It's been said timing is everything, and for proof, witness how Turner Classic Movies is honoring the centenaries of two of Hollywood's blonde goddesses. On Oct. 6, 2008 -- 100 years to the day Carole Lombard was born -- TCM in the U.S. ran several of her movies. Come March 3, 2011 -- the 100th anniversary of Jean Harlow's birth -- TCM isn't showing anything starring Harlow.
It's just Jean's luck that March 3 closes out TCM's annual "31 Days Of Oscar," showing films that were either nominated for or won Academy Awards. The "31 days" theme made sense when the ceremonies were held in March, but now, more often than not they take place in February, and perhaps "28 Days Of Oscar" just doesn't have the same ring to it. (Memo to Harlow: In your next life, choose a better birth date.)
But if this seems as if TCM were neglecting Jean, far from it. The original blonde bombshell, whose look even Lombard briefly tried to emulate (albeit not in the platinum sense), will be TCM's Star of the Month in March, just as Harlow's good friend Carole was in October 2008. And the schedule of Jean's films has just been released; they will air Tuesdays, from March 8 to 29.
People who consider Harlow merely a Marilyn Monroe prototype (an inaccurate perception; Monroe was emotionally more of a blonde Clara Bow, as both had hard-scrabble backgrounds compared to the comfortably middle-class Jean) will get a better idea of what Harlow was about from these 19 films. Curiously, "Hell's Angels" -- the film that put her on the map -- isn't in the package, and neither are early rarities such as "Iron Man" and "Goldie." But what TCM is showing more than compensates.
* 8 p.m. -- Red-Headed Woman (1932). The film that convinced people Harlow could act; a pre-Code classic. With Chester Morris and Una Merkel.
* 9:30 p.m. -- Three Wise Girls (1932). Perhaps the rarest of the Harlow films to be shown, this unites Jean with Mae Clarke and Marie Prevost as gold-diggers. (Sounds like a lower-tier version of "The Greeks Had A Word For Them," a film for which Harlow and Lombard were once announced as cast members.)
* 10:45 p.m. -- Riffraff (1936). Jean with Spencer Tracy as young marrieds in the fishing business.
* 12:30 a.m. -- Suzy (1936). World War I intrigue with Cary Grant, who didn't really become a top-rank star until after Harlow's death in mid-1937, and Franchot Tone.
* 8 p.m. -- The Public Enemy (1931). This is really a James Cagney film, with Harlow as window dressing (and little more), but it's a gangster gem, and features the famed grapefruit scene with Clarke.
* 9:30 p.m. -- Bombshell (1933). Jean gently sends up Clara Bow, with whom she'd worked in 1929's "The Saturday Night Kid," in this Hollywood satire, with Lee Tracy and Frank Morgan.
* 11:15 p.m. -- Libeled Lady (1936). Pure MGM star power (Harlow! Myrna Loy! William Powell! Spencer Tracy!) is on display in this splendid newspaper comedy. Harlow does a fine comedic turn here, and enjoy Powell's fishing scene.
* 1 a.m. -- Reckless (1935). Harlow's other film with Powell (Tone's in it, too) is a backstage drama, including Rosalind Russell in one of her early roles.
* 2:45 a.m. -- Personal Property (1937). Jean's next to last film, a comedy co-starring Robert Taylor in which the bailiff charged with disposing of a financially strapped widow's estate pretends to be her butler.
* 8 p.m. -- Wife vs. Secretary (1936). This night's schedule is devoted to Harlow's films with Clark Gable (they had incredible on-screen sexual chemistry, but off-screen they were close pals, never lovers). This opener adds Myrna Loy as well, along with a young James Stewart as Harlow's boyfriend.
* 9:45 p.m. -- Red Dust (1932). Clark and Jean light up the screen with this steamy pre-Code offering set in Indochina, directed by Victor Fleming and co-starring Mary Astor.
* 11:15 p.m. -- Hold Your Man (1933). Harlow's a hard-boiled babe, Gable's a con man; they wear down each other's rough edges. This film also reflects racial attitudes of the time -- to learn more, go to http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/174666.html.
* 1 a.m. -- China Seas (1935). This film tries to emulate the steam of "Red Dust," albeit in a defanged post-Code manner; Jean plays a character nicknamed "China Doll." Russell and Wallace Beery round out the cast.
* 2:30 a.m. -- The Secret Six (1931). When this gangster tale was made, Jean was still essentially eye candy and Clark a rough-hewn sort. Beery is the lead in this story of a secret society.
* 4 a.m. -- Saratoga (1937). Harlow's final film (she died midway through production, and Mary Dees doubled for her in much of the footage). Also featuring Lionel Barrymore.
* 8 p.m. -- Dinner At Eight (1933). This was MGM's 1933 equivalent of "Grand Hotel," its all-star production of the previous year. It wasn't as big an award-winner, but is nonetheless plenty of fun, with Beery, John Barrymore and Marie Dressler (watch for her closing repartee with Harlow). Directed by George Cukor.
* 10 p.m. -- The Girl From Missouri (1934). Once the Production Code was enforced in mid-1934, MGM tried to preserve Harlow's appeal; this was its first attempt. With Tone and Lionel Barrymore.
* 11:30 p.m. -- Platinum Blonde (1931). Jean's the title character in this early Frank Capra film -- she's all of 20 here, but older than Loretta Young, a mere 18. Robert Williams steals the movie as a reporter; had he not died shortly after this hit theaters, he might have rivaled Gable and Cagney among the top male stars of the early '30s.
* 1:15 a.m. -- The Beast Of The City (1932). An important transitional film for Harlow, who heretofore had shown sex appeal and little more. She holds her own in this gangster drama starring Walter Huston, and it helped secure her an MGM contract.
All in all, a nice way to remember one of filmdom's most beloved ladies, a sweet sex symbol with a sense of humor.