Hollywood’s Original Blonde Bombshell, Jean Harlow

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As anyone who knows me is well aware, I am a big fan of genealogy and have taken it upon myself to be my family’s family historian. While tracing some branches this evening I came across a fun little tidbit; I am very distantly related to Harlean Harlow Carpenter, more commonly known by her stage name, Jean Harlow.

Harlean and I are both descendants of Michael Korns Sr. (1793-1877), my Great x6 Grandfather; this makes her my 4th cousin, 3 times removed – pretty close, right? Anyway, while this counts for basically nothing, I still got to looking into this tragic figure’s brief life story and thought I’d do a mini tribute to a very distant cousin who died far too soon.

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow

Harlean Harlow Carpenter was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 3, 1911 to the successful dentist, Mont Clair Carpenter (1877-1974) and his wife, Jean Poe Harlow. “Mother Jean” was extremely overbearing and protective, and instilled in “Baby” the idea that she owed her mother everything; “she was always all mine”, the woman is quoted as saying.

Mother Jean & Baby, 1934

Mother Jean & Baby, 1934

In typical “stage mom” fashion, Mother Jean moved to Hollywood with Baby in 1923, hoping to start a film career. When she realized that, at 34, she was too old, she began to push her daughter to pursue the spotlight instead. Baby attended the Hollywood School for Girls and met a host of wealthy friends including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and the man who was to become her first husband, Chuck McGrew.

In 1927, at age 16, Jean Harlow married Chuck McGrew, an heir to a large fortune that he received when he turned 21, just 2 months after they wed. The young couple had plenty of money and plenty of time as neither of them worked. Rumours spread that they both drank heavily, and in 1929 they divorced. This would be the first of many heartaches in the young starlet’s life.

After getting a series of small film roles, Harlow was spotted by actor James Hall, who was working on a Howard Hughes feature, Hell’s Angels. The film needed an actress to replace Greta Nissen, whose Norwegian accent was undesirable. Hall recommended Harlow for a test and she got the part.

Hughes signed Harlow to a five-year, $100-per-week contract on October 24, 1929, and when Hell’s Angels premiered in 1930 it made Harlow an international star. While critics were unimpressed with her talent, Variety Magazine summed it up best when they wrote, “It doesn’t matter what degree of talent she possesses … nobody ever starved possessing what she’s got.”¬†Around this time, Harlow met the man who would become her second husband, MGM Executive Paul Bern.

Jean Harlow and husband Paul Berns

Jean Harlow and husband Paul Bern

The young star was rising fast, gaining larger and larger roles and becoming an increasingly popular icon. Hughes’ publicists capitalized on her hair colour, coining the term “platinum blonde”, and young women across the country scrambled to mimic the starlet’s signature look. By this point Harlow and Bern were romantically involved, and the MGM exec managed to convince his studio to buy her contract from Hughes. In 1932, just after Harlow’s 21st birthday, she was signed to MGM studios; she and Bern were married soon after.

With MGM Jean Harlow got superior roles and was given the chance to show off her humour, rather than just her good looks. Sadly, in 1932, while shooting the feature Red Dust, her husband of only 2 months was found shot to death in their home. Rumours swirled that Bern had been murdered, possibly by Harlow herself, but the death was eventually ruled a suicide. In recent years stories have emerged that suggest Bern was in fact murdered, but by a former lover.

Following the untimely death of her husband, Harlow began an indiscreet affair with boxer Max Baer, who, while separated from his wife Dorothy Dunbar, was still married. Wanting to avoid further scandal, studio execs arranged a marriage between Harlow and her friend, cinematographer Harold Rosson. The pair quietly divorced 8 months later.

It was in 1934 that Harlow met the “love of her life”, fellow actor William Powell. The pair were reportedly engaged for nearly 2 years, but never had the chance to wed.

William Powell and Jean Harlow

William Powell and Jean Harlow

Over the course of several months in 1937, Harlow’s health was in obvious decline. The scarlet fever she contracted at age 15 may have played a part in her eventual death from kidney failure. As they had during her life, rumours plagued Harlow’s death, with stories claiming that she had died from anything from alcoholism to a botched abortion, and that her mother, a Christian Scientist, had refused to allow her daughter the proper medical care. Harlow was buried in a private room of a mausoleum in Glendale, made of multi-coloured marble and purchased by William Powell for $25 000. She was buried in the gown she wore in Libeled Lady with a white gardenia in her hand and a note from William Powell which read, “Goodnight, my dearest darling”.

