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carole lombard 04

Oh, Baby, not another horrid Harlow bio

Posted by vp19 on 2008.12.11 at 00:20
Current mood: bitchybitchy
It would be safe to say that while many people (including most of us) consider Carole Lombard an icon, to others she doesn't quite reach such an exalted status. While we may argue Lombard deserves to be placed on a higher tier, she does benefit in at least one way: she's never been the subject of a really trashy biography.

In contrast, consider one of Carole's contemporaries and good friends, Jean Harlow.

In the mid-1960s, nearly three decades after Harlow's passing, Irving Shulman came out with a biography that was roundly criticized by people who knew her (including William Powell, who rarely made any public statements following his retirement from films) for its inaccurate portrait of the platinum blonde star as a sex-crazed person of little depth. Many Harlow fans still bristle whenever Shulman's name is mentioned.

Well, it looks as if the "Baby" is going to be posthumously put through the mill once again. Coming next April is another Harlow bio, "Jean Harlow: Tarnished Angel":

And this Harlow book is written by none other than David Bret, whose bio of Clark Gable we addressed several months ago (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/116798.html).

Bret has written a number of celebrity biographies, and many of them have been criticized for their lack of research, pedestrian writing style and overemphasis on sex, with many lurid (and unsubstantiated) rumors thereof. And since Harlow was the premier sex symbol of her era, you just know that topic is going to come up. Especially since it apparently already has.

Much of the Jean Harlow Yahoo! group is up in arms over Bret's book, even though it won't be out for another four months; such is his reputation. One person wrote of the news, "Well I was excited until I saw who wrote the book. This author writes some really trashy books. I am sure he will drag Jean thru the mud. He is the one that wrote in a book about Joan Crawford that Jean had an affair with her stepfather after Paul Bern killed himself."

The Crawford book was called "Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr," and the amazon.co.uk site for the paperback version lists nine reviews. Six of them gave the book one star -- the lowest rating -- with comments such as:

* "This seems to be purely a chronological history of Joan's alleged sexual partners (& any others the Author might happen to know about), together with a set of film synopses which read like a secondary schooler's book review."

* "I found it interesting that the author commented on the books by Marie Riva (excellent book by the way) and Christina in a very unfavourable way and then proceeds to discuss how Joan's mother was a prostitute and she wasn't much better -- if that is how he shows respect, then look out anyone he doesn't respect."

* "I would not recommend wasting your money on this written for hollywood/ daytime soap book. In particular I found the personal bitchy comments about Christina Crawford below the belt and quite frankly childish, however, the language used throughout the book did appear to be written by an immature and limited mind. For all her supporters and detractors she deserves to be remembered in a manner better than this."

* "You never get to know what made Joan Crawford tick. Too much about who slept with who and no analyses of her as an actress."

The lone five-star review came from Bret himself. He also responded to several of the reviews; this, on the second comment above, typified his tone: "Anyone who supports Christina Crawfish and Maria Rivachefolle as GOOD daughters cannot possibly be the full shilling, so I guess I can forgive you, my dear, for your selfish comments. I guess also that Joan Crawford will be weeping her eyes out in heaven right now because you have stopped watching her films."

(To see all the reviews in their entirety, with links to Bret's replies, go to http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/product/1906217378/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_helpful?%5Fencoding=UTF8&coliid=&showViewpoints=1&colid=&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending.)

Yes, this is what Jean Harlow fans have to look forward to. Perhaps Bret will surprise us and come up with a book that's meticulously researched, well written and focuses on what made Jean Harlow tick instead of providing us with a list of her alleged bedroom trysts. (Yes, Jean enjoyed sex, but she was never solely defined by it. She was a complex woman with a lively, down-to-earth personality that made her as popular as Lombard among studio co-workers.) But given Bret's track record, we're not counting on a 180-degree reversal.

Fortunately for Harlow and her fans, she has been the subject of two accurate, largely sensible biographies -- "Platinum Girl" by Eve Golden, and "Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow" by David Stenn. The mid-seventies paperback "Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow" by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein doesn't function on quite so lofty a level, but at least it attempts to treat its subjects as multidimensional people.

