She was Hollywood's "PLATIUM BOMBSHELL" and her name was JEAN HARLOW!
In 1965, 28 years after Jean Harlow's death, two studios raced each other. To become the first to get their motion picture biography of the actress into movie theaters.
Above, Jean Harlow at the height of her career. Below, the "Two Motion Picture Harlow's", Carroll Baker and Carol Lynley.
THE EARLY LIFE OF JEAN HARLOW
Harlean Harlow Carpenter was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911. For her entire short life, she was called "Baby", by her mother and those who knew her. She would pass away at the young age of 26, but that was long enough to become a motion picture legend.
Jean Harlow's real story, started at the age of 12 years, in 1923. When her mother, the divorced, Jean Poe Carpenter, took her dream of becoming a "Movie Star" to Hollywood, California.
Jean, had dropped the last name of Harlow after her divorce. Arriving in Hollywood, she planned to start her imagined film career, but at the age of 34 years, "Mama Jean", was told she was too old. Her ex-husband, wealthy real estate broker, Skip Harlow, re-entered the picture, by threatening to financially cut his ex-wife's alimony, unless Jean and Harlean returned to Kansas City. The threat worked!
"Mama Jean", probably with Skip Harlow's help, enrolled their daughter in the prestigious "Ferry Hall School", now the "Lake Forest Academy", in Lake Forest, Illinois. The real purpose behind Harlean's enrollment was to allow "Mama Jean" to be near her boyfriend, Marino Bello.
Shortly after her marriage to Bello, "Mama Jean's" plan to keep control over her daughter's life, backfired on her. This happened at a "Ferry Hall School" dance, when, Harlean met 19 years old, Charles "Chuck" Fremont McGrew III. By the end of 1927, the two were married and Harlean never graduated.
At the start of 1928, the couple moved from Lake Forest, Illinois, to Beverly Hills, California. This was partly a means of getting Harlean away from "Mama Jean". At that time, "Chuck" had received a portion of his large inheritance and the two became a part of Beverly Hills Society, but were known to be very heavy drinkers and disrupters.
In 1928, one of Harlean's girlfriends, Rosalie Roy, who like "Mama Jean", dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress, needed a lift to the Fox Studios and Harlean drove her there. While waiting for Rosalie to return, Harlean was spotted by a Fox executive, offered a screen test, but she turned that offer down.
However, the executive gave her a letter of introduction to "Central Casting", if she changed her mind. Rosalie made a bet with Harlean, that she didn't have the nerve to go for a screen test. Not wanting to lose a wager, she did. However, by this time, "Mama Jean" was back in her life and also pushed her daughter to go for it.
Harlean signed the forms for "Central Casting", but used her mother's original married name of "Jean Harlow". The screen test was a success, but the young woman was still not sure of what she wanted in life. Harlean "Jean Harlow" Carpenter, turned down offers of movie work, but "Mama Jean" wouldn't let up. Seeing through her daughter, the means of making her own "Hollywood Dream" come true.
Jean Harlow, gave in to her mother's constant pressure and started out as an extra without on-screen credit. She was working in comedic roles for Producer Hal Roach and had signed a five-year contract with him. She even appeared in some shorts with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Things were looking good in the views of "Mama Jean" and Hal Roach for her future, if still not completely sure in the mind of the "New Jean Harlow".
However, Harlean's marriage to Chuck McGrew was going down hill, because of her film work.
According to biographer, David Stenn, in his 1993, "Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow". In, March 1929, Harlow told Hal Roach that film work:
---was breaking up my marriage, what can I do?
Roach, to help the young actress, tore up her contract. So, she was free to do work in films without pressure, or stay home with her husband.
In, June of 1929, Harlean McGrew finally separated from Chuck and moved in with "Mama Jean" and her husband, Marino Bello. Perhaps to get away from Marino even for a few hours a day. As there has always been stories of Marino forcing himself, sexually, on her. Jean Harlow, now went back to work as a film extra.
In all, between April 29, 1928 and December 28, 1929, Jean Harlow made 18 on-screen appearance without credit. Also, by December, she was a divorced woman and then a legend began to be born.
are two stories about how extra Jean Harlow got the starring role of "Helen". One
states it was the film's star, Ben Lyon, that noticed her in a Laurel and Hardy short. The other, that
cameraman, and her future talent agent, Arthur Landau, spotted Harlow on the studio lot. Whichever, if either,
Howard Hughes now hired the unknown Jean Harlow for the role. Hughes signed the
actress to a five-year, $100 dollar-per-week, contract. Which is equal to
$1,500 a week at the time of this writing.
