Saturday, March 3, 2012

Happy 101st Birthday Jean Harlow

It's funny that I'm never attracted to blondes in real life.

You'd think that my nearly 40-year crush on Jean Harlow would have made me partial to them.

But, it was never about the hair color. It was about the attitude.

My grandfather was the one who got me hooked on the films of the 1930s. He talked about a lot of different stars and educated me via WTTG-Channel 5 in D.C. which was a pretty reliable source for reruns of classic titles -- especially on weekend nights and Sunday afternoons.

I would watch old movies all night on Friday and Saturday nights at my biological father's apartment, then spend Sunday afternoon watching old movies at my grandparents' house.

(No, I didn't play outside very much!)

And, while I can recall loads of Jimmy Cagney, and Bogie, and Astaire-and-Rogers titles flickering on the TV sets back then, I latched onto Jean.

I suppose that there was some passing resemblance to Fay Wray in King Kong (1933) -- word is that Jean was up for the part of Ann Darrow, but I'm not too sure about the veracity of that tale -- and, as a Kong junkie in a pre-Star Wars (1977) era, I was downright obsessed with Fay Wray as a kid. So maybe Jean reminded me a tiny bit of the gal with the blonde hair screaming in Kong's paw?

Anyway, whatever the reason, I think it was Dinner at Eight (1933) that did it for me.

And then a viewing of Bombshell (1933) when I was about 11 or 12 sealed the deal.

I was hooked on Jean Harlow.

Eventually, I saw most of her films on cable, VHS, or DVD, and I could find moments of joy in even not-quite-great titles, like Reckless (1935).

As I've probably said before, it was her attitude that captivated me. Yes, she was clearly sexual in an open way -- which explains the effect she had on me when I was 12! -- but it wasn't just that. She was no dumb blonde like Chrissy on "Three's Company" or Marilyn Monroe; Jean was smart, sharp, and sarcastic.

There was an edge to her, but underneath that sometimes uncultured or rough exterior there was a good girl. At least in her films, after the Production Code took effect in Hollywood, it was probably essential that she not just be this wild sexual creature; she had to learn her lesson, or go straight in her films.

But in real life, there was quite a bit of similarity to the on-screen gal. Apparently, she was, at heart, quite down-to-earth, unaffected, and full of life. She loved William Powell and he loved her. And she, clearly, ached for a normal life.

For all those reasons, for her skills in multiple genres, and for her ability to fully dominate a screen through looks-and-attitude -- that whole bad girl gone good-bit -- Jean Harlow remains my favorite actress of all time.