The Headline Career of Jean Harlow 1927-1932 (1932) 🇺🇸
by Muriel Babcock
Has the color of Jean Harlow’s hair colored her life and made her one of the most striking subjects for news headlines that Hollywood knows at the moment?
Because the words “platinum blonde” lend themselves readily to the men who write the screaming scare-heads of the tabloids and the more conservative banners of the dignified dailies, has Jean Harlow found herself in the public prints more than if she possessed mouse-colored hair?
It would take a prophet of prophets to answer that question. Certainly, the platinum Harlow has packed a sensationally large number of headlines into her twenty-one years of living.
They have been the kind that told of an elopement at sixteen, an ensuing unfortunate and unhappy marriage, a disinheritance, a meteoric picture career, money troubles with her former husband, with her employer who raised her to fame, and finally now of the tragic and mysterious suicide of her second husband, the gentle Paul Bern.
All this in just twenty-one years, the age at which the government recognizes manhood and voting power in a boy.
Read the following life story of Jean Harlow, as told in the headlines and see if you are not amazed that so much could have happened to one girl in such a short span of years:
September 27, 1927 — Kansas City girl, Harlean Carpenter, elopes from Ferry Hall, Illinois boarding school, to Waukegan, Ill., to wed Charles F. McGrew, II, son of patent medicine king of Chicago. Bride sixteen years old.
August, 1928 — Harlean Carpenter, now known as Jean Harlow, signs to work for Hal Roach comedies at $12 a day.
August, 1928 — Grandfather of Jean Harlow, S. D. Harlow, Kansas City realtor lets out roar of disapproval at granddaughter working in movies. Says he will disinherit her.
June 11, 1929 — Harlean Carpenter (Jean Harlow) and husband, Charles F. McGrew II, formally separate.
August 1, 1929 — News that blond Chicago society girl engaged to work in “Saturday Night Kid” with Clara Bow is out.
August 29, 1929 — Actress recently signed for featured role in Bow picture is reconciled with grandfather who visits her in Hollywood. He finds city not as dark as painted and says he will leave her money in his will after all. He has discontinued her allowance, however, while she works in pictures.
October 29, 1929 — Jean Harlow signed by Caddo Company. Ben Lyon introduces her to Howard Hughes, who sees in her possible choice for “Hell’s Angels,” $3,000,000 air picture which is being remade.
October 30, 1929 — Harlow gets vamp role in air film. Blond hair said to be one of deciding factors. Hair peculiar shade called platinum blond.
January 7, 1930 — Jean Harlow believed mystery element in fistic combat between Myron Selznick and John Barrymore on Ambassador lawn.
January S, 1930 — Jean Harlow not mystery element although she was dancing at hotel and saw fight.
May 28, 1930 — “Hell’s Angels” opens. Slithering performance of Jean Harlow a sensation. New vampire type hailed.
July 20, 1930 — Mrs. Edwards, wife of Mayor of Seattle, not only thinks it’s all right for her husband to kiss visiting actresses, as he did Jean Harlow today, but believes action is appropriate considering Miss Harlow’s attractions.
July 22, 1930 — Charles F. McGrew II, Harlow husband, files motion to set aside default to a hitherto uncontested divorce action on part of actress. Actress has charged her husband won’t pay $375 monthly allowance as he had promised.
August 2, 1930 — McGrew asserts he was intoxicated when papers were served on him in divorce action and he was therefore not legally responsible. Wife’s complaint has been that during married life he was drunk repeatedly, threw bottles, glasses.
August 4, 1930 — McGrew says he will bring up in court certain photographs of Jean Harlow in motion picture poses as one of reasons why he will not pay money asked.
August 5, 1930 — Jean Harlow starts making personal appearances at all performances of “Hell’s Angels” at Chinese Theatre.
September 6, 1930 — Jean gets ruling from judge temporarily. Injunction made permanent restraining McGrew from altering in any way agreement by which he created $300,000 trust fund for her in Chicago on November 30, 1927.
January 30, 1931 — Actress wins divorce from McGrew. She will get $375 a month, the Beverly Hills home and a car.
