Real name: Harlean Harlow Carpenter (pronounced Har-LEEN)
Harlean is an amalgam of her mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow. It's interesting to note that the name Harlow appears on the birth announcements but not on the birth certificate.
She legally changed her name from Harlean Carpenter Rosson to Jean Harlow on 7/1/36 at Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Lifelong nickname: The Baby
Birthdate: March 3, 1911 (7:40pm)
Birthplace: Her parents' home at 3344 Olive Street, Kansas City, MO
Vitals: 9 lbs.
Mother: Jean Poe Harlow Carpenter, 22 (daughter of wealthy real estate broker Skip Harlow and his wife Ella Williams)
Father: Mont Clair Carpenter, 33, a dentist
Step-Father: Marino Bello (1927-1935), a mob-connected opportunist
Family background: Harlean's parents were married on October 1, 1908 in a Presbyterian ceremony at the Harlow home, 930 Orville Road, in Kansas City, MO. Mother Jean, unhappy in the marriage which was arranged by her father, divorced Carpenter on September 29, 1922 and was granted sole custody of Harlean. Carpenter agreed to pay $200 a month child support although Mother Jean rarely let him see his daughter.
Childhood details: An only child, Harlean spent her first 12 years growing up in the lap of Kansas City luxury. Despite being pampered by wealth, she was emotionally deprived -- the stereotypical "poor little rich girl." Still, Harlean remained an unspoiled child with a sweet, affectionate disposition. She was physically attractive even at an early age.
Harlean moved to Hollywood in 1923 with Mother Jean when the elder Harlow pursued her dream to become a movie star. Unfortunately for Mother Jean, at age 34 she was consider too old to break into the business. They returned to Kansas City two years later when Skip Harlow threatened to cut them off financially.
Charles McGrew III: 1927-1929 (elopement; divorced)
Paul Bern: July 2, 1932-September 5, 1932 (widowed; suicide)
Harold Rosson: 1933-1934 (elopement; divorced)
William Powell: "Engaged" at the time of Jean's death although Powell reportedly told her that he was reluctant to marry another Hollywood bombshell after his divorce from Carole Lombard.
Q: How much do you weigh, and what are your exact measurements?
A: "According to the studio wardrobe department's chart, I am five feet, one and one-half inches tall and weigh one hundred and eight pounds. My other measurements are: bust, thirty-five inches; waist, twenty-three and a half inches; hips, thirty-five and a half inches. I wear size twelve dresses, size six-and-a-quarter gloves and size three-and-one- half-B shoes."
Thank you, Dennis!
5' 2" 5' 1-1/2" tall
109 lbs 108 lbs.
Measurements: 35" bust, 23-1/2" waist, 35-1/2 hips
4 3-1/2 B
Eyes & brows: Jean's beautiful
green grey-blue (she has also described them as hazel-blue in interviews) eyes were deep-set and she had to be lit just so for film and photo sessions in order to bring them out in contrast the angle of her nose and the cleft in her chin. Her trademark extremely-arched eyebrows were drawn in after her own comparatively straight eyebrows were shaved off.
Fun fact #1: Diminutive Jean was mistaken for a child by Rosalind Russell when she saw the star, whose head was hidden under a hair dryer, in the MGM hair & makeup department. She described seeing Harlow's "baby hands" being manicured and "baby legs" resting against the chair.
Fun fact #2: Not so fun for Jean was the fact that despite being blessed with an incredible figure, she had to adhere to a strict diet to keep slim, eating mostly vegetables and salads.
Fun fact #3: Jean did not like to wear bras and was advised by her mother to ice her breasts to keep them firm. Similarly, she did not like to wear underwear because she disliked lines and she also preferred to sleep in the nude. Although these clothing practices were considered racy, especially due to her sex-symbol status, she actually approached them with a child-like freedom from confinement.
Hair color: Although a natural ashe blonde, her trademark platinum tresses were achieved through weekly bleaching sessions using a mixture of peroxide, ammonia, Clorox and Lux Flakes -- an extremely painful and harsh process.
Jean wore a wig for the title role of Red-Headed Woman and, in an effort to save her bleach-damaged hair, she was transformed into a brownette for Riffraff. She wore a platinum blonde wig over damaged hair in China Seas.
