vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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Jean Harlow and the mural

This entry has nothing really to do with Carole Lombard, but it does concern classic Hollywood and one of her good friends in the industry, Jean Harlow. I just learned about it, and I think you'll be as fascinated by it as I am.

An incredible, one-of-a-kind piece of Harlow-related memorabilia is on the market, and the bidding starts at a cool $125,000. And why not? It's an oil-on-canvas mural, seven feet high by 13 feet wide, featuring Harlow and several other notables at MGM, all in Elizabethan costumes.

It's a fascinating display of some of MGM's elite circa 1932, which includes Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Bebe Daniels, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Gilbert, Lawrence Tibbett and Ben Lyon. (Interesting to note Clark Gable didn't make the cut; either he wasn't deemed fully established at the time it was made or it was thought he would look ludicrous in Elizabethan garb!) Executives include Irving Thalberg, David O. Selznick, Gene Markey and Carey Wilson.

In itself, this is a remarkable mural -- but the story behind it only amplifies the interest. That's because it was a wedding gift from a man who played a significant, yet controversial, role in Harlow's life:

Paul Bern, an MGM executive, was Jean Harlow's second husband, and her first after rising to stardom. A cerebral type known as "Hollywood's Father Confessor" for being someone stars could turn to for confidential advice on personal problems, he was also a screenwriter, director and producer. In 1923 and '24, he dated silent comedic legend Mabel Normand, but Harlow, who he married on July 2, 1932, was his first wife...or was she?

It's said that a former lover, Dorothy Millette, claimed to be his common-law wife and was partially financially supported by him. Not long after Harlow's marriage to Bern, Millette reportedly confronted her. Bern's prior marital status remains unclear. What is known is that on Sept. 5, 1932, Bern's body was found in their mansion, a .38 revolver nearby. (Millette was found drowned in the Sacramento River the following day.) Was his death a suicide (a rather cryptic note was found near Bern)? A murder? Was there a cover-up by MGM officials to protect Harlow's reputation and star power? Three-quarters of a century later, nothing has been resolved.

So what subsequently happened to the mural? There are two schools of thought. In one, Harlow asked a man to paint the interior of the house and asked to have the mural removed and disposed of. "I don't care what you do with it," she supposedly said, "just get rid of the thing." Another story contends that Harlow refused to set foot in the house after Bern's death and quickly sold it to a woman named Carmelita Guest. Whichever is true, the mural has been in a private home for many years, and now it's up for sale. Here's a closeup of the depiction of Harlow, quite the lovely wench:

For more on the mural, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270183168708. If you've won MegaMillions or PowerBall lately, heck, go ahead and bid.
Tags: auctions, david o. selznick, douglas fairbanks jr., ebay, gene markey, irving thalberg, jean harlow, joan crawford, john gilbert, norma shearer, paul bern

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