During her lifetime, Carole Lombard frequently spoke of herself as a feminist, and about women's ability to thrive economically and not be a slave to marriage (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/157005.html). Her views are one of the many things that keep Carole "modern," still having something to say to women of today, nearly 70 years after her death.
But while Lombard was outspoken, she was not the only star of her time who spoke up about the rights of women. Another who echoed her thoughts was a good friend of hers who's often thought of solely for her considerable sex appeal, and rarely for the keen mind that complemented her beauty.
We are, of course, referring to Jean Harlow.
Jean was a bright lady who both read and wrote extensively; had she never entered the movie business, one can easily picture her working for a magazine or publisher. While Harlow wasn't the type to loudly proclaim her political beliefs, she was a staunch New Deal supporter who was thrilled to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she and MGM cohort Robert Taylor visited Washington at the end of January 1937:
A few weeks later, she was interviewed by John Dunlap, a Hollywood correspondent for the United Press wire service, and the interview ran in newspapers throughout the nation, including the Freeport (Ill.) Journal-Standard:
Jean has some interesting things to say about women's work and their role in society, thoughts that weren't quite radical (she "denied she is a crusading feminist" -- in the 1930s, that term was considered a relic of film fans' mothers' time), but certainly would have been deemed "progressive" for 1937, when employers were discouraged from hiring married women if the husband had a job. (Think of the department store scene in Lombard's 1941 comedy "Mr. & Mrs. Smith.")
Some of Harlow's quotes include:
* "...in many businesses, women who have proved they can do men's work as well as men, if not better, are paid less and worked harder."
* "I don't know any reason why women can't be automobile designers or research chemists if they want to."
And Jean didn't excuse the non-acting segment of her own industry:
* "In the motion picture field, there is room for more women directors. And why aren't women entirely suited to be cameramen, with their sense of balance, proportion, composition, lighting, and more important, color appreciation for the coming trend of color films. The day is past when cameramen have to carry heavy equipment or be weightlifters."
I have no idea whether Ida Lupino, then still a Paramount starlet (with a slight resemblance to Harlow), ever saw this interview. Of course, by the end of the 1940s Lupino had begun to direct, and had accomplished careers on both sides of the camera.
Jean also noted she had women friends who were doctors and lawyers, adding "the competition from women is doing the men good."
Of course, neither Harlow nor Lombard lived to see the growth of the women's movement in the past few decades, where female professionals, CEOs and elected officials are no longer rarities. I have no doubt both would have been thrilled.
Many thanks to William M. Drew, a superb movie researcher who has aided my work several times, for uncovering this gem. You can see his Harlow entry in its entirety at http://william-m-drew.webs.com/19112011.htm.