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Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital 1928-1937

Jean Harlow epitomizes the essence of old Hollywood glamour and stardom. Although she died young, she has an  immortal presence that has lasted for over 70 years. Perhaps it’s because we never saw her grow old. Her youthfulness, beauty, and sexuality are all perfectly preserved as if she were truly alive and breathing. Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is a loving and dedicated tribute to “The Baby.”  The book is filled with photos from author Darrell Rooney’s personal collection (one of the most complete Harlow collections in existence),and a well written biography by Mark A. Vieira that only a fan could compose. Vieira describes Harlow as intelligent, well-read, friendly, and loving–and always seeking love.

Courtesy of Angel City Press
Courtesy of Angel City Press

Harlow rose to stardom in Hollywood rather quickly, had a solid work ethic, and always did what the studio asked of her. Although she often portrayed women of a certain character, audiences absolutely loved her. This proved to be especially true when her second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, committed suicide. A scandal of this sort was considered a career killer, but not in Harlow’s case. She had achieved ultimate star status and was granted a level of immunity.

In addition to various marital/relationship troubles, Harlow had a controlling and demanding mother. Jean Bello regularly took advantage of her famous daughter, often without Harlow even recognizing it. Vieira largely portrays Mother Jean and her husband Marino Bello (Harlow’s step-father) in a less than positive light, as he should. All accounts state that the Bellos were greedy, manipulative, and exploited Harlow for their own personal gain.

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is one of the most beautiful and thoughtfully designed books I have ever read. From her first days in Hollywood, to her final photo shoot with friend Clark Gable, and ending with her devastatingly premature death, Rooney and Vieira manage to capture the essence of Harlow’s spirit. The photo for the front cover features a goddess-like Harlow in a slinky satin gown–her trademark. What lies within that cover exceeds even the highest expectations. Each page is filled with lovely photos, some rare, of Harlow and her family, friends, and co-stars. The attention to detail is noticed in even the smallest touches, like the design for the page numbers, font, and coloring.

I did not want to put this book down. I stayed up very late to finish it, and when I was done I was in tears. It haunted me. When I fell asleep I dreamed of Harlow’s death. When I woke in the morning, I felt like I had been right there with her. As I wrote in my review of the stellar Judy: A Legendary Film Career, I am often hesitant to embrace so-called “gift books.” Many times, these types of books feature low quality photos and text. Fortunately, that is not the case here.  Harlow in Hollywood is an essential for Jean Harlow and classic film fans alike.

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Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937)
ISBN: 9781883318963
Angel City Press
March 2011
240 pages

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Jill Blake

Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.

Comments

Sarah
Reply

Im really looking forward to this one. She’s the epitome of a movie star for me and it sounds like this is a wonderful book. It’s beautiful! I have to admit that get story breaks my heart. Can you believe I couldn’t finish Saratoga when it was on TCM this week? Too sad for me :(

Love your reviews Jill….

kittenbiscuits
Reply

It really is a wonderful book and perfect down to the smallest detail. It is obvious that Rooney and Vieira are major Harlow fans. Her story breaks my heart too. Her body just wasn’t strong enough to carry her spirit. A really horrible way to die, especially since a)they didn’t even know what was wrong with her until the final days of her life, and b) there was nothing they could do even if they had known!

I have to admit I’ve never watched Saratoga for the very same reason. But I am going to make an effort to do so. I owe it to her memory.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Sarah! I promise to head over to your blog this week. I try to catch up once a week on all my reading and commenting. ;)

Sarah
Reply

Hers is such a heartbreaking story…I try to think of how happy her and William Powell were together in the end. It seems like he was devastated…and very much in love with her.

Saratoga was a good movie, but I couldn’t stop shedding tears. What a sight I must have been. Thank goodness it was just me and the pets. Yep, gonna try again too. Just not this week :) For some reason she’s on my mind a lot. Probably because I just watched Libeled Lady for the umpteenth time….

No worries Jill, just have a great week, ok?

P.S. I found a copy of Being and Becoming….at the library of all places. So happy to simply find it! Starting it tonight. Thanks for the inspiration (from your Myrna Loy biography review post) to hunt it down again.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

She and Powell actually had a complicated relationship. Harlow desperately wanted to marry him, but Powell kept her at a distance. When she fell ill on the set of Saratoga, Powell was seeing another woman (I believe a MGM player). Their “engagement” was concocted by MGM publicity to make their relationship seem more appropriate. Plus, they couldn’t turn their backs on that kind of publicity! That said–their relationship was genuine and there is no doubt he loved her….and she most certainly loved him. He helped take care of her for the years they were together (Powell confronted her step-father Marino Bello about some questionable “investments” in Mexico. Bello was stealing from her) and he was there during the last days of her life. And he was devastated.

So glad you found a copy of Being and Becoming! I actually discovered that my library has a copy as well, however I am going to probably buy a copy so I have it as a reference book. Let me know what you think of it! Are you by any chance on Goodreads? If you are, add me! I’m on there as Kittenbiscuits. If not, you should be! It’s like Facebook for book lovers! ;)

Sarah
Reply

Loved the added info on Harlow/Powell Jill. Thank you for sharing that with me. I appreciate it.

I will see if I can still get into my old Goodreads account and add you for sure. I am ashamed I’ve neglected that site because I love it! Time to return!