Carole's beacon as an icon probably doesn't shine brightly enough for Bret to make her the subject of a bio. And as Lombard fans, that's something we should be thankful for.


(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-02 10:44 (UTC) (Link)

Dear Silents Girl

Such a pity you were not a real silents girl--you would be dead by now. Signed, the very arrogant, atrocious biographer, David Bret.
Dinnyr / Dinner? - (Anonymous) Expand
The Manson Family - (Anonymous) Expand
(Deleted comment)
vp19 at 2008-12-11 13:09 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Permission to share?

Sure, go for the link; I'd be happy to have the people at that group see this (and, in the process, discover "Carole & Co."). Who knows -- we might get an additional member or two.

Incidentally, I felt the same way about Bret's review. The whole affair sort of brought to mind when Rob Schneider took out an ad attacking Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein to counter his comment over "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," only to have Roger Ebert deliver a more devastating reply a few months later ("Your movie sucks") in his review of the followup, "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo." (To Schneider's credit, a few years later, after Ebert underwent serious cancer surgery, he sent him flowers, signed, "Your least favorite actor.")
Reviews - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Reviews - (Anonymous) Expand
stillsparkling at 2008-12-11 13:43 (UTC) (Link)
I hate all those mud-slinging scandal biographies. There are a couple on Mr. Stewart too, most annoyingly for me Marc Eliot's. (I was warned about others I didn't even open myself.) I don't know what people get out of writing these things. Yes, money, but you have to be a pretty low and immature person to want to write such libel in the first place.

Edited at 2008-12-11 10:04 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-02 19:31 (UTC) (Link)

Not sparkling, just flat as the proverbial

And you have to be an even more immature person to write silly little messages on a site like this. Keep up the insults, keep slinging the mud, vomit features...I thrive on it! David Bret
(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-02 18:27 (UTC) (Link)


Have you not heard of the phrase Innocent until proven guilty?
In adopting the same principal as yourself, I therefore assume that you are a bigoted piece of manure, almost certainly a closet lesbian who takes your vibrator to the foot of the mountain each January in the hop that the gorgeous Carole will smile down on you. I am certain that only the dead would wish to have contact with as vile a harridan as yourself, and would wish you only the very friendliest of heart-attacks, though not of course until you have read my "tripe". David Bret...who by the way can out-insult any other tripe on this planet, though in your case I fear that nature got there first.
Re: Tripe? - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(Anonymous) at 2008-12-11 16:58 (UTC) (Link)

From Campaspe (Self-Styled Siren)

Thank you for this well-deserved vivisection of the appalling Bret. I was happily unaware of his existence until I read the Gable bio (which I got from the library, thank goodness--no royalties). In terms of research he makes Kenneth Anger look like Kevin Brownlow. I flipped to the back to check the footnotes and they were all secondary sources, many of which I've read myself and not one of which contained anything like the lurid fantasies with which Bret filled the book. As I recall Bret frequently implied that Lombard may have been bi, too, despite covering his posterior with that "anything's possible" line. After a while I began to feel truly ill as I sat reading paragraph after paragraph of rank speculation and vulgar rumors repeated as fact, all written in a style so atrocious it would get a People Magazine reporter tossed out on his can.

These books, like Higham's before them, really need to be denounced in the loudest terms possible, because they take root in the public's consciousness and then usurp the truth, as well as coloring the way people view the movies. I STILL encounter people who believe Flynn was a Nazi spy, although that contention has been thoroughly debunked now that diaries of Flynn's have come to light. The William Haines story -- it's certainly possible, but does appear to have originated with Anger, and the Anonymous poster in your prior thread is quite right that several people on the GWTW set heard Gable make the slur against Cukor. Gable's general uneasiness with the role and fear that Cukor would obliterate him in favor of the actresses is more than sufficient explanation.

And poor Jean Harlow, so beloved by everyone at MGM, is firmly fixed in the minds of many as a nymphomaniac who married a sex deviant, thanks to Shulman and his ilk. How do these things get published? Are people really panting to read about the sex lives of the long-dead?

