Jean Harlow, the original Blonde Bombshell, was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter 106 years ago today in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are 10 JH Did-You-Knows:
Harlow, the daughter of a dentist and his wife, left home at 16 to marry Charles McGrew, a businessman seven years her senior. The pair moved to Los Angeles, where Harlow was soon garnering assignments as an extra in pictures.
Her marriage to McGrew ended after just two years, allowing Harlow to focus on her career. She soon graduated from extra work to bit parts in features and shorts.
Hughes sold Harlow’s contract to MGM, where her star continued to ascend. Her work in Frank Capra‘s Platinum Blonde (1931) was very well received, and the following year she was paired with Clark Gable in John Ford‘s Red Dust, the second of six pictures she and Gable would appear in together during her short career.
Harlow is said to have turned down lead role in Freaks (1932) and King Kong (1933).
In 1935, Harlow demanded more money from MGM, refusing to work until they assented, and while she was on strike, she wrote a novel, Today Is Tonight. It wasn’t published until 1965, early thirty years after her death.
Both Harlow and Marilyn Monroe starred opposite Gable in their final pictures—Harlow in Saratoga (1937) and Monroe in The Misfits (1961). Monroe idolized Harlow and refused the chance to play her in a biopic because she felt the script was not respectful to Harlow.
At the time of her death, Harlow was engaged to actor William Powell (and had been for two years). Had the pair married, Powell would have been Harlow’s fourth husband.
Though rumors long persisted that her mother, a Christian Scientist, refused medical care for her daughter, or that Harlow died of alcohol abuse, sunstroke, poisoning due to her platinum hair dye or any of a number of other causes, Harlow’s passing, at the young age of 26, came as a result of kidney failure.
His mother, Mary Estelle Dempsey (though she would be known by many names), an eccentric character worthy of inclusion in one of Sturges’ films, was close friends with dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan; in fact, it was a scarf Dempsey gave to Duncan that led to the dancer’s infamous death.
Sturges’ mother was married several times, but it was her third husband, a wealthy Chicago stockbroker named Solomon Sturges, who was a true father to Preston. He adopted him when Sturges was 4 years old and provided guidance and support to him throughout his life.
Prior to launching his writing career, Sturges was employed as a runner on Wall Street and worked for his mother’s cosmetics company, even inventing a kiss-proof lipstick.
In 1917, Sturges enlisted in the Army Air Service, serving at Camp Dick in Texas without ever seeing action. Three Hundred Words of Humor, a humorous essay he wrote for the camp newspaper, was his first published work.
Sturges claimed to have introduced the club sandwich to Germany.
His first success came on Broadway with a play he wrote called Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote the play in just six days, it ran for 16 months (a very lengthy run in 1929), and he was working for Paramount Pictures soon thereafter.
He worked for a decade as a studio screenwriter, and though he wrote some terrific movies during that time, he was often frustated by the final product.
So eager was Sturges to direct his own scripts that he sold the rights to The Great McGinty to Paramount for just one dollar (some reports say the fee was $10), with the stipulation that he would be allowed to direct it. He would go on to win the very first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for that script.
Sturges amassed a troupe of actors that he used repeatedly in his films, and when the studio objected, fearing the actors’ faces would become too familiar to the audience, Sturges responded, “These little players who had contributed so much to my first hits had a moral right to work in my subsequent pictures.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, he owned and operated a nightclub called The Players on the Sunset Strip.
Happy birthday, Preston Sturges, wherever you may be, and thanks for the laughs!