March 7, 1931 — Story creates mild stir in Kansas City that when grandfather didn’t have cigarette asked by Jean, mother (Mrs. Marino Bello) plucked one from her pocket book for daughter.
April 21, 1931 — In Cliff Edwards case testimony brought out that he once loaned Jean Harlow $220. She repaid it.
June, 1931 — Jean Harlow first movie star to wear pajamas on Hollywood Boulevard.
July 30, 1931 — “I have no desire for millions, just wish I had enough money to hire a chauffeur,” Jean tells interviewer.
August 9, 1931 — Is there rivalry on Hughes’ lot between Billie Dove and Jean Harlow? Latter giving beautiful Miss Dove run for money, is story circulated.
August 12, 1931 — McGrew-Harlow case off Los Angeles court’s calendar. Money business settled out of court, it is believed.
August 30, 1931 — Harlow career to date traced. Elopement, marriage, divorce, fights over money, two starts in pictures, disinheritance by grandfather, sensational platinum hair all discussed. All this occurring before she is 20 years old.
August 31, 1931 — Story printed in Eastern paper that three women trying to rival platinum Harlow hair, ruin their tresses completely and have to shave heads.
October, 1931 — Film magazine asks “Are we coming to the state where we are dressed in dignity and nothing else” like Jean Harlow?
October 7, 1931 — Jean Harlow tells friends she is tired of being “farmed out” by Howard Hughes to other film companies.
November 20, 1931 — Hughes-Harlow fight on. Jean refuses to cash $350 weekly salary checks until settlement is effected.
November 21, 1931 — “I now sidestep romance and terribly possessive men,” Miss Harlow tells interviewer. “They try to chain you to them.” No romance in her life now.
December 1, 1931 — Jean Harlow starts on personal appearance tour accompanied by mother and stepfather, Marino Bello.
December 27, 1931 — Jean Harlow collapses in Pittsburgh while making public appearances. Stepfather has to carry her on stage. Photographers near at hand to make pictures. She has intestinal “flu.”
December 28, 1931 — Jean Harlow in weakened condition because she “went on with show.” She will recover.
January 1, 1932 — Ziegfeld offers her job in Follies.
January 26, 1932 — From London comes dispatch that Amery, 20-year old son of L. S. Amery, member of Parliament, has formed film company and is negotiating with Jean Harlow to appear in picture called “Jungle Skies.” Miss Harlow asks salary of 10,000 pounds and traveling expenses.
June 21, 1932 — Sensation of movie romantic year is sprung. Jean Harlow and Paul Bern appear at license bureau and file notice of intention to wed. This will be her second marriage. Real name is Harlean Carpenter McGrew. Bern is 42. This is his first matrimonial adventure.
June 22, 1932 — “Red-Headed Woman” opens in Los Angeles.
June 24, 1932 — Jean Harlow and Paul Bern will be married Saturday night, July 2, at home of Miss Harlow’s parents, with Superior Judge Yankwich officiating.
June 26, 1932 — Jean says she is marrying Paul Bern because he is a fine gentleman. Has known him for several years. He proposed only a week ago after a long drive.
June 28, 1932 — Paul Bern deeds Benedict Canyon home to his prospective bride.
July 3, 1932 — Attended by members of their families and small group of friends, Miss Harlow was married last night to Paul Bern, film producer, at home of bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Marino Bello.
September 6, 1932 — Bern commits suicide by snooting himself at his home in Benedict Canyon. Cryptic note to young wife, “Dearest Dear: Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. Paul. P. S. You understand last night was only a comedy.” Miss Harlow is in state of collapse. Reports on discovery of body are conflicting. Police say they were not notified until two hours after body was found. John Carmichael, butler, says he found body at 11 a.m. yesterday. Clifton E. Davis, negro gardener, tells police he was called to house when Carmichael fainted upon finding body and that it was he, who really discovered Bern had been shot. Police are also faced with amazing clash in reports of hours of preceding Sunday night. The Carmichaels deny Bern and Miss Harlow clashed while Davis relates instances of differences of opinion between the two. Irving Thalberg first to be notified of tragedy.
