Jean Harlow

  1. Leila Hyams, Freaks, 1931.      Director Tod Browning saw Harlow (an extra in 1928) 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.
  2. Joan Blondell, The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932.     “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.”Sam Goldwyn’s  company joined the queue for Harlow following her Red-Headed Womantriumph. She was under contract to Howart Hughes at the time. So no go.  Blondell became Schatzi, alongside  Ina Claire and Madge Evans as three gold-diggers with sugar daddies.  Betty Grable, at age 15, was glimpsed as a hatcheck girl. In 1952, her How To Marry A Millionaire,1953. was almost a re-make.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.   
  5. Virginia Bruce,  Times Square Lady, 1934.     MGM bought Albert Cohen and Robert Shannon’s story for Harlow and Clark Gable – to cash in on their Red Dust and Hold Your Man. Instead of which, Robert Taylor won his first lead and Bruce (his off-screen squeeze) simply ran off with the entire movie.
  6. Carole Lombard, The Gay Bride, 1934.   Lombard’s only MGMovie, was one of her least favorites – after being shredded by the new Production Code. Metro had first planned a Red Dustreunion of Harlow and Clark Gable for this fast-moving comedy about a gold-digger widow and a bodyguard – won by Chester Morris…  from Richard Arlen, Ricardo Cortez, Russell Hardie (later Hardy) and Lyle Talbot.
  7. Janet Gaynor, Small Town Girl, 1935.   Harlow and Robert Montgomery were MGM’s initial Kay and Bob.  They split. Maureen O’Sullivan was not O-Kay. Then, Gaynor refused to be loaned by Fox to pick up Harlow’s leavings, adding that even with re-writes, no Harlow role could never be a Gaynor vehicle. She also refused to be billed second to Montgomery’s sub,  Robert Taylor. And  then? She made  the movie after all!
  8. 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, as a wedding present for Joanie and Franchot Tone. (The marriage was all over by ‘39).
  9. 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. 
  10. 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.

  11. 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.”
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Constance Bennett, Topper, 1937.    “You can’t afford me, I’m, getting $50,000 for my next picture at Columbia.” Cary Grant is talking to Hal Roach, when the producer turned  up at one of the… not so much parties, as gatherings… around Cary’s Malibu pool.  Roach, who went back to Laurel and Hardy movies, had a good story – even Cary agreed about that. a fun couple were killed in a car smash but were unable to enter the Pearly Gates until doing a good deed back on earth.  They started casting…  Grant suggested Jean Harlow for Mrs Kerby and WC Fields as the good deed target – stuffy old Cosmo P. Topper. No, said Roach, Constance Bennett, Roland Young – “and you!”  Eventually, Grant agreed. It wasn’t the happiest shoot (Grant was no fan of Bennett, nor of her  top-billing) but  it was among his most successful movies.
  15. 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. 
  16. 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!).
  17. 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.
  18. Ann Sothern, Maisie, 1939.    Wasted at Columbia, RKO, dropped by MGM after one film, the ex-Harriet Lake returned to Metro to inherit theold Harlow project tabout Maisie Ravier –  a Brooklyn showgirl down on her luck,  working as a  maid at Ian Hunter’s  Wyoming ranch. The New York Times – and the public –  loved the way this “hitherto reasonably restrained actress, throws left hooks, gags and fits of temperament with surprising abandon.” Sothern  became MGM’s top B-girl in a series of eight  more films as the  “tantalizin’, scandalizin’, misbehavin’  Maisie – the double trouble doll with the classy chassis”  – from Congo Maisie (using Metro’s 1929 Trader Horn footage) to  Undercover Maisie, by way of Gold Rush Maisie, Ringside Maisie, Swing Shift Maisie  and Maisie Gets Her Man… well, you get the idea.  Although the UK cut Maisie from the titles after 1941.

 Birth year: 1911Death year: 1937Other name: Casting Calls:  18