Joseph E. Levine’s production of HARLOW, a Paramount Pictures release, dramatically unfolds the fabulous legend of Jean Harlow, one of the most exciting and fascinating love goddesses ever to appear on the motion picture screen. The platinum-blonde bombshell from Kansas City, Missouri, rose to stardom in the Thirties as Hollywood’s – and the world’s – reigning sex queen.
In the nearly thirty years since her tragic death at the age of twenty-six – she was then at the peak of fame – Jean Harlow has grown into a legend. Everyone who delighted in her unique flair for comedy in more than two dozen films has wondered about her private life: What were the personal misfortunes that culminated in her untimely death in 1937? What was the real Jean Harlow like? Was her wise-cracking, brashly self-confident screen image he real Harlow? What were her warm, human qualities that only close friends knew and cherished as fond memories after her passing? What real-life roles did her family – her ambitious mother and her handsome, opportunistic stepfather = plain in her life? And how did her trusted agent-discoverer, Arthur Landau, try to protect Jean from the pressures of fame?
HARLOW searchingly dramatizes key events and personalities in Jean’s life, outside and inside the studio sound stages, in a fascinating attempt to solve the riddle of one of the entertainment world’s most beautiful, controversial women.
The film introduces Jean Harlow (Carroll Baker) in the late Twenties, as Hollywood was on the brink of becoming the world’s movie capital. This was the era of which Jean herself would soon become a vital, unforgettable part. A youthful aspirant, she haunts Hollywood studios looking for a part, however small, that will carry her on the road to fame and fortune. She lives with her mother, Mama Jean Bello (Angela Landsbury), and her stepfather, Marino Bello (Raf Vallone), who plunges Jean’s earnings into shady money-making schemes. Life takes on a hopeful note when, at work on a movie set one day, she is seen by Arthur Landau (Red Buttons), a Hollywood agent.
Although he realizes Jean possesses rare beauty and acting talent, success does not come easily in persuading powerful studio bosses of her enormous box-office potential. Eventually, she is signed to roles that bring her favorable critical notices, but the grueling ordeal of extensive personal appearance tours and the fast-growing reputation of herself as a sex symbol are beginning to show Jean that movie stardom is not attained without price. Finally, the head of a major studio (Martin Balsam) agrees to hire Jean as a long-term contract player, and the creation of Harlow, the sex goddess, is under way. Her natural platinum-blonde hair sets a vogue, and her voluptuous figure is now world famous.
Romantic comedy roles are assigned to Jean that emphasize her innate gift for sophisticated, pert characterizations. Meanwhile, she marries one of the studio head’s most important executives, Paul Bern (Peter Lawford), in a highly-publicized wedding. A month later, Bern commits suicide. Torn apart by her husband’s death, the demands made on her by a hard-driving mother and a greedy stepfather, and an extraordinarily crowded working schedule, she collapses under these heavy burdens. Jean Harlow dies, but the loveable girl, the uniquely exciting actress and the immortal sex goddess lives on in the hearts of friends who adored her, and in the memories of those who worshipped her in films so long ago and continue to idolize her today – as woman and legend.