Yes, I will definitely buy a copy of Being and Becoming too, as soon as I find one. Ugh. So far, I love it. And adore her :)

Thanks again Jill. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have someone to talk classic films with!!

shadowsandsatin
Reply

I enjoyed your review, Jill — I love this book. I’ve had it since shortly after its release, but I can’t say I’ve actually READ it. I just love looking at the pictures. : ) Your review makes me want to read it, though!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Karen,

Thanks so much! Isn’t it a beautiful book? At first I thought that’s all it was, but I started reading and I couldn’t stop! By all means, this format does not replace a well written dedicated biography. However, considering the short length and that it is primarily comprised of photos, it packs in a LOT of information. You should read it!

Raquelle
Reply

When “gift” books have great content, it’s a win-win all around! Great review Jill, as always. I already had this book on my wishlist, but now I want it ASAP! I really love Jean Harlow and I’m glad the book does her justice.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks, Raquelle! This really is a beautifully written and edited book. Looks impressive on the shelf too! I can’t wait for you to read it. Seriously. Must know what you think of it. :D

KimWilson
Reply

Liked reading your review. I’m new to your site, but now that you’re a member of the CMBA I will be visiting often and I look forward to reading some great articles.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Kim–

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and reading this review. I really look forward to interacting with all the members of CMBA!

ClassicBecky
Reply

I would love to read this book. Most of what I knew about Harlow in years past was in seeing two movies about her, both of which I understand were far from the truth. This book sounds like it would straighten that out. I did watch Saratoga on TCM recently, and it made me very sad to see those scenes in which a double was used because Harlow had died. I couldn’t help but wonder what the other stars of the show were thinking when they filmed those scenes. Very interesting post, Jill. I look forward to more!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Becky,

Before reading this book I knew relatively little about Harlow. I knew the general information about her death, Bern’s suicide, and Powell…but mainly just general anecdotes. When I learned of this book I knew I had to read it. It does not take the place of a true dedicated biography, but I don’t know if a non-salacious biography on Harlow even exists! Don’t get me wrong–I love the gossipy stuff, but there are certain actors/actresses who are off limits and Harlow is one of them. Anyway, this book provides a great deal of information considering it isn’t a traditional biography–especially characterizes the toxic relationship Harlow had with her mother and step-father. The Bellos were really lousy people.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my review!

Vincent
Reply

What I love about the book is how beautifully it describes Harlow as a person, thanks in part to excerpts from many of the letters she sent. Jean is so often pegged as a “sex symbol” that it’s forgotten what a bright person she was; had she not entered into acting, one senses she would have had some sort of career in publishing. Moreover, people she worked with genuinely liked Harlow for her generosity and professional attitude. I love the David Stenn and Eve Golden books on Jean, and this volume is a perfect complement.

D Tenore-Bartilucci (@DorianTB)
Reply

Jill, congratulations on being inducted into the CMBA with SITTIN’ ON A BACKYARD FENCE, and kudos to you on your moving, fascinating blog post about Jean Harlow. It’s a shame that she died so young and had to put up with gold-digging parents, but it certainly didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most talented, unforgettable actresses ever. You have me interested in reading the book now. Great post!

Kay
Reply

I recently met a gentleman who was Edith Head’s assistant during the late 50′s-early 60′s, and he told me that he spent some time chatting once with William Powell. He visited Powell at his home and this gent told me that there were photographs, signed, of Jean Harlow all over the place. Apparently, Powell’s wife didn’t mind, or perhaps, understood the complications of that relationship. Interesting, eh? Wonderful review! I can’t wait to read the book! Well done!

[...] in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital 1928-1937 was originally published at Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. One thing that makes this book so special is the authors are genuine classic film fans and have [...]

Glen Bartolomeo
Reply

Harlow In Hollywood is the best thing to come out on her life. And I have read several. The text and the photos bring her to life to a point where you have this urge to write her a fan letter. We cant believe this woman is gone nearly 70 years. In many ways there is something oddly contemporary about her. And how wonderful that she left a legacy of which we still want to talk about.

I have been a Jean Harlow fan since I was a kid and I am now in my 50′s. She had a kind of presence that has always touched me. I have had dreams of her from time to time since I was kid and never knew why. Apart from her beauty there is a lovely girl and warm heart that yearned to live a different kind of life. But she was caught up in the MGM machine and what she thought her Mother thought was best for her I am still on a quest to see all her films too (things like Goldie , which I know she didn’t like, and
Iron Man are hard to find) I have read most books about her (David Stenn’s is wonderful and was long overdue) I did not read the trashy one from the mid-60′s which spawned a pair of ludicrous film biographies.
Yes by all means catch Saratoga, it is bittersweet since we all know the real ending, but I think she would want us to see her final effort. It is obvious her work ethic was stronger than her body at that point.. Painful for us fans too. She was really just a few short years away from breakthroughs in kidney failure. There was nothing they could do for her.

I did not know her, I did not get to see her films as they came out, but strangely I miss her. I wish she had a better personal life too. She seemed only to want to be happy.

[...] Released in March 2011,  Harlow in Hollywood is quite possibly the best classic film related book in my collection. With a well-researched biography and stunning photos of Harlow all throughout her career, this is an absolute must for Jean Harlow fans. You can find my detailed review of the book here. [...]

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