Today is Jean Harlow’s 105th birthday! It feels a little odd saying that because to me Jean Harlow is someone who will remain eternally young. And it’s well within the bounds of possibility that someone born in 1911 can celebrate their 105th birthday today because we live in an era of advanced healthcare. Writing about Jean Harlow obviously tends to be somewhat melancholy, due to the emotional struggles in her life and because of her shockingly early death. However I hope that I can celebrate the positive aspects of this thoughtful young woman and about what made her happy.
As we all know, the person we call Jean Harlow was born Harlean Carpenter on this day in 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, a few blocks away from the Powell household.
Jean Harlow was the maiden name of Harlean’s mother – Harlean borrowed the name when an executive spotted the sporty young teenager on the Fox lot in 1928 and signed her up. Harlean in actual fact was only on the Fox lot because she was dropping her friend off who was an extra, but these coincidences are what our Hollywood dreams are made of.
Jean had actually moved to Hollywood initially in her early teens, attending Hollywood High School – her mother was still in her early thirties and longed for a career in motion pictures, and so left her husband behind in Kansas City, taking Jean with her. Not for the lack of trying, the movie career didn’t materialise and they were forced back to Kansas City.
However, when she was 16 Jean met and married Charles McGrew II and they moved back to Hollywood, settling in Beverly Hills. And once signed up with Central Casting Jean began a series of appearances as an extra, eventually coming to the attention of Hal Roach.
Jean’s most famous silent era role was in 1929’s Double Whoopee with Laurel & Hardy, playing the part of ‘Swanky Blonde’. In this picture Jean’s talent for comedy started to become apparent.
Jean was extremely popular with crew members at the ‘Lot of Fun’, a reputation that continued throughout her career. Reminiscent of Carole Lombard’s early career, Jean was also grateful for her experiences with Hal Roach and Laurel & Hardy,
“I wouldn’t trade my experience in those comedies for anything… There was a friendliness and camaraderie about that small studio that was vastly different from the impersonality of the larger studios.”
Platinum Girl: The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow – Eve Golden