How do we, as a modern audience approach judgement of an actress such as Jean Harlow. Granted, despite everyone’s lofty opinion of ourselves, life varies only in the cosmetic and inconsequential. Computers and technology haven’t advanced. Elon Musk and Stephan Hawking can bullshit us as much as they like. We are still the problem. No amount of technology will save us from ourselves. How do you judge Jean Harlow against say Natalie Portman? The same way you do if you where comparing Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts.
Born in 1911, Jean Harlow’s first big break in film would come in the film Hell’s Angels (1930). The film came about due to the notorious mega rich business tycoon Howard Hughes’s fascination with women and aviation.
Harlow was only 19 at the time and was a vastly different style of actress than the typical proper lady like types that Hollywood was producing at the time. She was open, honest, glamorous to the core but in a very earthy sense. You could touch Harlow and the glamour would not wear off on your sleeve.
Harlow’s career, however. would not get much of a bump from one of the many attempts Hughes would attempt to break into films. She would find herself in bomb after bomb until her contract with Warner’s up. She would jump ship to the mightiest of all the studios at the time, MGM.
For the young actress, the move to the more conservative of studios was a genius move. The studio was ran by the genius wunderkind Irving Thalberg, who was head of production and, for whatever reason, he had the Midas touch when it came to making movies.
Her run of success started right off right off opposite Clark Gable and Mary Astor in Red Dust. The film was directed by, the eventual finisher of the 1939 masterpiece Gone With the Wind, Victor Fleming.
Harlow would star opposite some of the greatest leads Hollywood would have to offer; Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Willam Powell, just to name a few.
Just as she was getting started, Harlow would die of kidney failure in 1937 at the age of twenty-six.