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Episode cast overview:
Herself (archive footage)


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blonde | actress | See All (2) »





Release Date:

20 May 1996 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Harlean Harlow Carpenter Charts Her Destiny
29 July 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Peter Graves narrates this (1996) account of the life and career of Harlean Harlow Carpenter, from her 1911 birth, in Kansas City, Missouri, an only child of an only child, Real Estate fortune heiress, Jean Harlow, and Mont Clair Carpenter, whose marriage is arranged and resented by the social-climbing mother, before the daughter, forever to be known as "The Baby," one day assumes her mother's maiden name to become screen star Jean Harlow.

At age five, Harlean begins her education at Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls in Kansas City, while continuously reminded of the debt of gratitude owing her mother, who dumps her father and gains sole custody of "The Baby," who would be given very few opportunities to see her father again, as Mother Jean aspires to become an actress, relocating to Hollywood, California, in 1923, to enroll Harlean in Hollywood School for Girls.

But Mother Jean does not receive casting opportunities and returns to Kansas City with Harlean, in 1925. Attending summer camp, Harlean catches Scarlet Fever, which affects her kidneys in the long term. Harlean is sent to Lake Forest Academy, Illinois, where she meets 19-year-old heir Charles "Chuck" McGrew, with whom she elopes at age 16, after Mother Jean marries the domineering Marino Bello, who reportedly has organized crime connections.

* 1928, Harlean and Charles relocate to upscale Beverly Hills, California, as part of Chuck's plan to distance Harlean from the somewhat manipulative Mother Jean.

* Harlean befriends aspiring actress Rosalie Roy, who asks Harlean to chauffeur her to to Fox Studios (pre-20th) for an audition, when Fox executives notice Harlean, asking her to audition with Central Casting, she preferring against. But days later, when Rosalie dares Harlean to reports to Central Casting, she signs in with her mother's name: Jean Harlow.

* Mother Jean, of course, discovers this from a distance, and pressures Harlean to report back to Fox Studios, where she is cast in a series of walk-on roles with her new platinum blonde appearance, receiving strenuous and painful hairdressing treatments.

* 1929, Actor James Hall recommends the newly-divorced Harlean, now "Jean Harlow," to test for a role in Howard Hughes film "Hell's Angels," which would make her a star.

* 1930, MGM executive Paul Bern (whom she soon marries) escorts Jean Harlow to the Grauman's Chinese Theater premiere, to great fan-fair encircling this overnight sensation.

* 1932, now a major MGM star, Jean discovers Paul's body at their residence, leading MGM executives to order Jean to her mother's residence, to cover any hint of scandal involving Paul's suicide after an altercation with his common-law wife, Dorothy Millette, whose body is discovered in coming days. On the set of "Red Dust" (1932), Clark Gable calls Jean Harlow the bravest person he has ever known.

* 1933, Jean begins to see actor/boxer Max Baer, Sr., or at least until his wife finds out, and so MGM quickly covers any hint of scandal, by arranging a marriage between Jean and cameraman Harold Rosson, not realizing that he's also already married, and so MGM rushes him through a hasty divorce five days after Harold's wedding with Jean.

* Mother Jean and MGM continue to control Jean's life and career for different purposes. Mother Jean orders daughter back to the Beverly Hills mansion, putting an end to her marriage with third husband, Harold, by the time Jean Harlow is only 22.

* Those around her describe Jean as much more wholesome, timid and sweet than her screen image would convey. She has a desire to learn from reading many books, and would prefer a domestic life to stardom. And so, she begins to see socially fellow MGM actor William Powell, who presents Jean with a large blue star sapphire ring, which she wears on and off the set.

* 1936, Jean travels with William Powell to San Simeon, at the invitation of publisher William Randolph Hearst and screen veteran Marion Davies, who cherishes the company of Jean and William, while Hearst forbids the couple to share the same quarters without the benefit of marriage.

William Powell has Mother Jean's now-husband, Marino Bello, investigated, and discovers his "investments" from a large portion of daughter Jean's salary to go to illegal operations plus his mistress in Mexico. Needless to say, Mother Jean rather hastily dumps Marino Bello.

Mother Jean and MGM Executive Louis B. Mayer once again face a bitter confrontation when Mother Jean prohibits Mayer from assigning his physician to treat Jean Harlow, who is rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital with kidney failure, after becoming gravely ill on the set of "Saratoga" (1937). Many rumors arise in the aftermath.

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Maureen O'Sullivan (Actress), Elaine St. Johns (daughter of Screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns), Marcella Bannett Rabwin (Selznick's Executive Assistant), Barbara Brown Martin (Jean's Secretary/Stand-in), Joseph M. Newman (Assistant Director, "Dinner at Eight"), William A. Edmundson (Soundman, "Red Dust"), Alfred and Eugene Pagano (Miss Harlow's hairdressers), and David Stenn (Biographer, "Bombshell: the Life and Death of Jean Harlow").

Archive footage includes Jean Harlow, Billie Burke, Wallace Beery, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Clara Bow, Edna May Oliver, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, Clark Gable, Will H. Hays (Production Code Chief), Joan Crawford, Marie Dressler, Max Baer, Sr., William Powell and Myrna Loy, Carole Lombard, Marion Davies, plus several unidentified performers.

Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Jean Harlow, in scenes from "Double Whoopee" (1929), "The Saturday Night Kid" (1929), "Hell's Angels" (1930), "The Public Enemy" (1931), "Platinum Blonde" (1931), "Red-Headed Woman" (1932), "Red Dust" (1932), "Bombshell" (1933), "Dinner at Eight" (1933), "China Seas" (1935), as well as "Dance of the Maypole," and Newsreel coverage at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (1930). William Powell and Myrna Loy share a scene in "After the Thin Man" (1936).

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