Harlow at 100

We’re not a bit happy about it, but we’re not likely to make it to Los Angeles in time to take in the Harlow at 100 exhibition at the Hollywood Museum, but that’s no reason you shouldn’t endeavor to experience it.

It’s hard to imagine, given the success Jean Harlow experienced and the level of influence she still has, that she lived to be only 26. How many of Hollywood’s most beloved stars would still be remembered today if their careers had come to a tragic end at age 26? Very few, we’re convinced (though one could argue that the legacies of certain actors, e.g. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, have actually been bolstered by their premature deaths).

Jean was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter, the daughter of a Kansas City dentist and his wife.

Her mother, born Jean Poe Harlow, resented her arranaged marriage to Harlow’s father and requested a divorce, which was granted in 1922. Months later, Jean and Harlean moved to Los Angeles, as Jean (the mother—confusing, no?) had designs on an actingc career, and like many a frustrated parent, she passed (forced) her dreams on to her daughter.

Mother and daughter returned to the Midwest within a couple of years. Harlean was eventually enrolled in the Ferry Hall School (now known as Lake Forest Academy) in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she eventually met Charles “Chuck” McGrew, heir to a family fortune and six years her elder.

The two were married in 1927 and moved to Beverly Hills, as Chuck sought to put some distance between Harlean and the overbearing mother Jean. But it was to no avail. The story goes that when young Harlean drove a pal to the Fox Studios for an audition, she herself was encouraged to audition. After spurning overtures from Central Casting, Harlean’s pal and Mother Jean, who had since moved to L.A., goaded her into registering with Central Casting. She did, under her mother’s maiden name, Jean Harlow, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The exhibition, described by the museum as the world’s largest collection of memorabilia saluting the original “Platinum Blonde” and “Blonde Bombshell,” includes artifacts from seven private collections and includes “private letters, studio contracts, photos, posters, autographs, her childhood family Bible, favorite white fox fur cape and even her luxury car—a 1932 Packard Phaeton.”

May we pause here to reiterate how much it pains us that we’ll likely not find ourselves in Southern California in time to take in this exhbition?

The Hollywood Museum sits right in heart of Tinseltown, at Hollywood and Highland, in the historic Max Factor Building, within walking distance of Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, Musso and Frank Grill; Hollywood’s first pizzeria, Miceli’s; the legendary and still fabulous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; the Hotel Roosevelt, site of the first presentation of the Academy Awards; and so many other movieland attractions.

The exhibition is scheduled to run thorugh Sept. 5, 2011. If you’re within striking distance of Hollywood and have an affection for Hollywood pictures of the 1930s, you’d be a darned fool to miss it.

Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 12

In Chapter 12 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée finally gets around to providing some typical memoir material, sharing tales of his boyhood in Westbrook, Maine, and offering accounts of his experiences traveling west to Hollywood to make his first picture, The Vagabond Lover (1929).

Chapter XII

From Westbrook to Hollywood

IN EVERY interview that I have ever given I have been careful to state that my birthplace was a small town in Vermont called Island Pond. Most peculiarly, however, the interviewers have seen fit for some reason to omit this fact and to refer to me as a Maine boy. Probably this is due to the fact that i spent only two years of my life in Vermont. Although I grew up in Maine, I am very proud of my Green Mountain birthright, and the vacations that I have spent in Island Pond were some of the most wonderful days of my life.
However, it was during my boyhood in Westbrook, Maine, that I first began to dream of the theatre. I must have inherited a love for all things theatrical from my father who, though a druggist all his life, had been associated with several theatres in various small business ways. Anyway it was always in the back of my head, and even when I was in the early grades of grammar school I used to climb up by the door of the motion picture booth and peek in to watch the film with fascinated eyes as it went past the aperture plate, with the bright light from the arc lamp shining on it; and the hum of the machine as the operator cranked it by hand, and the smell of film and film cement meant as much to me as the picture itself.
My idea of perfect happiness in life was to be the manager of a theatre, who not only selected the films to be shown, but could sit in the theatre all day and watch them.
My last years of grammar school I knew I would have to help father in the drug store. I had grown into long pants and I began my first work in the drug store. Being rather dexterous with my hands and quick of mind I proved to be one of father’s best clerks, but I never liked the work. It was that I actually disliked manual labor; I never minded chopping eighteen pails of ice every day and bringing them upstairs and then packing the ice around the things that had to be kept cold (this was in the days before they had iceless refrigeration) nor did I mind opening the boxes containing countless small boxes and bottles which had to be put away in a thousand and one places in the store.
I enjoyed making the syrups, and usually gorged myself on them as I drew them from the large bottles in which they came—I was particularly fond of chocolate syrup and usually became sick from overindulgence.
But it was the fact that there was little of romance in waiting on customers who were slow in making up their minds, and who were cross and disagreeable at times; it made me miserable. Then again there was nothing fixed about the hours, we worked from early morning until late at night. Many a time father and I were just about to close the store when a street car would stop in front of our place filled with people coming back from a near-by dance hall and rust theatre, and again we would put on the lights, open the doors, and in a breathless rush serve forty and fifty people at the soda-fountain.
I had to rush out on cold days and pump gasoline, as we were one of the first drug stores to have a gasoline filling station. The only happiness I knew in the store was when father took on the sale of Victor photograph records and I had a chance to give demonstrations to possible purchasers of these records. After I had played them twice over, I usually knew all the good and bad features of the records and could invariably whistle and hum along with them. I knew the selling points of each and very rarely failed to sell a record when i attempted to do so. The thing lasted all too short a time but its effect upon me was profound and tremendous.
A small event of great future import took place a the beginning of school vacation when a disagreement with the head clerk affected me so that I walked out of the store and went out swimming with the boys.

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