Jean Harlow (1911-1937)
- Leila Hyams, Freaks, 1931. Director Tod Browning saw Harlow as Venus for his notorious reality-horror film. She did not. The notorious reality-horror film, was attacked on all sides, banned in many US states (and in the UK for 32 years!). Hardly a shock for MGM after its own executives complained about lunching in the same canteen as the cast of real bearded ladies, bird girls, hermaphrodites, human skeletons, midgets, pinheads, Siamese twins… and the limbless Prince Randian striking a match with his face to light his cigarette. (They were moved to a tent outside). The film ruined Browning - until being continually revived as one of the all-time Hollywood classics.
- Joan Blondell, The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932. Producer Sam Goldwyn promised the dumb blonde to Ina Claire, but he craved a real bombshell. His enthusiasm for Harlow was dampened by Warner's wunderkind writer and production chief Darryl Zanuck saying she was a lousy actress. She said: “Men like me because I don't wear a brassiere. Women like me because I don't look like a girl who would steal a husband. At least, not for long.”
- Fay Wray, King Kong, 1932. Being told that her co-star - in The Beast or The Ape or King Ape or Kong - would be “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood” did not excite her. Hell, she had already worked with Gable! And so Harlow never delivered the most famous scream in Hollywood history. She is the reason that Wray insisted that her character be blonde. (She chose her own wig at LA’s Max Factor shop). Fay did not have to to travel far. Kong’s jungle was the same set from another movie she as making concurrently at RKO, The Most Dangerous Game.
- Myrna Loy, The Prizefighter and the Lady, 1933. As MGM switched from directors Josef von Sternberg to Howard Hawks to, finally “One Take Woody” Van Dyke, so did the The Lady… from aflo Mae Clarke and Joan Crawford to Harlow (her husband has just killed himself) and Elissa Landi. The Prizefighter was a real one - Max Baer. He won every round.
- Virginia Bruce, Times Square Lady, 1934. Who should play Toni Bradley, heir to her father’s gambling business - Harlow or Virginia Bruce? Easy! Bruce, of course, since she was already romancing the leading man, Robert Taylor, off-screen since divorcing John Gibert. So why not on-screen, as well!
- Janet Gaynor, Small Town Girl, 1935. Harlow and Robert Montgomery were MGM’s initial Kay and Bob. Harlow split. Maureen O’Sullivan was not O-Kay. Then, Gaynor made herself a Harlow pal for life when refusing to be loaned by Fox to pick up Harlow’s leavings and adding that even with re-writes, no Harlow role could be a Gaynor vehicle. Then, she ruined such friendship by making the movie after all.
- Joan Crawford, The Gorgeous Hussy, 1935. She was only an innkeeper’s daughter but... Peggy O’Neal Eaton became confidante and adviser to President Andrew Jackson. The novel was first snapped up by RKO for Katharine Hepburn, then passed to MGM for Harlow and, ultimately, Joanie. Her producer was Joseph Mankiewicz. He was in love with all women and vice-versa - particularly the Metro women.
- Barbara Stanwyck, His Brother's Wife, 1935. The co-stars changed as rapidly as the shooting. Harlow and Clark Gable became Harlow and Franchot Tone and, finally, the first of three teamings of Stanwyck and her 1939-1952 husband, Robert Taylor. And “One Take Woody” Van Dyke shot the 137 page script in 13½ days.
- Myrna Loy, Libeled Lady, 1935 Harlow wanted to be William Powell’s girl, not Spencer Tracy’s in the romcom. No, no, said MGM. This is a Powell-Loy vehicle and their Thin Man fans want to see them ending up together. Sure wasn’t that way off-screen. Harlow and Powell were lovers, and Loy and co-star Spencer Tracy had an affair during the shoot.
- Gladys George, They Gave Him A Gun, 1936. And they gave it to him - Spencer Tracy - two days after completing Captains Courageous. They also gave him George, an Oscar nominee for Valiant Is The Words For Carrie. But Harlow came a-calling when he was in hospital for throat surgery. She dropped in “for a game of handball.”
- Joan Crawford, Love on the Run, 1936. MGM bought the short story, Beauty and the Beat, because it was like a new spin on Clark Gable’s It Happened One Night. Loy and Robert Montgomery were set as the runaway bride and undercover reporter. Then, Harlow and Montgomery, or Harlow and Robert Taylor, and finally: Gable and Crawford… on-off lovers during 30 years and several marriages.
- Joan Crawford, The Gorgeous Hussy, 1936. She was only an innkeeper’s daughter but... Peggy O’Neal Eaton became confidante and adviserto President Andrew Jackson. The novel was first snapped up byRKO for Kate, then passed to MGM for Harlow and, ultimately, Joanie. Her producer was Joseph Mankiewicz. He was in love with all women and vice-versa - particularly the Metro women.
- Constance Bennett, Topper, 1937. Comedy producer Hal Roach saw the Kerby couple (of ghosts) as the unlikely mix of Harlow and WC Fields (or Cary Grant). Did not matter who they were (and they were Connie and Cary), it was their haunted pal, Roland Young, stole the entire comedy. His Cosmo Topper collected an Oscar nod and two sequels.
- Myrna Loy, Test Pilot, 1937. At first, the co-stars of Gable, Hollywood’s new King, were to be Harlow, Wallace Beery and Jimmy Durante. They became Loy (by sheer happenstance, the new Hollywood Queen), Lionel Barrymore and (in the thankless buddy role) Spencer Tracy.
- Margaret Sullavan, The Shopworn Angel, 1937. After Harlow’s shock death at 26, first Joan Crawford in ’37, then Rosalind Russell in ‘38, were due as her replacement. Crawford passed, Russell was sent into The Citadel in London and, finally, Sullavan partnered James Stewart. Two years later, comedy genius Ernst Lubitsch waited months for the same couple for “the best picture I ever made in my life” - The Shop Around The Corner, 1939. (In the meantime, he casually knocked off the exquisite Ninotchka!).
- Alice Faye, In Old Chicago, 1937. This project, about the great Chicago fire of October 9, 1871, was the head Fox Darryl Zanuck’s answer to MGM’s San Francisco earthquake triumph. Zanuck even had the nerve to try to borrow MGM’s toppermost stars: Harlow and Clark Gable! Metro actually agreed about Harlow - to obtain Shirley Temple for The Wizard of Oz, 1938 - but she died on June 7, 1937. Tyrone Power then suggested Faye as his co-star.
- Ann Sothern, Maisie, 1939. Wasted at Columbia, RKO, dropped by MGM after one film, the ex-Harriet Lake returned to Metro to inherit an old Harlow project that made her MGM’s top B-girl in a series of eight Maisie films until 1947, although the UK cut Maisie from the titles after 1941.