The original vamps of Hollywood began as being dark haired vixens, ready to attack for whatever they wanted, be it a man, money or respect. Good girls were always blonde. Until Jean Harlow entered the scene. She was sexy, funny and ultimately one of the brightest shining stars on the Silver Screen.
She was born Harlean Carpenter in 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. She ran away from her middle class digs in 1927 to marry Charles McGrew. They moved to Los Angeles where Jean received her first part in a movie entitled “Moran of the Marines.” Many bit and uncredited roles followed until eccentric multimillionaire Howard Hughes saw Jean. Recognizing her beauty and her inward charm, he slated her as the lead in his film Hell’s Angels. Jean was a success and on her way to becoming the blonde bombshell of Hollywood legend!
Films to follow were Platinum Blonde, Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, Bombshell, China Seas, Wife Vs. Secretary and a handful of others.
With Jean’s sex symbol status firmly in place, she became ill during the filming of Saratoga (1937) On June 7, 1937, she died of uremic poisoning at the age of twenty-six. Saratoga was unfinished at that time and was completed with a double and long angle shots. Clark Gable (her leading man) is reported to have said it felt like he “was in the arms of a ghost” during the final touches of the film. The film ultimately became a huge success, due in part to the public’s curiosity and her untimely death.
Jean Harlow is, and will always be, the first of the Blonde Bombshells and the stuff that legends are made of.