Harlow in Libeled Lady

Harlow in Libeled Lady

While I’ve been reading about Harlow tonight, I can’t help but fixate on the fact that I am now the same age she was when she died. In her 26 years on earth, Jean Harlow earned more than 40 film credits (appearing in 6 films with Clark Gable), was the first actress to grace the cover of Life magazine, became the original “blonde bombshell” (inspiration for Marilyn Monroe), was married 3 times, endured the violent and untimely death of her husband and finally slipped away in a slow and painful death. Harlean lived more of a life in her 26 years than I think most people do in 80.

While I found an amusingly similar photo of me from 2012, I unfortunately do not share any of Harlow's sex appeal or stellar looks.

While I found an amusingly similar photo of me from 2012, I unfortunately do not share any of Harlow’s sex appeal or stellar looks.

Was she happy? Who knows. She had fortune and fame, and as far as the world knows she had finally found love with William Powell, though who’s to say whether that would’ve lasted had she not died so young. Harlow is a tragic example of what has now essentially become a modern day archetype; the young star who lives fast, plays hard and dies young. We tend to glamourize this idea with the concept of “die young and leave a beautiful corpse”, which is really sick when you think of it. How many people had done half what she did at 26? If I died tomorrow, my obit wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining. So who knows what she could have done if she’d lived twice that long? Three times that? The world of entertainment can be brutal and exhausting and you can easily find yourself living your life only for others. The problem with that is, in the end, it’s your life, not theirs, and if you die with things left unsaid or undone, there’s no one who can change that for you.

So a bit of a positive end for once, some words of encouragement. Go out there and do what you want to do. Tell people you love them. Take a risk, try something new. Live the life you want because you may not have any choice over how long you’re here, but you do get to choose what you do with the time you’ve got.

-E.

Click.

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The cast & crew of KSK; Ed Queffelec (fight coordinator), Tea Nguyen (Associate Producer), Aaron Williams (Dagger), Astrid Atherly (Kitty), Thomas Finn (Ronnie), Felicity Adams-Hannigan (Kourtney), Samantha Walkes (Lily), Emily Dix (producer, stage manager), David Backshell (lyricist), front row: Jamieson Child (director, writer), Michael Zahorak (composer, music director), Heather Motut (Teresa). Not pictured: Robert Iannuzziello (Mooky), Drac Child (writer, production designer), Judith Ann Clancy (costume designer).

Every show hits a point where it all suddenly ‘clicks’. Sometimes it’s early in the rehearsal process and sometimes it’s not til closing night, but there’s always that magical moment when all at once, everyone seems to just ‘get it’ and the whole thing picks up speed, emotion, and leaves you sitting there with your mouth hanging open thinking, ‘where in hell did that come from?’.

That’s what happened at last night’s rehearsal for Kill Sister, Kill!

I’ve been working on this show since October and have seen it go through many stages, be touched by many hands, and have the typical highs and lows of anything in theatre. While it was evident from the start that we had a strong cast, yesterday was when I saw emotions hit new peaks, and got to hear all the beautiful nuances of the music by Michael Zahorak and David Backshell finally reach their full potential. By the time we hit “Dagger’s Law” in act 2, I couldn’t stop smiling, even through scenes that were so heart wrenching and beautifully performed that it had me near tears.

We’re headed to NYC tonight on the midnight bus and will open at Theatre 80 in Manhattan on August 26th. I’m so proud of all the hard work, talent & energy the entire cast & crew has thrown into this production over the past few weeks and months, and can’t wait to give you all more updates on our time in NYC and the premiere of our show, Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical.

-E.

New York, New York!

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A little over a week ago I received an unexpected email from the head of Promise Productions, saying she had gotten my information off of the production resources contact list, and was looking for someone to stage manager her show that was headed to the New York Fringe. Initially I assumed she had contacted dozens of people, and that I wouldn’t stand much of a chance; how often in this business do we get a call asking us to take on a job, let alone one that will give us the chance to travel to the Big Apple? Yet, here we are! On August 2nd I will be traveling to New York to work on “No Visible Scars”, so expect lots of theatre updates as well as a lot of excited posts about all the stuff we’re seeing and doing in NYC!