HELL'S ANGELS released May 27, 1930
Howard Hughes started principal photography for his, World War One Air Corp, motion picture drama, "Hell's Angels", on October 31, 1927. Everything had seemed to be going right, but then came Al Jolson and "The Jazz Singer". All of Hughes' silent footage was almost useless except for the flying scenes that could have sound effects added.
Above, Howard Hughes in the 1930's.
The silent film, "Hell's Angels", was being shot starring Ben Lyon, James Hall and Swedish actress, Greta Nisen, in the critical role of "Helen". Both men's sound tests were excellent. However, Nisen's Swedish accent, not her acting, would not work in the same role with sound. Greta Nisen was let go, all her footage trashed, and the search for a replacement started.
Additionally, Hughes needed a new Director that could work with the demanding Producer on the dialogue sequences. Two had already left the production and Howard Hughes was Directing the flying sequences himself.
As I mentioned, whomever was responsible for Howard Hughes giving a screen test to Jean Harlow. The fact remains, that Harlow was given the leading role of "Helen" and a major step in her film career.
As to the Director problem facing Howard Hughes. That was solved by a British film and stage Director named James Whale. This film is part of my article,
"JAMES WHALE: Jean Harlow to Louis Hayward" at:
AFTER "HELL'S ANGELS"
What would follow, were 24 other on-screen appearances, that included 1931's, "The Public Enemy". In which Jean Harlow co-starred with James Cagney, in the motion picture that really started his career. One of her other five on-screen appearances was in Director Frank Capra's, "Platinum Blonde". Which actually starred Loretta Young and Robert Williams. The feature was to have been named "Gallagher", for Young's character's name, but was changed to work off of Howard Hughes' publicity blitz around 3rd billed Harlow's hair color.
Additionally, when the Publicity Department heard the actress had attended "Ferry Hall School". They used that fact, because of how hard it was to get into the school and the status of its graduates. Of course, as I said, Jean Harlow never graduated.
In 1932, it was the classic "Red Dust", starring Clark Gable and Mary Astor. This was Jean's second film with Gable and by this time he had moved into star billing. Jean Harlow's first on-screen appearance with Clark Gable had been the Wallace Beery starring vehicle, 1931's, crime drama, "The Secret Six". Jean had 4th billing and Clark had 7th.
According to actress Fay Wray, as mentioned in the 1978 book, "The Hollywood Beauties", by James Robert Parish and Gregory W. Stanke. Jean Harlow was to have portrayed "Ann Darrow", in Merian C. Cooper's, 1933, "King Kong", but MGM refused to give permission to let the actress work for RKO Pictures. So, Wray, wearing a blonde wig, became "Darrow" and the rest is movie history.
While "Baby" was moving upwards in the motion picture business. She had yet, or ever would, completely break away from her mother's influence. "Mama Jean" would dominate "Baby's" entire life, and her fellow actors, as I mentioned, such as Spencer Tracy, or her MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer, picked up "Mama Jean's" nickname for the actress.
Above, is Jean with her mother, in 1934. Below, the two are with Marino Bello.
The 1935, musical comedy, "Reckless", co-starred William Powell and Franchot Tone. While, the same year's, "China Seas", co-starred, once again, Clark Gable, with Wallace Beery now having 3rd billing after the features two stars.
Jean Harlow's final on-screen appearance was never completed. She co-starred with Clark Gable in the comedy drama, 1937's, "Saratoga". She would die from Kidney failure, before the filming was completed and a double was used to finish the picture.
TWO MARRIAGES AND ONE PARTNER
Paul Bern was a producer, screenwriter and director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and he met Jean Harlow shortly after the premiere of "Hell's Angels". Their romance was seen as special by both the Hollywood film colony and the critics. In, June 1932, the two announced their engagement and were married, on July 2, 1932.
On September 5, 1932, Paul Bern was found dead in their Beverly Hills home. There was a suicide note left that read:
Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you to wipe out my abject humiliation,
I love you,
You understand that last night was only a comedy
Authorities accepted the suicide note and the case was closed, but overtime two theories have been mentioned.
In a 1960 issue of "Playboy Magazine", screenplay writer Ben Hecht, 1932's "Beast of the City", starring Jean Harlow, the James Stewart, 1939, "It's A Wonderful World" and Alfred Hitchcock's, 1945, "Spellbound", suggested that Paul Bern was murdered by an unknown woman. Believing, that the studio covered it up to protect both Harlow and MGM from the possibly publicity. That their number one actress was being cheated upon.
