solidified her role as America’s new sex symbol. This victory was followed by another hit, Platinum Blonde, and several films with Clark Gable. In total, she and Gable would star in six movies together including Red Dust, The Secret Six and Wife vs. Secretary. During the filming of Red Dust, Jean’s second husband of only two months, producer Paul Bern, committed suicide.
In 1933’s Dinner at Eight, Jean was at her comedic best. Later that year she starred in Bombshell, a Hollywood parody based loosely on her real-life experiences with her controlling mother and greedy stepfather. Also in 1933, Jean married cinematographer Harold Rosson, but the marriage would only last eight months.
To accompany her rising career, in 1935 she legally changed her name to Jean Harlow, her mother’s maiden name.
Following the end of her marriage, Jean found the love of her life in actor William Powell.
They were together for two years – before they could wed, Jean’s health declined. While filming Saratoga in 1937, Jean was hospitalized with uremic poisoning and kidney failure, a result of the scarlet fever she had suffered during childhood. In the days before dialysis and kidney transplants, nothing could be done and Jean died on June 7, 1937. The film had to be finished using long angle shots and a double, Mary Dees. Clark Gable was reported to have said that he felt as if he was “in the arms of a ghost.” After a large Hollywood funeral organized by Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Jean was buried in the mausoleum in Forest Lawn Glendale, in Los Angeles.