Before we head out, we are doing a free preview performance of the show, July 30th, 7:00pm; all the details can be found on our facebook event page. Donations will be accepted should you want to help fund our NY production.

All for now!

-E.

Pinterest and Linkedin and Facebook – Oh My!

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I’ve tried my best to sync up all my various social media accounts, but not all go together, so I thought I’d take a second to link to some of my other sites;

Facebook: on my page you can see updates on my current shows, links to events and the occasional fun photo.
Linkedin: my professional online presence, check it out for a detailed resume and some references.
Behance: my visual online portfolio, with projects for most of the shows I’ve worked on.

As you may know, I am also the Artistic Director of Bygone Theatre, so here are the links to accounts related to that

Facebook: our facebook page with detailed updates on our shows and related events.
Twitter: commentary on our shows and local theatre events, as well as coverage for things like The Tonys
Pinterest: I use this as my idea board for shows – check it out for our design inspiration.
Blog: anything related to the company and things of a related bygone era.

-E.

“Like Christmas For Actors” – The Toronto Fringe

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Yay fringe! yay kisses!

Yay fringe! yay kisses!

Someone said to me a couple years ago that the annual Fringe Festival was like “Christmas for actors”; you see people you haven’t seen in months, everyone is pumped up and looking to celebrate, and you spend one week floating from show to show, running into old friends and getting excited for all the surprises the plays have to offer. It’s an event that’s fun for spectators and theatre-goers, but it really is more than that for those of us in the theatre community. It is a chance to spend time with those we love and to briefly rekindle those intense friendships that often live out their full life cycle in the few short weeks of a run of a play.

This year, sadly, I will have very little opportunity to hang around the Fringe. I am currently in Waterloo, signed up for a week long millinery class at Stratford Off The Wall; I’ll be missing all but 2 days of the Fringe. Still, I did make it downtown briefly on Friday, just to check out the scene and see what was happening this year.

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Chris at I in the alley; he lost his “Fringe Virginity” that night.

The great thing about the Fringe Alley and Fringe Tent is that there is always someone you know there. A constant flood of people, it’s like a huge eye-spy game trying to spot old friends and flag them down before they rush off to see a show. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a friend of mine was putting on a show in the alley and luckily got a chance to see it that night (be sure to check out Theatre Double Take‘s My Last).

There’s cheap beer and great music; I happened to catch a bit of Birds of Bellwoods and totally loved it.

Birds of Bellwoods

Birds of Bellwoods

One difference I noticed this year was that they seem to have stopped the “Fringe Run” – a good idea in my opinion, as it only ever lead to ripped posters and bruised knees. Instead, a laminated wall shows one of each poster, and it was great to be able to see them all together and compare.

The poster wall

The poster wall

The one downside to this is you really do end up comparing the quality of the posters, and I’ll be honest, there were a few that, next to the more professional looking ones, were crappy enough I actually made up my mind not to see them. I won’t be a jerk and post those ones, but will instead show a few whose design really caught my eye; I don’t know these groups or anything about the shows, but they immediately grabbed my attention with their great design.

So while my Fringe time may be cut short this year, I’ve already enjoyed it. If you get the chance to check out some of this year’s Toronto Fringe, be sure to look at Bygone Theatre’s Fringe Picks for a couple not-to-be-missed productions.

All for now!
-E.

Hello!

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I’ve never been much of a blogger. When I started out working on the blog for my company Bygone Theatre I initially struggled to come up with things to write about – I may be someone who talks a lot but I guess I felt I didn’t really have anything to say.

But as I’ve been trying harder to get better in tune with this whole social media thing, I thought I’d give this a shot. There are often topics that interest me, or shows I work on that are not associated with Bygone, so I figured it was time to start a blog for those. Hopefully this will also serve to organize the thoughts of a sometimes scatter-brained artsy!

It is the first weekend of the Toronto Fringe, so I’ve got plans to spend the day in the annex. Hopefully I’ll be inspired there to write my first real post.

– E.