Friday, June 10, 2016

"Our Baby"

Another great post from guest blogger Debbie.

As I was contemplating the fact that June 7th would have been my parents' 69th wedding anniversary the other day, it dawned on me that June 7th was the 79th anniversary of Jean Harlow's death. 

I never knew much about Jean other than the "Blonde Bombshell" hype that Hollywood put out about her and the films she was in.  When I became a rabid fan of William Powell and started studying his life all that changed.  For three years she was the center of Bill's life before her untimely passing.  I started reading all I could about her, the real Jean.

                   Jean with the enormous blue sapphire ring.

Everything I've read about her from other people in the industry, such as Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Latrice Joy, has described a very unaffected, natural, down-to-earth young woman.  They told about a girl who was liked by everyone from studio heads to movie crew workers.

       Jean shows off her ring to Bob Montgomery and Eddie Mannix

Rosalind Russell said that the first time she met Jean she thought she was a child.  Jean was sitting under a hairdryer and was wearing no makeup.  Roz described her as tiny, with the beautiful skin of a child.  Roz taught Jean how to do needlework.  They used to work on it between takes.  Roz was very fond of her.

                             Roz and Jean doing needlepoint. 

Clark Gable became a close friend.  He called her "Sis".  He and Carole Lombard (Bill's ex) used to double date with Jean and Bill.  The four of them attended an Oscars ceremony together.

Myrna Loy described in her autobiography the time she and Bill were filming "After the Thin Man" in San Francisco and Jean went along to be with Bill.  Because Powell and Loy were such a convincing couple on screen, many people thought they were really married.  Instead of separate rooms, the hotel had reserved a suite for Mr. & Mrs. Powell.  Jean and Myrna ended up staying in the suite and Bill was forced to stay in a single room alone.  (Myrna said he was none too happy about it.)  She described their stay as being delightful, much like girlfriends in a college dorm room.  They became very close friends.

                    Myrna, Jean & Bill arriving in San Francisco.

Latrice Joy (John Gilbert's ex) in an interview for TCM talked about what a lovely person Jean was.  She talked about Jean's delicate beauty and that she was different than her screen persona.

There was marriage talk around Hollywood about Bill and Jean in 1936.  She told everyone he was the love of her life.  Bill gave Jean a 152-carat blue star sapphire ring.  Most people considered it her engagement ring.  She wore it while making "Personal Property" with Robert Taylor.  It was also known that Jean was helping Bill decorate his house and they were seen shopping together.

There has been speculation that Bill was reluctant to marry again.  He had been married to two actresses (Eileen Wilson and the fabulous Carole Lombard) and wondered if a marriage to a VERY famous actress would work.  I don't think there was any question of how much Bill loved Jean.  That was obvious to everyone.  Unfortunately, he waited too long.

It was right after the third anniversary of their first date.  Jean had brought the cake Bill had sent her with the three candles to the set of her current film "Saratoga".  She was very happy that day but had been ill of late and looked bad.  Myrna Loy later said there was a gray cast to Jean's skin.  Later Jean felt ill and asked that Bill be notified on the set of "Double Wedding", his current film.  He left his set to take her home.  On the 6th of June, Bill called Jean's mother to return from her vacation because Jean was much worse.  She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and Bill, her mother and a cousin stayed with her in her room that night.  She fell into a coma early that morning.  It has been said that the last word she said was Bill's name.  She died at 11:38 a.m. the morning of June 7th, 1937.  She died of renal failure.  There was no dialysis in 1937.  She died in Bill's arms. 

Jean was buried in a marble crypt at Forest Lawn's Great Mausoleum in Glendale, CA.  Bill purchased her final resting place with its three spaces for $25,000.  She is in the middle crypt with only "Our Baby" etched on the front.  Her mother was buried there in 1958.  The third space remains empty.  It is said that she was buried with a gardenia and an unsigned note, certainly from Mr. Powell, that read "goodnight, my dearest darling" placed in her hands.

The loss of Jean devastated Bill and he was unable to work for some time.  The few films he did make before his return to MGM in 1939 were made at other studios.  MGM was too painful a place without her.  Many, many years later, when asked about her, Bill's voice still broke.  When asked about the many salacious stories and films that had been written about her, his saddened response was "She wasn't like that at all".

May Bill's "Baby" R.I.P.

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