Jean Harlow in 1933. Photo by Harvey White.
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Jean Harlow
Imprinting Ceremony held on Monday, September 25, 1933
Forecourt Ceremony held on Friday, September 29, 1933
Born: Harlean Harlow Carpenter, March 3, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri
Age at the time of the ceremony: 22
Died: June 7, 1937, in Los Angeles, California, age 26
Jean Harlow is perhaps the best-known of early sound era performers, who continues to be considered one of the screen's great sex symbols. Dying tragically young, like many sex symbols, she has remained ageless.

Born into an unhappy household in 1911, "The Baby" as she was called, began attending Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls in Kansas City. Her mother Jean, consoled herself in her unhappy marriage by doting on young Harlean. Seeking a divorce in 1922, Jean was granted sole custody of Harlean, who would rarely see her dentist father.

In 1923, mother Jean sought fame and fortune in Hollywood, but at age 34, she found no takers. However, Harlean was enrolled in the Hollywood School for Girls, where she rubbed elbows with notable Hollywood offspring. Running low on funds, Jean responded to the entreaties of her wealthy father to return to Kansas City in 1925.

After a bout with scarlet fever at a summer camp in Michigan, Harlean was enrolled at the Ferry Hall School in Lake Forest, Illinois, as Jean had a boyfriend who lived in Chicago. At Ferry Hall, Harlean was introduced to a young heir named Charles "Chuck" McGrew; they were married in 1927, when Harlean was 16. Her mother Jean married her beau, Marino Bello, in 1927.

McGrew received some of his fortune by turning 21 shortly after his marriage to Harlean. Hoping to separate his bride from her mother, McGrew moved the couple to Beverly Hills, bought a house there and commenced drinking and partying, which only lasts for so long.

Harlean had an actress pal named Rosalie Roy, who one day needed a ride to an audition on the Fox lot, so Harlean drove her. While waiting, Harlean was offered a shot at acting work, but she refused. The Fox executives offered to set her up at Central Casting. Roy bet Harlean that she didn't have the nerve to sign on with Central Casting. Egged on by her mother (now living in Los Angeles), Harlean registered under the name of Jean Harlow.

Now pushing 18, Harlow initially did extra work, but soon was doing small roles in shorts and features, including The Love Parade at Paramount in 1929. Hal Roach knew a good thing when he saw one, and signed Harlow to a five-year contract in 1928. She appeared with Laurel and Hardy in their silent 2-reelers, Liberty, Double Whoopee, and Bacon Grabbers, all released in 1929.

When Harlow complained that all of the film work was ruining her marriage to McGrew, Hal Roach released her from her contract. Harlow filed to divorce McGrew in June, 1929. She moved in with Jean and Bello, and did more extra work. Howard Hughes, who was looking for a new romantic lead for his still-evolving epic Hell's Angels, took lead actor James Hall's advice, and tested Harlow for the role of Helen. She got the part, with Hughes signing her to a five-year contract at $100 a week, in October, 1929.

Hell's Angels (which had its World Premiere at the Chinese in May 1930) was the most expensive picture of its day, and was an enormous hit. Although The New Yorker called her performance in the film "plain awful," Variety was perhaps more on the mark by saying that, "It doesn't matter what degree of talent she possesses . . . nobody ever starved possessing what she's got" — and there you have it — the sex symbol is established, and it dogged Harlow's career: Is she really talented, or is she in pictures just because of her looks? Can she act, or what? Harlow's divorce from McGrew was finalized in January, 1931.

Just before being cast in Hell's Angels, Harlow met Paul Bern, who was assistant to Irving Thalberg at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bern began asking Hughes to loan out Harlow to M-G-M for The Secret Six with Wallace Beery (released in April 1931); to Warner Bros. for The Public Enemy with James Cagney (released in May 1931); to Universal for Iron Man with Lew Ayres (released in April 1931); and to Fox for Goldie with Spencer Tracy (released in June 1931).

Real success came with Columbia's Platinum Blonde (released in October 1931), directed by Frank Capra. Harlow is the titular character, trying to steal lead man Robert Williams away from the headliner, Loretta Young. Harlow caught everyone's attention during the filming, so they re-named the picture for her, which set the trend for hair color: everyone wanted to be a platinum blonde all the sudden.

This is what Paul Bern had been waiting for. Now Jean had some seasoning working around town. She was ready to work at M-G-M. Her first picture on the lot was The Beast of the City with Walter Huston (released in February 1932). By now, Harlow and Bern were romantically involved. In April, 1932, Bern got a reluctant Thalberg to agree to adding the now-popular Harlow to the M-G-M studio, buying out her Hughes contract to do so. She got star billing over Chester Morris in Red Headed Woman (released in June 1932). Harlow was making $1,250 a week now, so she and Bern got married.

Two months later while filming Red Dust with Clark Gable (released in October 1932), Bern was found dead at their house. It was ruled a suicide. M-G-M wanted to replace Harlow with Tallulah Bankhead, who refused to take work away from the grieving widow. Red Dust was completed with Harlow in her role, and she emerged from the fracas more popular than ever.

The penultimate Harlow performance came in 1933's Dinner at Eight (which had its Premiere at the Chinese in August 1933). During the run of Dinner, Sid Grauman had the idea of doing the imprints onstage before a paying evening audience, which is how it was done on Monday, September 25. But somehow, the cement block was ruined, so Harlow was asked to try it again in the Forecourt this time during the day on Friday, September 29.

Many more Harlow pictures played the Chinese: Reckless with William Powell in April 1935, China Seas with Clark Gable, in August 1935, Riffraff with Spencer Tracy, in February 1936, Wife vs. Secretary with Clark Gable, in March 1936, Suzy with Franchot Tone, in July 1936, Libeled Lady with William Powell, in October 1936, and Personal Property with Robert Taylor, in April 1937.

Harlow's childhood bout with scarlet fever played havoc with her health for the rest of her life. While filming Saratoga, Harlow had complained of feeling terrible; she went home, but was unable to return to work. Several days later, she died of kidney failure. She was 26-years-old. M-G-M observed a minute of silence the day of her funeral, June 9, 1937. With some clever editing, Saratoga was finished and played the Chinese in late July 1937. A much-cherished actress became a legend.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Jean Harlow Forecourt block. Executed by Jean Klossner, Friday, September 29, 1933. 48 x 66 inches overall.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Jean Harlow imprinting ceremony, Monday, September 25, 1933. Cement artist Jean Klossner and Sid Grauman assist.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Jean Harlow Forecourt ceremony, Friday, September 29, 1933. Harlow is pointing to "lucky pennies" she placed in the cement. They have long-since disappeared.
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