One of the greatest on-screen duos is between Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. With six films done together, their chemistry is still undeniable to this day. There was an easygoing spark that was unlike most screen duos at the time. The chemistry was so so strong that throughout classic Hollywood history, even to this day, there is a great myth that Gable and Harlow were once romantically involved at one point. But historians of Hollywood and Harlow alike, persistently argue that a romantic relationship never happened. However, what did happen was a great friendship that although not a lot of details are revealed about, the few facts that are known is that it was a strong friendship.
To her family and to the studios Harlow was known by her nickname "Baby" because of her childlike personality and complexion. But Clark called her "Sis" because he felt that they were as close as brother and sister. In the (forthcoming) years, when Jean Harlow and William Powell would fall in love and Clark was courting Powell's ex-wife Carole Lombard, the four would get along famously. Carole had commented that Clark regarded Harlow as "one of the guys."
They first appeared in the pre-code crime film "The Secret Six" (1931) when the studios saw something special in the scenes they shared. They were then teamed together in the classic "Red Dust" (1932) in which Harlow played a prostitute named "Vantine" who is trapped with "Gary Willis" (Gable) in the middle of monsoon seasn in Indochina. The studios found that fans loved it and knew they had to co-star Gable and Harlow in as many films as possible.
They ended up co-starring in six films altogether including "Hold Your Man" (1933) , "China Seas" (1935), "Wife vs. Secretary" (1936).
However, it was in 1937 that their friendship would be cut short. After starting production on their sixth film, "Saratoga" (1937), Harlow's health was beginning to fail her. Although it was was undiagnosed at the time, Harlow was experiencing the first symptoms of uraemic poisoning. In sequences where Gable had to carry her, he would remark that Harlow seemed heavier than she was in the previous films they had done together. Little people knew, that her limbs were swelling with water due to her condition, which made her considerably heavier.
During the filming of one scene, Harlow leaned against Gable and said, "I feel terrible. Get me back to my dressing room." Powell was sent for Harlow where he took her home, where she was bedridden for a few days under the assumption that she had a bad case of the flu. On June 6, as her symptoms worsened, Harlow was finally taken to the hospital where she later passed away on the morning of June 7, 1937.
When news of Harlow's passing reached Gable, he broke the news to Lombard, "Ma, Sis is gone." Harlow was just twenty-six years old. At her funeral, Gable along with Carole, William Powell and the rest of MGM Studios attended. As a testament to their friendship, Gable was one of Harlow's palbearers.
Afterwards, the studio proceeded with the production of "Saratoga." Since ninety-percent of the film was finished, the parts Harlow hadn't finished were done by her stand-in Mary Dees. Gable once remarked that while finishing the film, he felt as if he was "in the arms of a ghost."
Coincidentally one of the final photographs taken of Harlow was of the actress reading a copy of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind." In 1939, Gable would be cast as "Rhett Butler" - the role that defined his career.