Religion: undetermined -- Mother Jean, who turned to Christian Science in the 1930s, told reporters that all churches were the same to her daughter.
Pets: Jean was an avid animal enthusiast. As a child she had an "endless array of pets" which included an Airdale named Tigalaff. In later years when she was a star living on Club View Drive, canine star Rin-Tin-Tin lived across the street and she owned one of his litter -- a platinum blonde named Duncie. Among her pets in the 1930s were Oscar (a Pomeranian), Good Cat and Bad Cat (both alley cats), 'Erbert (a goldfish given to her by a fan), Tiger (a Norwegian huskie), His Royal Highness (a Persian cat) and six ducks.
Hobbies: Jean loved to read and write. With the assistance of her friend Carey Wilson, she authored a novel Today Is Tonight which was posthumusly published as a paperback in 1965.
Sports: An excellent athlete, Jean played golf and tennis and rode horses. She enjoyed swimming but rarely used her pool as the sun was very harsh on her fair skin.
First job: In the spring of 1928, Harlean was introduced to a Fox Studios executive when she drove a friend to her appointment there. Although she expressed disinterest in acting, the executive insisted on writing her letters of introduction to Fox and The Central Casting Bureau. Weeks later, on a dare from friends, she returned to Fox's casting office and signed in under her mother's maiden name, Jean Harlow.
Weeks later, at her mother's insistence and after turning down other job opportunities, Jean appeared in her first film, Honor Bound as an unbilled extra.
For additional information about Jean's rare and lost films, read this Platinum Page feature article by historian Dennis Lee Cleven.
(* indicates a silent or limited sound film)
Double duty: Jean's secretary and good friend Barbara Brown also served as her stand-in. She had doubles in the following films:
Date/Time: June 7, 1937 at 11:38am
Age: 26 years-old
Location: Good Samaritan Hospital (Room 826), Los Angeles, CA
Cause: Her death certificate lists acute resperatory infection, acute nephritis an uremia. Basically, she died from kidney failure -- her kidneys were damaged when she contracted scarlett fever at age 14. It is a slowly progressing disease and can remain undetected for years. This was a fatal ailment in 1937 as dialysis and transplants had not yet been pioneered.
View a copy of Jean's death certificate here, courtesy of Platinum Page friend Mike Steen.
The Myths: Copies of hospital records obtained by her biographers and her cousin David Baldwin prove she received constant medical care. Mother Jean, who was a Christian Scientist, reportedly used the excuse of "no medical assistance" to thwart an attempt by Louis B. Mayer to bring his personal physician in on Jean's case. Mother Jean did not want to relinquish control of her daughter or her health to the studio.
Additionally, no medical evidence exists to support rumors that her kidneys were damaged from an alleged beating by her second husband, Paul Bern. Similarly, rumors that bleach from her hair seeped into her brain and killed her are false.
Burial: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Her crypt, which she shares with Mother Jean, is in a private area of The Great Mausoleum and not accessible to the public.
Jean's name appears above the entrance way in gold lettering and her tomb is engraved with the simple works "Our Baby." Mother Jean's tomb is unmarked and it is undetermined whether she is in the space above or below Jean. The third space, which was assumed to be for William Powell who purchased the crypt, remains empty. Powell is buried in Palm Springs, CA with his last wife, Mousie.
Estate: Jean left all her possessions to her mother. During her career as a highly-paid movie star, her mother and step-father mismanaged her money. At the time of her death her assets amounted to only $24,000 but she owed the IRS $76,000. Technically, her estate was insolvent. However, she had followed William Powell's advice and purchased retirement annuities which had accumulated $105,000 in non-taxable benefits that Mother Jean inherited via a monthly payment of $305 for life.
Primary source: Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn (Doubleday, 1993)
Secondary sources: Platinum Girl: The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow by Eve Golden (Abbeville Press, 1991) and various movie fan magazines.
Note: one book decidedly not used as reference material, other than to refute misinformation, is Harlow by Irving Shulman (Random House/Bernard Geis Associates, 1964) because it is a fictionalized "biography" and does not accurately represent Miss Harlow as a person.