With her trademark platinum blonde hair and baby-faced features, Jean Harlow is known as the “Original Blonde Bombshell.” Although Harlow has made an impact with her tragically short career, Harlow never thought of herself as much of an actress — “I know I’m the worst actress that was ever in pictures,” Harlow once claimed. But we all know that just is not true.
In 1929, Harlow and her first husband Charles McGrew moved to Hollywood. After their divorce, Harlow pursued acting as a profession — “I turned to motion pictures because I had to work or starve,” Harlow commented. One of her first roles as a minor player was as “Hazel” in “The Saturday Night Kid” (1929) which starred Clara Bow. As it was customary with Bow, she generously gave some of her close-up shots to other actors in the film, such was with Harlow. One of Harlow’s big breaks came in “Hell’s Angels” (1930). Even after the film was released, however, Harlow still struggled to find roles. One of her last “bit” parts included being an uncredited “extra in a restaurant scene” in Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” (1931). Then Harlow was cast in the James Cagney gangster drama, “The Public Enemy” (1931). With the film’s release, Harlow became a star.
Despite critics disliking Harlow’s acting, branding her as “awful” and “mediocre,” Harlow knew “...I happen to have something the public likes.” With starring in such popular films as “Platinum Blonde” (1931), “Red-Headed Woman” (1932) and “Dinner At Eight” (1933), Harlow’s career was beginning to take shape — she was a hard-working actress who was able to balance her sexuality with comedy. But while filming “Saratoga” (1937), Harlow was diagnosed with uremic poisoning. “Saratoga” would not only be her sixth film with close friend Clark Gable but would also be her last completed film.
On June 7,1937, Jean Harlow passed away at the tender age of twenty-six. Clark Gable, who not only attended her funeral, but was one of her pallbearers as well, was famously quoted saying this about Harlow, “She never wanted to be famous. She only wanted to be happy.”
During her career, Harlow wrote a novel entitled “Tonight Is Today.” Although Harlow made repeated efforts to get the book published or turned into a film, it would not be published until 1965 — almost thirty years after Harlow’s death. It has yet to be reprinted, and, therefore remains a collector’s item to any and all who are able to find a copy of the book.
Harlow herself revealed that acting was not easy for her, “I was not a born actress. No one knows it better than I. If I had any latent talent, I had to work hard, listen carefully, do things over and over and then over again in order to bring it out.”