September 7, 1932 — Miss Harlow is questioned by police. She can give no reason, she says, why her husband, Bern, should take his life. Dr. Edward B. Jones, Bern’s personal physician cables from Honolulu he knows the motive and will aid inquiry. Marino Bello, Miss Harlow’s stepfather, is questioned. It is revealed that Miss Harlow, delirious and still unable to believe that her husband is dead, yesterday attempted to throw herself from balcony of her mother’s home. Bello denies Miss Harlow contemplated deeding Benedict Canyon home to her mother. It is disclosed that Bern’s aunt and a cousin died suicides.
September 8, 1932 — Henry Bern arrives by plane from the East and confers with Miss Harlow. Conferences between Bern, Jean, Louis B. Mayer and others had been arranged and a statement was to have been issued, but this was upset by Miss Harlow’s insistence on seeing her brother-in-law alone.
September 8, 1932 — EXTRA — Second “Mrs. Paul Bern” discovered. Woman sometimes called Mrs. Bern, sometimes Dorothy Millette, has lived for years at Algonquin Hotel, New York, and Bern has supported her. Woman discovered to be actress Bern knew in his youth. Inquest set for tomorrow. Jean subpoenaed to attend.
September 10, 1932 — Mystery surrounding death of Paul Bern deepens. Henry Bern collapses upon hearing of dispatches from San Francisco which tell of possible suicide of Millette woman who is supposed to have left Palace hotel, there (where she has been for last two months) and taken river boat up Sacramento river. Her clothes discovered on boat and it is believed she jumped to death to keep tryst with her one-time lover and common-law husband. Henry Bern also reveals that brother’s real name was Levy.
September 11, 1932 — Funeral services conducted at Inglewood Cemetery Chapel for Paul Bern. Less than fifty persons attend the rites although more than thousand mill around outside. Miss Harlow there. Bern’s sister, Mrs. Frederik Marcus, becomes hysterical. Rabbi Magnin delivers short prayer and Conrad Nagel reads eulogy.
September 11, 1932 — Revealed that four days before Paul Bern committed suicide he made application for $85,000 life insurance. At that time, he appeared in good spirits and passed the examination. Henry Bern asks for second interview with Miss Harlow. Says Paul Bern had another insurance policy which named Dorothy Millette. This was later changed to make estate beneficiary. Insurance man vouchsafes opinion that Bern was legally married to Dorothy Millette. Who gets the estate?
September 12, 1932 — Jean Harlow said to be near collapse. Physicians say Bern in good condition physically, but had functional disability. Letters to Dorothy Millette discovered. Muddy bed of winding Sacramento river scene of search for body of Millette woman, now believed dead.
September 13, 1932 — Jean Harlow returns to work “to forget.” Says she knew nothing about existence of Dorothy Millette. Dispatches from Greenwich, Conn., relate that Miss Millette was inmate of sanatorium there in 1920 under name of Mrs. Paul Bern. Warrant permitting search of Miss Millette’s baggage obtained. Letters, etc. discovered.
September 14, 1932 — Last will of Bern missing from safe deposit box. New angle to widening mystery. Dr. Jones, personal Bern physician, returns from Honolulu, says Bern suffered from acute melancholia.
September 15, 1932 — Near Walnut Grove on Sacramento river, two fishermen last night dragged the body of Dorothy Millette, mystery woman in Paul Bern life. Will missing yesterday discovered in safety deposit box by Irene Harrison, Bern’s personal secretary for many years. It is two short paragraphs in long-hand written on July 29, this year. Miss Harlow is willed all of Bern’s wealth and made sole executrix of will. Estate will probably not exceed $100,000 including about $25,000 insurance. New policy was cancelled by suicide.
Charles F. McGrew II, wed Jean in 1927. Now divorced.
Jean’s platinum-colored hair was lost to the screen when she played the title role in “Red-Headed Woman.”
At right, Jean wearing her red wig, steps out with her late husband, Paul Bern, for the opening of “Grand Hotel”
The child at top is Jean when she was six.
Above, at six months of age. Note the blond coloring of the top photo
After Jean’s dispute with the producer of “Hell’s Angels,” Jean made a personal appearance tour. Here she is snapped with her mother and stepfather at Rochester.
Source: Motion Picture, December 1932
Source: Motion Picture, March 1931
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