In his September, 1990 book, "Deadly Illusions". A friend and colleague of Paul Bern, Producer Samuel Marx, arrived at the Bern household the morning of the "Suicide". He claims to have found MGM Executive Irving Thalberg, a friend of both men, tampering with the evidence prior to the police departments arrival. According to Marx, the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, told a group of studio executives, of which he was a part of, that Paul Bern's death would be ruled a suicide, because of his hidden impotence. This would stop any scandal that would ruin Jean Harlow's career and bring sympathy to her. The real reason, according to Marx, was that Paul Bern had been murdered by his common-law-wife, Dorothy Millette. Who then, committed suicide herself, by jumping overboard off the "Delta King" cruise ship, on its way from San Francisco to Sacramento, California.
Whatever, the real truth died with both Paul Bern and Jean Harlow!
Harold Rosson was a cinematographer and he married Jean Harlow on September 17, 1933. During the shooting her picture, "Bombshell".
The two had previously worked together both on 1932's, "Red-Header Women", and "Red Dust". Along with both 1933's, "Dinner at Eight", and "Hold Your Man".
The important point here, is that Jean Harlow had proposed to Harold Rosson and not the other way around. Their marriage lasted only until May, 1934, when the two separated. Harlow was granted a divorce in March of 1935.
Working together on set, had not really shown the actress Rosson's true personality. She saw, what she believed was the real Rosson. In the divorce proceedings, Jean Harlow claimed he was:
rude, sullen and irritable
In 1933, actor William Powell, the "Thin Man" series with Myrna Loy, divorced actress Carol Lombard. The following year he became Jean Harlow's "Partner" and in 1937, the two were set to be married, but then she passed away.
Below, Jean Harlow's resting place at, "Forest Lawn Memorial Park", in Glendale, California. One of the plaques refers to her as:
Jean Harlow's mother lived until, June 11, 1958, and passed away at the age of 67.
Columbia Pictures was the first studio to seriously looked at the project. They had planned to star "B" Actress, Cleo Moore. Moore was also known as a "Blonde Bombshell" and was a far better actress than the roles she was given. At the time, Cleo Moore, was only in her early twenties, but the project fell through.
This project also never got beyond the talking stage.
Although not a perfect Jean Harlow. There is the character of "Rina Marlowe" with just a little of Jane Russell thrown in. Then there is "Marlowe's" husband, Director "Claude Dunbar", who commits suicide shortly after their marriage that may have been gay.
The third main character, with an entire book length back story, is the cowboy star "Max Sand" aka: "Nevada Smith". He could be a composite of "B" Cowboys, Tom Mix and William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd. Some people think there's a little Ken Maynard in the character.
My reader gets the point here.
THE CARPETBAGGERS released April 9, 1964
When Paramount Pictures was casting for "Harlow". The Executive Producer was Joseph E. Levine and he considered "The Carpetbaggers", as Carroll Baker's screen test for the role. As she had already played Jean Harlow.
If my reader wasn't there in 1965, you might miss some of the nuances of the film race to be the first to get their biographical "Harlow" film into movie theaters.
For those above reasons, I am approaching the two films as the competitors for my ticket price they were.
Gordon Douglas, Directed the Paramount feature. Douglas was known to Science Fiction Fans for the 1954 classic, "THEM!" Just before this picture, Douglas had Directed Carroll Baker in the 1965 mystery, "Sylvia". He would follow "Harlow", with the 1966, Ann-Margaret and Alex Cord, remake of John Ford's "Stagecoach". By the time, Gordon Douglas Directed this picture, his resume included 83 motion pictures in every imagined genre.
Alex Segal was the Director for the Magna Pictures Corporation. Unlike, Gordon Douglas, the majority of Segal's work was strictly on television. Between his first Directing assignment, on the forgotten, 1949, television series, "Volume One", to this motion picture. Alex Segal had Directed 73 different television episodes and only 3 motion pictures. Those were, the Glenn Ford and Donna Reed, 1956, "Ransom", 1963's, "All the Way Home", starring Jean Simmons and Robert Preston, and 1965's, "Joy in the Morning", starring Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux.
At the time of shooting the picture, Carroll Baker was 34 years old. She had just been seen in the African adventure feature, "Mister Moses", starring Robert Mitchum, filmed in Kenya. It would be two-years after "Harlow", before Baker would be seen on-screen again. Then it would be in the 1967, Italian language film, "L'harem (Her Harem)", and her start in European productions.
