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Jean Harlow, 30s Goddess, Paul Bern

Updated on May 2, 2015

The Blond Bombshell


Jean Harlow and Her Mother

Jean Harlow and Paul Bern

Baby Jean Harlow

Harlean Carpentier Becomes Jean Harlow

The image of the platinum blond bombshell was completely unheard of when Harlean Carpentier was born in Kansas 1911. Her father was a Dentist, and her mother, Jean Harlow SR., was a prominent socialite. Baby Harlean was a beautiful child with a cherub face. She could have posed for soap or oatmeal ads, with her ideal, wholesome looks.

When she was only eight years old her parents divorced and Harlean remained with her grandparents while her mother went to Chicago to look for a job. Her mother, ever the charming lady, remarried quickly. Her second husband was a wholesale food salesman named Marino Bello. Mamma Jean was now able to afford a fancy private boarding school when Harlean turned 15. Unhappy with life in boarding school, Harlean slipped away and eloped with a local boy. The marriage did not last long and Harlean moved to Los Angeles with her mother and stepfather.

Now age 16 Harlean was very beautiful and it did not take long before she began preparing for a career in the movies. She decided to drop her given name and adopt her mother's name, Jean Harlow, and was instantly hired as an extra. Jean was quickly appearing in numerous bit parts for films such as, Double Whoopee!, and The Saturday Night Kid, with Clara Bow and Jean Arthur. Jean even appeared in a few Laurel and Hardy shorts. The stunning bit player was on the treadmill of mediocrity when she wisely began hanging around the Hal Roach studios and met Howard Hughes. The Hal Roach studio was a down to earth place where important parts were known to be given to familiar faces, and Howard Hughes was a powerful force due to his wealth and charisma.

Hughes had an eye for beauty and had been working on writing a movie about The Royal Flying Corps in World War I that would be called Hell's Angeles. Hughes was in Hollywood during a very transitional time when radio had become so popular with Americans that the movies had to do something to compete with it. Movies were what we would call today, "silent movies", where the actors pantomimed and cue cards helped put the overall story together. From the turn of the century to the late 1920s movies were shown this way and had gone from jerky one reelers with actors standing in front of stagey sets to slick, well acted movies with all the special effects that we see in movies today. They simply did it all without the use of computers.

Now that radio had come into vogue the movies felt compelled to add music to film and the studios that did not jump on the band wagon would be left behind. Howard Hughes had gotten his project ready to produce as a silent movie, but now, what seemed like overnight, sound movies were popping up everywhere and it was looking as though the talkies were here to stay, Hughes had to come up with a script that had dialogue. Harlow tested and it was discovered that Jean's timing was impeccable. Shortly after its release Hell's Angeles evolved into a big hit, and so became Harlow. Audiences in the early 30's were captivated by her blatant sex appeal.

Jean Harlow is often compared to Marilyn Monroe, but beyond the blond hair the similarities end. Harlow was fun and she knew how to have fun. She was wisecracking and calculating, whereas, Marilyn was vulnerable and innocent. Harlow played dumb to get what she wanted only.Her style was totally unique.

Jean Harlow, the platinum blond, was riding high with a string of movies in 1931.

Her gowns, along with her striking blond hair became her trademark. Shockingly low and clingy, revealing her curvaceous figure to perfection, and her intense platinum blonde hair was her crowning glory. She was the first blond "vamp" of the screen, which forever changed the way viewers see blonds to this day. Before Harlow, blond women were cast as the innocent heroines, while the dark sultry women were the vamps and "man traps." Blonds gained a spicy quality after Jean Harlow introduced the brash and saucy flaxen haired beauty.

1932 was a good year for Harlow. She made "Redheaded Woman" my personal favorite movie, and married her prince charming, the brilliant screenwriter producer, Paul Bern. Mr. Bern was an average looking guy who was twice her age, and just happened to be a top studio executive at the time he and Harlow met. The marriage quickly ended in a serious scandal that hit Hollywood with such ferocity that there was speculation about this incident ruining Harlow's career. Paul Bern committed suicide a few months after the wedding, leaving a note that referred to his own impotency.

Harlow was heartbroken, but to keep her sanity she quickly moved on to her next movie Red Dust, and she actually drew a larger audience than in her previous movies. She seemed to be the kind of star who was unaffected by negative scandal as the public became even more interested in Harlow after her recent tragedy.

Jean's career was in full swing heading into the mid 1930s, with Dinner At Eight, Bombshell, and Hold Your Man.

Jean Harlow suddenly married for the third time to Cameraman, Hal Rossen. Jean was 22 and Hal was 38, of course this marriage did not last long, and Harlow buried her sorrows in her skyrocketing career.

