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carole lombard 01

75 years ago, Harlow wows Washington

Posted by vp19 on 2012.01.30 at 10:03
Current mood: stressedstressed

One benefit of being a movie star that's denied to mere mortals is there's a good chance you'll be able to meet the president of the United States. Carole Lombard had that opportunity on Dec. 29, 1940, not only meeting Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House but witnessing FDR deliver one of his most important "fireside chats," one where he coined the phrase "arsenal of democracy" in calling for aid to war-ravaged Britain (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/73489.html).

Other legends have had this privilege as well. You can be sure that come May, media will note the 50th anniversary of a birthday celebration for John F. Kennedy at the old Madison Square Garden in New York, the event most famed for Marilyn Monroe sensually singing "Happy Birthday" to the president; afterwards, she met both JFK and brother Robert, the attorney general, at a party:

None of the three would see the end of the 1960s -- in fact, Monroe would be dead two and a half months after this picture was taken. It's sort of ironic that an actress she idolized passed away a few months after her brush with the presidency; it happened 75 years ago, though it's received virtually no public attention. In fact, it's something that likely would have slipped past me, too.

We're referring to Jean Harlow's visit to Washington near the end of January 1937 to participate in Roosevelt's annual birthday ball, a fundraiser for the Warm Springs Foundation (a group that evolved into the March of Dimes). We've written about this before (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/175114.html), but Harlow historian Darrell Rooney has uncovered a batch of images from Jean's visit to the nation's capital that have gone largely unseen for years, and they're at the Facebook group "Fans Of A Jean Harlow 'Centenary' Book For 2011," the eventual "Harlow In Hollywood" (http://www.facebook.com/groups/112797408763424). Here are a few of those pics:

Jean and MGM cohort Robert Taylor both left Los Angeles after finishing work on their film "Personal Property," arriving at Union Station on Jan. 29:

That day, a Friday, they made the rounds of D.C. First, it was off to the National Press Club for a breakfast; Taylor would sign this photo for columnist Nelson Bell:

Next stop, the Capitol. At a Senate office building, Harlow and Taylor received freshly minted coins.

Harlow also received a pair of kisses from North Carolina Sen. Robert Rice Reynolds, first indoors in his office...

...then on the east Capitol steps, where much of the temporary seating from FDR's inaugural nine days earlier had not yet been taken down:

(I love Taylor's expression here; wonder if he was thinking about William Powell's "a very old friend" remark from "Libeled Lady," where Jean's character -- who had just married Powell as part of a ruse -- madly embraces Spencer Tracy's character, whom she really loves?)

That night, Jean and Marsha Hunt, representing Paramount (and who is still with us), were among the celebrities who got a personal tour of the Department of Justice from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. They saw a display of weapons and clothing mementos from the shooting of Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger.

Harlow was wearing a copy of her 'Personal Property' black velvet gown with a white ermine hem. The ermine picked up all the dust on the floor; according to Hunt, Harlow turned to Hoover and said, "Your cleaning lady can take the day off tomorrow. I've saved her the trouble."

On Saturday the 30th, Harlow, Hunt and Taylor attended a luncheon at the White House, and are shown with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt:

Jean was thrilled to pose for a picture with Mrs. Roosevelt:

That night, the birthday ball was held at seven hotels around town -- and Harlow was listed in the program:

Harlow made the rounds at all the hotels. At top, we see her with Mrs. Roosevelt at the Wardman Park Hotel, followed by a shot of her alongside an FDR birthday cake, and finally talking at one of the sites about the Warm Springs Foundation:

The event was covered on radio, and Jean spoke to a national audience:

A few seconds' snippet of Harlow approaching the microphone can be found at http://youtu.be/zhHW7F0E2-k.

Harlow and Taylor made a number of personal appearances in the D.C. area -- in Alexandria, Va., at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. -- and it took its toll. He had been fighting the flu on the trip east, and she probably picked it up in Washington, as this bloated image of her shows:

The trip likely weakened Harlow's immune system, a condition only worsened after her return to California when four impacted wisdom teeth were extracted simultaneously. Barely four months after appearing in D.C., she would be gone.

A memorable trip, and I wouldn't be surprised if Lombard, an avid FDR supporter, discussed the event with both Hunt (they were both then at Paramount) and Harlow.

This week's header shows Lombard and Norman Foster in a promotional shot for "It Pays To Advertise," an appropriate movie to spotlight inasmuch as the Super Bowl, the apex of the advertising industry, comes this Sunday.


cinemafan2 at 2012-01-30 19:54 (UTC) (Link)

Jean Harlow

Thanks for posting the pictures of Jean Harlow in D.C. in early 1937. In retrospect she really does not look like she is feeling well. She seems bloated. Robert Taylor looks like he has a cold or flu in the last shot. Jean must have been already sick.
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