03/03/1911 to 07/06/1937
Harlean Carpenter, who later became Jean Harlow, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 3, 1911. She was the daughter of a successful dentist and his wife. In 1927, at the age of 16, she ran away from home to marry a young businessman named Charles McGrew, who was 23. The couple pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles, not long after they were married, and it was there Jean found work as an extra in films, landing a bit part in Moran of the Marines (1928). From that point on she would go to casting calls whenever she could. In 1929 she had bit parts in 11 movies. Her marriage ended in divorce after two years. ]Although she was having trouble finding roles in feature movies, she had more luck in film shorts. She had a fairly prominent role in Hal Roachs Double Whoopee (1929). Her big break came in 1930, when she landed a role in Howard Hughes' World War I epic Hell's Angels (1930), which turned out to be a smash hit. Not long after the film's debut, Hughes sold her contract to MGM for $60,000, and it was there where her career shot to unprecedented heights. Her appearance in Platinum Blonde (1931) cemented her role as America's new sex symbol. The next year saw her paired with Clark Gable in John Ford's Red Dust (1932), the second of six films she would make with Gable. It was while filming this picture (which took 44 days to complete at a cost of $408,000) that she received word that her new husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, had committed suicide.
In 1933, she played the part of Lola Burns in the hit Blonde Bombshell. It was a Hollywood parody loosely based on Clara Bow's and Harlow's real-life experiences, including the latter's greedy stepfather, nine-room Georgian-style home with mostly-white interiors, her numerous pet dogs - right down to having her re-shoot scenes from the Gable and Harlow hit, Red Dust (1932). In 1933 Jean married cinematographer Harold Rosson, a union that only lasted eight months (although Rosson lived another 53 years, he never remarried).
It was her films with Gable that created her lasting legacy in the film world. Unfortunately, during the filming of Saratoga (1937), she was hospitalized with uremic poisoning. On June 7, 1937, she died from the ailment. She was only 26. The film had to be finished by long angle shots using a double. Gable said he felt like he was in the arms of a ghost during the final touches of the film. Because of her death, the film was a hit. Record numbers of fans poured into America's movie theatres to see the film.