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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Harlow In Hollywood Is Here

There sometimes are books you don't want to end. One for me is Mark Vieira's newest, with Darrell Rooney, Harlow In Hollywood, just out for the actress' hundredth birthday and laying down a rarest and most dazzling array of JH images ever gathered between two covers. Vieira has written before on Garbo, Irving Thalberg, Golden Age horror, and precode. Each fit coffee tables and are visual treasure finds. What he and Rooney achieve via Harlow is a screen legend in day-to-day context with a gone Hollywood she'd briefly thrive in. JH was as much about places as persona, being habitué to glamour spots we associate with Hollywood in prime years. The authors tour us by luxury hotels, horse tracks, chic bars, sundry sighting along Deco boulevards since condo-converted and parking decked. I've never felt so close to events of Harlow's era. Vieira and Rooney make it vivid as something you might step into and experience now. If only!

There are revelations aplenty here. Seems Harlow had gangland assist getting early parts at Columbia, thanks to unsavory coupling with a Mob figure. I want to buy JH as good-hearted victim of studio and rapacious family scheming, but this was no babe in woods ... in some ways she was anyone's equal for cunning. I actually like Harlow's offscreen mix of saint and sinner, all of us human and being of such combine after all. She'd be a bore as mere naïf ground down by Mayer, Mother, and attendant pitiless system. Harlow played trollops too well to be so clueless of their nature as interviews implied. Trouble early on was parts defined by her hair. So long as it shone porcelain white, there'd be no casting beyond "sex vultures" she'd grow to despise. Maybe an industry laughed at Harlow because they felt threatened by her forthright allure. And yes, she seems to have been regarded a joke much like Clara Bow. You could put Harlow's mop on a clown and it would look no less unreal. Code enforcement extended her career for making MGM humanize Jean's persona, a switch-to-brownette ideally timed to an industry's Code-changed circumstance.

Natural looks would calm Harlow's approach. She'd seem less agitated and blend in easier with co-players. Wife vs. Secretary shows how things might have gone had Harlow lived. The Bombshell was all of a sudden serene, a welcome switch. Interaction with Gable is relaxed, both maybe knowing positions were secure by 1936, so why light Red Dust fireworks for a public to whom they'd become old friends? I think Harlow would have gone increasingly Carole Lombard's way given longer life. The latter calmed down too in dramatic roles/subtler comedy of Made For Each Other, To Be Or Not To Be sort before her own tragic and premature exit (for me, 20th Century/Lombard resembles Libelled Lady/Harlow --- way loud). Harlow was headed for image transition not unlike a Joan Crawford, though I'm less sure JH had JC's determined, if not ruthless, survival instincts. Surely there'd have been a move away from Metro --- what 30's actress survived their early 40's purge? --- maybe a switch to Warners or Fox. I picture Harlow doing easier-going comedies with Fred MacMurray at Paramount, maybe easing back to Metro for guest mom spots with Jane Powell, though a surviving Lombard is more readily imagined than a transitioning to middle-age Jean Harlow, that largely for CL's more stable life choices and avoidance of private life predators. There's something doomed about Jean Harlow's very countenance, as if there was just no way she'd make out it out of the thirties (or her twenties). Vieira and Rooney capture beautifully the glamour and ultimate sadness of a life excitingly, but shortly, lived.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that, given her comedic talents, had she lived Harlow would have wound up on tv in the 50's and been a fine rival for the likes of Lucille Ball. (BTW I respectfully disagree with you on the merits Libeled Lady and 20th Century.)


3:57 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Intriguing what-ifs, particularly on the comparison to Lombard; she and Harlow were good friends in real life (and both were beloved by studio crews for their professionalism and lack of pretense on the set).

Might Carole and Jean done a "buddy comedy" somewhere along the line, perhaps playing sisters? Maybe they have in an alternate movie universe where each lived to a ripe old age and some other stars, whose identities we can only guess, were called to the afterlife sooner.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Another coincidence...just last night I watched THE BEAST OF THE CITY, and she took one in the belly.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Wife vs Secretary was actually my first Jean Harlow movie and the scenes with her and Gable are so relaxed and chummy, I couldn't help wishing the movie would just ditch the titular tease and just follow their platonic adventures. Given the better role, Jean manages to steal the movie from Myrna Loy completely.

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Harlow is so-oooo wonderful. She steals pictures effortlessly. In Libeled Lady, we're supposed to be all aflutter over Loy, but anyone with any taste would take Harlow any day! (As co-star William Powell did in real life!)

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harlow was the one and the only Platinum Blonde. She may not have made many films but the ones she made showed her talent for comedy. The book is a great tribute to her life in films.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harlow was here for the time she was, I don't want to imagine her in some future time, less than the Platinum Blonde icon we love and remember.

12:02 AM  

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