We are, of course, referring to Jean Harlow, who we lost 73 years ago today.
Harlow left us so long ago that it's hard to believe her centennial has yet to be celebrated. That will take place next year, March 3 to be specific. And in connection with that event, here's some potentially wonderful news from Darrell Rooney, an avid Harlow fan:
For the last year or more noted author Mark Vieira and I have been collaborating on a proposed Jean Harlow "Photo Tribute book' (with in depth text) for Harlow's centenary next Spring. The tentative title is, "Jean Harlow: The Platinum Icon." It will be similar to many of his past books on various facets of Old Hollywood history, and will utilize my extensive photo archive.
They are making pitches to various publishers, and I hope one says yes; it would be a splendid tribute to Jean. (Some Harlow fans are also pushing Turner Classic Movies to make her its star of the month for March 2011, just as it honored Lombard during the month of her centennial in October 2008. It would be a fitting salute to one of filmdom's most beloved stars.)
It's fascinating to look back at Harlow's career and see how far she came in such a brief time. Unlike Lombard, she had no innate drive to become a movie star; that was largely the work of her starstruck mother. Truth be told, some of Jean's first few performances weren't very good, even in otherwise fine films such as "The Public Enemy" and "Platinum Blonde."
But give Harlow credit -- she worked hard to improve at her craft, and in some ways she actually became sexier (and a better actress, to boot) when she played down the sex symbol. It helped that she had an inherent likability that connected with just about everyone she worked with.
As proof of Harlow's comic talent, check out this scene from the magnificent comedy "Libeled Lady," where she holds her own with Spencer Tracy (no easy task):
It's intriguing to ponder what Jean might have done had she not died at such a young age (the medical care of the 1930s was powerless to prevent her passing, though had she been around today she likely would have survived). Harlow might well have fallen out of favor in the 1940s as younger blondes such as Lana Turner came on the scene, and she would have been too outsized a personality to settle into character roles.
Chances are that Harlow, a reasonably educated lady who loved to write, would have channeled her energy in other directions. Stardom was nice, but it wasn't a prerequisite for her (unlike, say, Joan Crawford, who for some reason didn't like Harlow). One can imagine Jean writing about the movie business just as Louise Brooks did in her later years, although Harlow probably would have resisted offers to detail some elements of her personal life, such as the still-mysterious death of Paul Bern only a few months after their marriage in 1932.
So think of Jean today, keep your fingers crossed for this prospective Harlow book (note to Mark Vieira: how about a Lombard photo book project after this one?), and also hope that someday, someone finds one of the "holy grails" of fans of both Jean and Carole -- a photo of them together.
Oh, and some more good news: Carla Valderrama is alive and well (I talked with her Sunday), and working hard on her Lombard book. Moreover, she hopes to soon provide updates to her fine site, http://www.carolelombard.org -- excellent for those of us who enjoy that splendid resource and were concerned about the lack of new entries.