The reason the actress appeared in the Italian film, went back to "Harlow", and Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine.
In an, August 14, 1965, published interview, by Leonard Lyons, entitled, "Carroll Baker-Levine Rift Is Indicated By Film Star".
Baker is quoted as commenting:
I'll say this about Joe Levine. I admire his taste in ladies.
The whole thing may have started over the film critic's lack of excitement about "Harlow" and Carroll Baker's performance.
Whatever the real facts were, Carroll Baker, in 1966, sued Joseph E. Levine over her contract with Paramount. The studio had her paychecks for "Harlow" frozen, and she was fired. This left the actress thousands of dollars in debt, but eventually she won a million dollars in financial compensation.
At the time of shooting this picture, Carol Lynley was 23 years old. She had just been seen in the updated version of 1954's, "Three Coins in the Fountain", 1964's, "The Pleasure Seekers", co-starring with Ann-Margaret and Anthony Franciosa. Lynley would follow "Harlow", with the mystery thriller, 1965's, "Bunny Lake Is Missing", co-starring Keir Dullea and Sir Laurence Olivier.
Unlike, Carroll Baker, according to her obituary, "Carol Lynley Dead: 'The Poseidon Adventure' Actress Dies at 77", dated September 5, 2019, in "The Hollywood Reporter". Lynley was at the height of her career in 1965.
She also appeared in the March, 1965, issue of "Playboy Magazine".
Her nude photos can be found on pages 108-115.
Three Major Supporting Characters:
Both films changed some names and made up other characters to tell their version of the life of Jean Harlow.
One name both features had was "Mama Jean Bello".
Neither motion picture had Howard Hughes in it. He was still alive and both production companies worried about potential lawsuits.
The Magna :Picture Corporation wasn't afraid of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had "Louis B. Mayer", portrayed by actor Jack Kruschen, Character actor Kruschen, was in the Science Fiction classic, from Producer George Pal, 1953's, "War of the Worlds" and the 1959, "The Angry Red Planet". He had just been seen in the James Stewart, 1965 comedy, "Dear Brigitte", and would follow this film with an appearance on televisions 1966, "Batman".
Below, Louis B. Mayer in the 1930's.
"Marie Dressler" played by Hermione Baddeley.
"Marie Ouspenskaya" played by Celia Lovsky.
"Stan Laurel" played by James "Jim" Plunkett.
"Oliver Hardy" played by John "Red" Fox.
"Al Jolson" played by Buddy Lewis.
The Paramount Picture's screenplay was based upon two books. The first, from the author and screenplay writer, 1955's, "Rebel Without a Cause" and 1957's, "Baby Face Nelson", Irving Shulman's, 1964 book: "Harlow: An Intimate Biography". The second, from, Jean Harlow's Talent Agent, Arthur M. Landau's, 1965 book, "Harlow".
Above, a publicity picture of Carroll Baker with Irving Sculman's scandalous and very popular, at the time, "HARLOW: An Intimate Biography".
While, the Magna Pictures Corporation release was an original story from Karl Tunberg. Tunberg was twice nominated for an Academy Award. The first, in 1941, for his Original Screenplay, "Tall Dark and Handsome", and, the second, Best Adapted Screenplay, for 1959's, "Ben-Hur". In which he was the only screenplay writer.
The Two Screenplays:
The Paramount Pictures screenplay starts out with Jean Harlow already an extra. She has to deal with her greedy and sexually abusive step father, "Marino Bello", and her controlling mother "Mama Jean Bello". Who doesn't seem to realized what her husband is doing to her daughter, or is she just ignoring it?
Jean Harlow meets Talent Agent, "Arthur Landau" and starts her rise to fame. In this picture, Jean has an unwanted, sexual relationship, with "Richard Manley".
The growing stress of her career starts to mount on Jean, aided by "Mama Jean" pushing her daughter even harder. This all leads "Jean Harlow" into several meaningless relationships, alcoholism, and her death by kidney failure.
Not being a trained actress, actor "William Mansfield", mocks her, but her sexy comedic style starts to win over audiences. However, Jean Harlow, has to deal with "Mama Jean", who is using her daughter's fame and money for her and her husband, "Marino Bello's", own life style.
When, Jean Harlow returns to Hollywood, her acting skills impress both "Louis B. Mayer" and "William Mansfield". "Mansfield" starts to fall in love with Jean, but she becomes serious ill and at 26, dies from kidney failure.
