Jean Harlow Seductive Innocence

Jean Harlow Seductive Innocence  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Profiles in History.

Photographer George Hurrell was hunting for some unusual prop to showcase blond bombshell Jean Harlow for his 1935 Vanity Fair photo shoot.  He could see Harlow wasn’t afraid of the camera and the camera loved her which opened up all kinds of possibilities for him.

You can’t guess the pictures I turned down because the moment I signed on they changed the script and undressed me.
— Jean Harlow

Hurrell found his perfect prop in a white bearskin rug.  He positioned the starlet on the floor leaning on the head of the snarling creature.  The bear was the perfect contrast for a “beauty and the beast” type image. 

The rug was so popular and so often requested in future photo shoots, Hurrell was forced to go out and buy one himself.  He was a studio photographer for MGM, Warner Brothers and Columbia and photographed some of the most glamorous women in Hollywood.

He was master of light.  The photo of Jean Harlow on the bearskin rug with its flawless finish would ultimately come to immortalize his work. 

People on and off the screen loved Harlow.  No one seemed to have anything bad to say about her.  Because of her blond hair, she was known as “Platinum Blond.”  

As Harlow reached stardom peroxide sales in the United States skyrocketed.  She was in the forefront of the film industry for almost ten years and made 36 movies.

She wasn’t self-conscious about her body off-screen either.  Harlow played to her image with her cast of characters ranging from “gold diggers” and “sex vultures” as she liked to call them to “floozies” and “ladies of the night.” 

Despite her screen presence, there was innocence about Harlow.   

"In the first sitting I fell in love with Jean Harlow.  She had the most beautiful and seductive body I ever photographed," portrait photographer Charles Sinclair Bull said.

Because of type casting it took time for casting directors and audiences to see her as something more than a bubblehead.

“She was the only star I know…who is completely different from what she appears to be on screen,” said columnist Gladys Hall.  “The hard-boiled character of the blond-bombshell…is the girl who is timid before people she doesn’t know.”

“You can’t guess the pictures I turned down because the moment I signed on they changed the script and undressed me,” Harlow said. 

She was a prisoner of her public persona and ultimately got caught in the crossfire.  By her own admittance, Harlow wasn’t a great actress.  But something undeniable and real came through on screen that manages to charm moviegoers even today.  Harlean Carpenter, later known as Jean Harlow, was born on March 3, 1911 in Kansas City, Mo.  She died at the age of 26 from kidney disease.

Harlow’s mother, called "Mama Jean" signed the majority of her daughter's letters and photographs.  So genuine autographs of this Hollywood icon are hard to come by.

On March 26-27 the now famous 8 inch by 10 inch, black-and-white, camera negative on nitrate film of Jean Harlow on the bearskin rug went on the block at Profiles in History. The photo sold for $57,500.  

Hurrell Black-and-White Negatives

Joan Crawford; studied beauty; from “Our Blushing Brides” camera negative; 1930; 8 inches by 10 inches;  $6,325.  

Veronica Lake; flowing-haired beauty; from “I Wanted Wings” portfolio camera negative; 1941; 8 inches by 10 inches;  $6,900.   

Marlene Dietrich; seated starlet; portfolio camera negative; Paramount, 1937; 8 inches by 10 inches;  $8,050.

Rita Hayworth; reclining goddess; from “You Were Never Lovelier” portfolio camera negative; 1942; 8 inches by 10 inches;  $8,625.     

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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