Harlow (1965)

A trashy biopic loosely based on the book by Irving Shulman, Harlow’s disregard for the truth is best exemplified by killing off the title character with pneumonia, when she in fact died from kidney disease.

 

The source book was written in collaboration with Arthur Landau, so it is not surprising that he is depicted as one of the film's few likable characters. The biopic's fondness for this ‘agent with a heart of gold’ is offset by its apparent dislike for the original 'platinum blonde'. As Jean Harlow, Carroll Baker displays none of the star's sassy humour, transforming her into such a whining, sex-starved harridan that the viewer almost welcome's her early death.

 

Apart from Harlow's parents and husband, all other characters in the film are fictitious, but are obviously based on real-life counterparts. Therefore, Howard Hughes becomes Richard Manley, Louis B. Mayer becomes Everett Redman and in one of the movie’s few bright spots, Mike Connors gives a reasonable impression of Clark Gable in his role as Jack Harrison.

 

The only insight provided by this biopic is an understanding as to why Carroll Baker’s career nose-dived after the film's release.

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The Irving Shulman book on which this film is loosely based has been discredited by all those who knew Jean Harlow. Even Arthur Landau, who worked in colloboration with the author, has at various times confessed the book was only 70% true and later stated "I never knew her to use a dirty word... She was not promiscuous"

 

Relationship of Harlow and Landau is depicted as continuing until her death, when Landau utters the movie's closing lines..."She didn't die of pneumonia. She died of life. She gave it all to everyone else, and there wasn't enough left for her" (for the record, Jean Harlow died of kidney failure). However, once Harlow signed on with MGM (Majestic Pictures in this biopic), her affairs were handled by two other agents, Frank and Vic Orsatti. 

 

One of the biopic's most contentious scenes is the beating Harlow receives from Paul Bern on their wedding night. Though Arthur Landau insists it happened, Harlow's friends and acquaintances have described it as an outright lie. Most telling was the recollection of Harlow's maid, Blanche Williams, who stated that she helped the star bathe on the morning after the wedding, and saw no welts on Harlow's back as depicted in the book and film.

Biopic not only fictionalises most aspects of Jean Harlow's short life, but also changes the names of all of her films. As such, there are no direct movie recreations. In fact, the only movies depicted being made come from Harlow’s silent career.

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