Friday, February 3, 2012

Harlow in Hollywood

I’ve been a fan of Old Hollywood history almost my entire life. To me, Jean Harlow seems to encompass all the glamor, excitement and drama of those days. With her platinum blonde hair, radiant smile and satin bound figure, Harlow is an Art Deco goddess in earthly form. But the genuine warmth that emanates from her is what makes her special. Who Jean Harlow appears to be and who she really is are two very different things, and it’s this juxtaposition that I find fascinating.

Years ago, famed photographer and author Mark Vieira suggested we do a book together on Harlow. I had acquired a major collection of photos over the years and with Mark’s know how (having written at least ten books on Old Hollywood history) and my enthusiasm we embarked on this project together.  When we realized that 2011 was Harlow’s hundredth birthday, our goal was to have a book come out in time to celebrate that milestone. ‘HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD’ published by Angel City Press in Los Angeles is that book.

Harlow reigned in Hollywood for just seven short years. First emerging in Howard Hughes’ WW1 blockbuster “Hell’s Angels,” she started as a public joke and grew into an extraordinarily gifted comedienne. She had a gift for mixing sex comedy with a curiously honest innocence. It was this combination that made her box office dynamite. By 1937 she was gone, but she paved the way for future sex symbols such as Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna.

But who was the person behind the movie star image? Her name was Harlean Carpenter and she was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1911; the daughter of a mild mannered dentist and his socialite wife.  Movie magazines would forever portray her early life as idyllic, happy, and privileged. The truth was a little more sinister. Though she grew up in an upper middle class family, Harlean was controlled by a domineering mother; a woman of questionable moral character. Culled from interviews with countless friends and schoolmates in Kansas City, Hollywood and Chicago, what emerges is the story of a warm hearted girl victimized by a gold-digging mother, who divorces her husband, and takes her daughter to Hollywood to pursue her own goals of a movie career. As Harlean grows up, her striking beauty takes centre stage and Mother Jean transfers her dreams of stardom onto her daughter.

The bond between mother and daughter was the cornerstone of Jean Harlow’s life. Though she appeared mature beyond her years, she was incapable of separating emotionally from her Mother. While it was charming to the public to have a sex symbol who couldn’t stand being away from her ‘Mommie’ for too long, the truth was she could never keep a marital relationship because of her slavish devotion to her.

‘Harlow In Hollywood’ follows Harlow’s personal and professional lives from childhood, to her first days in Hollywood, her ascension to movie queen at MGM, her survival of public scandal due her second husband’s suicide, and her own untimely death at the age of twenty-six. Using Harlow’s own words at times, and countless never before seen photos, the goal of this book is to get a clear sense of who the real person was behind the image. Jean Harlow led an extraordinary life and left a niche in Hollywood many have tried to claim. Her name is synonymous with the glamorous thirties, and she will forever remain a symbol of Hollywood.
I’m immensely proud of this effort. It’s a large format coffee table book, 240 pages long with about 280 rarely seen photos of Jean Harlow. The photographs encompass everything from glamour portraits, production stills, personal family photos to candid photos shot by fans who ran into Harlow on the streets of Hollywood. The research done utilizes private letters and personal interviews with friends and family from Harlow’s Midwest years to her halcyon days in Hollywood. The text provides the most up-to-date, accurate and honest presentation of Harlow’s fascinating but all too brief life. It has been nothing short of a labor of love and I’m most pleased to know that it has been received and reviewed so well, but most of all, I take great pleasure in knowing that it will exist forever. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as Mark and I had creating it.

Get a copy!
And read more about Darrell's Jean Harlow collection in the FLIP archives.