I share your love for Lombard (just saw Virtue at the Film Forum--how marvelous she was in it!) and also fervently hope she never attracts the attention of Bret or anyone like him.
vp19 at 2008-12-11 18:25 (UTC) (Link)

Re: From Campaspe (Self-Styled Siren)

Thanks for the comments. Were I still in the NYC metro area, I probably would have been at Film Forum nearly every night of that Lombard festival.

Let me return the favor by saying Self-Styled Siren has one of my favorite classic film blogs, very thought-provoking. Here's a link: http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com/ Please check it out.
Dear Campasassoles - (Anonymous) Expand
(Anonymous) at 2008-12-11 17:02 (UTC) (Link)
Publishers would save themselves money and shame by bringing back BOMBSHELL by David Stern instead of wasting their time on this dud. Seriously. I am all for free speech but people like him and Darwin need to be held accountable. Did you see what Darwin wrote about Carole in his Howard Hughes book? Pages of trashy dialogue he made-up from his sick head. And the worst part is future locos quote these quacktards!

This is EXACTLY why I want to finish my bio on Carole, to set these records right before others twist them.

Poor Jean. I think everyone should write to the publisher and share their thoughts. While it is unlikely they will prevent it's publication, they may at least take the time to check it through.

(Anonymous) at 2009-04-02 10:53 (UTC) (Link)

Come Fly With Me

Why don't you go on the same trip as Campasassholes and stop this rubbish until you have read the book? David Bret
Michelle Morgan - (Anonymous) Expand
(Anonymous) at 2008-12-13 11:28 (UTC) (Link)


It's such a shame that authors feel the need to savage their subjects. When I wrote Marilyn Monroe Private and Undisclosed, I was absolutely hell-bent on writing the truth and in a respectful way. I was absolutely truthful in quotes that people gave me and reported everything as I found it, because what is the point of twisting information? I just don't get it at all!

I'm still working on my Carole biography and it will be done in the same way as the Marilyn one. With truth, respect and love.

(Anonymous) at 2009-04-02 10:55 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Shame

And you will be lucky to sell 1,000 copies. David Bret
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-01 19:30 (UTC) (Link)

Jean Harlow

I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. I also write everything in my own name and don't hide under "anonymous" or some ridiculous monicker. I know that I will cause a storm of controversy by responding here to a minuscule website (though I have enormous admiration for Lombard), but if none of you people are intent on giving me a chance, and if you are condemning my book before it comes out, why should I care? I write for fans, my own and those of my subjects, not for a bunch of nutters who have nothing better to do with their tiny, uneventful lives.
David Bret www.davidbret.com
loxiearcane at 2009-04-03 00:03 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Jean Harlow

If people are handing you snark, Mr. Bret, it's because your reputation precedes you. Our "ridiculous monickers" are simply LiveJournal usernames. I've never made a secret about my real name, which is Marisa Young. If you have nothing better to do than Google yourself and troll the internet, pouncing on anyone who dares say a negative thing about you or your work, then perhaps you are the one with the tiny, uneventful life.
Re: Jean Harlow - (Anonymous) Expand
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-06 05:16 (UTC) (Link)


As a Jean Harlow fan, I will NOT support David Bret's latest smear campaign, nor will my website give it any promotion whatsoever. I'm equally mad about Jane Ellen Wayne's upcoming book on Barbara Stanwyck. This trash needs to stay off the market. Period.

Gary Sweeney
The Midnight Palace
(Anonymous) at 2009-04-06 08:31 (UTC) (Link)

Smear Campaign?

You jumped up, arrogant motherf*cker!
After the Tripe comes the Trash. How on earth will Jane Ellen Wayne and myself survive without your promotions on your arse-crawling trollopy website. And you have the nerve to insult us? So now I urge all my readers, by way of the international press, to steer clear of Gary Sweeney Todd like they would a horny goat with AIDS. Of all the turds that have littered my path, you are by far the worst, you prejudiced, holophobic pool of puke. This was not a smear campaign until you people started it. Mad? Yes, you are mad. You are completely insane! Period? That's what your mother should have had instead of giving birth to you. It's very rare that I wish harm on my fellow human beings, but even the most painful death in the world would only be 1,000th of what you deserve. So why don't you just crawl into your rat-hole and stay there?
Re: Garbage - (Anonymous) Expand
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