Enter the Magna Picture Corporation and the idea of making their own "Harlow" and beating Paramount to the box office. Where the Paramount film was being shot in Technicolor and Widescreen. The Magna film would be shot in Black and White.
There was a real purpose for using Black and White. Magna's "Harlow" was being shot as a television program. Producer H William "Bill" Sargent called his process "Electronovision". In 1964, Sargent had shot, live, Richard Burton's, Broadway production, of William Shakespeare's, "Hamlet", to a 3 million dollar profit.
In actuality, "Electronovison", was nothing more than a higher resolution of the old television "Kinescope" process and transferring the Kinescope tape to film stock. Old School and very effective.
For those of my readers unfamiliar with how "Kinescope" worked. My article, "The Start of Television Through Kinescope", may be read at:
What now happened was a very quick shoot of Sargent's "Harlow". Carol Lynley and the cast were very familiar with working on a television set and that basically was what Bill Sargent used. In fact, the entire shoot took only eight days.
As word of the project reached Paramount Pictures and Joseph E. Levine. A campaign was started to stop the second "Harlow". Potential lawsuits were under consideration by the Studio's Lawyers. However, the tactic backfired as the Hollywood Trade papers and Newspaper Film Critics got wind of the dueling pictures. This gave Bill Sargent's film the publicity it would never have gotten had Paramount kept quiet. This also permitted, Executive Producer Bill Sargent's "Harlow", to piggyback upon, Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine's "Harlow's" growing publicity.
Although, in some cities, Sargent's movie would became the bottom half of a double-bill by the Distributors.
There would be continuing lawsuits, even after both "Harlow's" were box office failures and had disappeared from viewing. One such lawsuit is highlighted next.
Magna Pictures Corp. v. Paramount Pictures Corp. 265 F. Supp. 144 (C.D. Cal. 1967)
The following are the claims made to the "U.S. District Court for the Central District of California", dated, February 28, 1967. The Plaintiffs were "Magna Pictures Corp" and the Defendants were "Paramount Pictures Corp"
Plaintiffs instituted their action by a complaint for injunction and damages resulting from the alleged conspiracy of the defendants in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act and Section 7 of the Clayton Act.The references are to the "Sherman Anti-Trust Act" of 1890, and the "Clayton Anti-Trust Act" of 1914.
The alleged unlawful acts of the defendants arise out of the production and marketing of two motion pictures bearing the title "HARLOW." Plaintiffs allege that the defendants and others conspired to and engaged in a national campaign of boycott effectively foreclosing the free marketing of plaintiffs' motion picture "HARLOW".
"Magna Pictures Corp", was claiming that "Paramount Pictures Corp", CONSPIRED to block their "Harlow" at the box office by violating two major Anti-Trust Acts.
"Paramount Pictures Corp" blasted back by claiming that it was "Magna Pictures Corp", CONSPIRING AGAINST THEM.
Defendants filed their answer contending that: (1) plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; (2) defendants did not conspire to, nor violate the antitrust laws, and (3) plaintiffs themselves are guilty of unfair competition and are barred for assertion of their claims as the result of their illegal conduct and unclean hands. Defendants also filed a counterclaim alleging unfair competition on the part of the plaintiffs and asking affirmative relief by way of damages. In their counterclaim defendants seek to name a new party ELECTRONOVISION PRODUCTIONS, INC. as part of the conspiracy therein alleged.
WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARED
In about 1966, "Electronovision", went out of business. Bill Sargent attempted to revive the process in 1975, but that failed. In 1966, Paramount Pictures Corp's future changed. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on their Anti-Trust Lawsuits and the once proud studio was split apart. The motion picture operation was sold to Gulf+Western and would continue to decline.
Carroll Baker, as I mentioned, worked in Italy after "Harlow", primarily in Gallo (Horror) movies. She returned to the United States in 1978 with her third husband, Donald Burton, and started appearing on television. The actress had ended her acting career in 2003.
Carol Lynley, after appearing in "Beware the Blob" and "The Poseidon Adventure", both in 1972, switched to television guest appearances. She ended her acting career in 2006. Carol Lynley passed away on September 2, 2019.
In 1965, reflecting the lack of box office, Paramount Home Video, released a VHS tape of the Carroll Baker film. It would be released in 1986 and come to DVD in 2010.
I could not locate a current copy of the Carol Lynley version, but it was released to Home Video and DVD in the past.