Jean Harlow's Last Movie

Harlow's last full length film was Personal Property with Robert Taylor in 1937. She was in the process of filming Saratoga when she fell ill. Jean had never been strong and it is believed that she had been plagued by kidney infections and other ailments for years. Jean died of uremic poisoning in 1937 at age 26. Over the years many who knew Harlow personally have placed blame her mother for not getting a doctor right away and letting the infection spread. Mama Jean was against modern medicine and deeply into Scientology.

A stand-in finished the filming of Saratoga and it was released by MGM, grossing millions. The public was interested in seeing Harlow's last movie effort.

In 1958, twenty one years after her daughter passed away, Jean Harlow's mother was admitted to the same hospital that her daughter passed away in, and she her self died of a heart attack four days later at the age of 61. She is buried in Forrest Lawn Glendale with her daughter.

Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow & Ethel Whales

Sharon Tate with the Harlow/Bern Suicide House in Background


Jean Harlow & Paul Bern's Suicide House

Hollywood renewed interest in the suicide of Paul Bern in the late 1960s when the bodies of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and several others was discovered to have been slaughtered by a cult gang, The Manson family. Sharon had been dating Jay Sebring a few years before she married Roman Polanski, and Ray lived in the same home that Paul Bern had committed suicide in. Sharon Tate was living in the Paul Bern suicide home with her lover and she always felt that the house was evil.

In 1969 while Sharon Tate was pregnant with her first child and Roman was away, she had friends staying with her and Jay Sebring, who remained close friends with Sharon was one of her house guests. Every one of the guests were brutally slaughtered by the Manson gang and Hollywood has speculated for decades if perhaps Sharon was correct in believing that the home of Paul Bern did have an omen and perhaps Sharon had a premonition.

The two homes are in the same neighborhood. With the Harlow/Bern address, 9820 Easton Dr., Beverly Hills. and the Sharon Tate house being 10050 Cielo Dr. Beverly Hills.

Read full story of the Tate/Sebring murders- Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, & the house.

Sharon Tate & Jay Sebring at Tate's House Hours Before Being Murdered


Jean Harlow in Her Classic Platinum and White Gown


Jean Harlow's Style


Jean Harlow in Living Color


Harlow/Fashion Icon Inspired Marilyn Monroe

When Marilyn Monroe was a troubled young girl Jean Harlow was her idol, and she greatly patterned her appearance, sex symbol platinum blond hair, and her acting style on what she saw in Jean Harlow. Marilyn lived a rather tragic life and died young as did her idol, though her life spanned 10 years longer than Jean's.

Jean Harlow's wise cracking, crafty show girl persona lives on, as she is the image of the 1930s to modern movie goers. In Victor Victoria, the platinum blond girlfriend of James Garner did her best Jean Harlow impersonation.


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Jean Harlow has always been one of my favorite stars too. Poor Jean she died so young!

    • Skarlet profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you Angela,

      I enjoy the classic stars and have read extensively on so many obscurities that I decided its time to write about it.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      8 years ago from Central Texas

      Skarlet -- again, you scored big time with this reader. I love the old Hollywood actor/actress stories and am following you closely on all this series. Keep up the good work -- 'cause it is excellent work. Best/Sis

    • Skarlet profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you writingowl,

      That is a great name and it suits me too:)

      I accidentally published an unfinished Marilyn hub, and have yet to work on it, but I will check out yours.

      I know that Aspergers is related to autism, but that is about all I can recall off the top of my head. I will certainly do some looking into it though.

      Thank you again...

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Very interesting. I love the Hollywood greats too and have written about the as you say, 'innocent, vulnerable Marilyn Monroe. I think she could have had Aspergers Syndrome, would love to know what do you think?

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      Ahhhhh...that explains it. The spooky Scientologists.

    • Skarlet profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thank you billybuc and fpherj48.

      Jean's mother was involved in a religion that forbade modern medicine at the time. It was Scientology, I believe.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating story and told to perfection by you. I had no idea that she died at such a young age. Such a beauty, so much living in such a short time. Great hub!

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      Skarlet....Although you may have some hubs in the wings, yet....I'm going out on a limb here, to say this hub may be my favorite of all your wonderful and interesting hubs!

      Not only is it written with flair and perfection, I am taken by the in-depth personal info you gathered on Jean Harlow....(my Dad's private Heart throb).

      Married for the 3rd. time by the age of 22, her stunning rise to Hollywood fame and a tragic death at the young age of of 26! A whirlwind of a life, to say the least.

      Her mother seems a mystery woman.....a "prominent socialite" married to Jean's father, a Dentist, yet she was "against modern medicine? A woman who scooped up another wealthy husband, shortly after divorcing Jean's appears, to be able to lavish her precious only child in luxuries........yet gambled with her daughter's life near the end, by delaying medical intervention. Very sad and curious.

      I vote this way UP etc!!


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