The contemporaneous subtitle of this photo was “A GAUDY STAR,” which — although accurate — feels a bit rude! (The entire Informative Caption reads, “11th August 1933: A gaudily dressed Jean Harlow (1911 – 1937) sitting at a piano in a glamorous metallic gown.” And truly, this entire experience screams GLAMOUR to me. Why become a movie star if you cannot sit at a piano in front of a superfluous but visually interesting metal fireplace screen seemingly placed there by a deranged assistant, literally draped in gold and wearing approximately seventy-four bracelets? It’s truly the entire point.
For those of you who did not have the Jean Harlow paper dolls that I myself owned, despite never seeing any of her films, a primer, courtesy of her Wiki page, which is a wide ride and quite a juicy read:
Harlow was first signed by business magnate Howard Hughes, who directed her first major role in Hell’s Angels (1930). After a series of critically unsuccessful films, and Hughes’s losing interest in her career, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought out Harlow’s contract in 1932, and cast her in leading roles in a string of hits built on her comedic talent: Red-Headed Woman (1932), Red Dust (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Reckless (1935) and Suzy (1936). Harlow’s popularity rivaled and then surpassed that of MGM’s top leading ladies Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. She died at the age of 26, of kidney failure during filming of Saratoga. MGM completed the film with the use of body doubles and released it less than two months after her death; it became the highest-grossing picture of 1937 for the studio.
This body doubles thing was NOT covered in my paper dolls. Nor was the fact that Jean’s mother was (as far as I can tell, reading between the lines), a real stage mom and possibly a handful; that Jean had more than one brush with the mob; that her husband of two months was (maybe) MURDERED by his LOVER and the studio made it look like a suicide but then whoops some people thought she did it; her arranged marriage to get her out of having to testify in a divorce suit brought by a different lover’s wife; and her final illness, which was awful and seems as if it involved getting sepsis after having her wisdom teeth out and it just all snowballing. That’s a lot of life for twenty-six years. She definitely deserved all the bracelets she could get.