All Things Marilyn
We’re going back to Marilyn’s Hollywood roots with our first guest on the All Things Marilyn podcast. We’re thrilled to interview Jean Harlow author, historian and collector Darrell Rooney.
- How much do you know about Harlow?
- Was Harlow a childhood idol of Marilyn’s?
- How did Marilyn discover Jean Harlow?
- What were the similarities between the two film stars?
- Was Marilyn the first “platinum blonde,” or was it actually Jean Harlow?
- Did Marilyn recreate many of Harlow’s famous photographs?
- Did Marilyn actually want to be the new Jean Harlow?
- Did the two paths of these screen legends ever cross, even though they died 25 years apart?
Marilyn even collected Jean Harlow memorabilia! As a child, young Norma Jeane gathered cigarette cards with photos of movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood. She saved them in an album issued by John Player & Sons tobacco company. Celebrities included in the album are Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, Robert Montgomery and many others. Marilyn saved this item from her childhood. Today, the album, which is fully complete with all cards, is a cherished artifact owned by the Marilyn Monroe Collection.
About Darrell Rooney
Darrell Rooney is an award-winning Animation Director, his most notable credit being “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride.” He has worked on everything from “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” at Disney, to “Family Dog” and “The Brave Little Toaster,” and recently, all of the “Hotel Transylvania” movies at Sony.
His interest in Jean Harlow began in the late 60s – early 70s when there was a big nostalgia boom. John Kobal glamour photography books introduced him to the radiant Jean Harlow. He thought she had a face like sunshine. He started collecting photos and anything he could find on Harlow, never dreaming that someday he would own objects that actually belonged to her. The Ignatieff mural was a 1932 gift to Jean from husband Paul Bern. He is now considered to be the custodian of this important artifact. In 2017, he rescued the long lost 1937 Harlow painting “Farewell to Earth.”
Jean Harlow’s 100th birthday was celebrated with the release of Harlow in Hollywood in 2011, which he co-authored with the talented Mark Alan Vieira. His crowning glory was mounting two popular exhibitions of Jean Harlow memorabilia at the Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor Building. Harlow in Hollywood is just about to be re-released in a new updated edition coming out sometime in October, 2022.
Scott: Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning into another episode of All Things Marilyn. It’s Scott Fortner, Marilyn Monroe historian, collector, and owner of Marilyn Monroe Collection dot.
Elisa: I’m Elisa Jordan. author, founder of LA Woman Tours, and I am also a Marilyn historian.
Scott: We’re very excited today here at All Things Marilyn because we have our very first guest, Mr. Darrell Rooney, who is an author, a historian, and a collector of all things Jean Harlow. Welcome, Darrell. How are you doing today?
Darrell: I’m doing great. How are you and Elisa doing?
Elisa: We are awesome. We’re very excited you’re here.
Scott: For our listeners who may not be familiar with you, why don’t you just talk a little bit about how you got to this place today—being a historian and a collector and an author of Jean Harlow, tell us how you got started.
Darrell: I’m a child of the sixties in the late sixties and early seventies, there was a big nostalgia boom. “Everything Old is New Again” was a popular song. Bonnie and Clyde, et cetera, et cetera. All these John Kobal books came out on glamour photography and I just was riveted with them all these incredible sculpted faces like marble.
There would be a picture of Jean Harlow and she would be smiling and she just was so radiant and so warm. She was the antithesis of everyone else that I saw. I just thought, “Who is this?” I just was riveted by her magnetism. I quickly found out who she was, saw some terrible movies made about her, read some terrible books written about her. I knew they weren’t true. I just knew in my gut I started collecting reprint photos, anything that was written about her. I moved to Los Angeles and getting to know Mark he was so impressed with the collection I had. He said, “We should write a book someday.”
And we did. In that research, I reached out to the people that owned all of her homes, got to know them. I reached out to the person who owned her 1932 Packard. I reached out to family descendants and I created this whole Harlow network. It was just the most amazing thing to suddenly be in the middle of it all. I started collecting autographs, anything personal that I could find.
Scott: What’s really interesting is Elisa and I could probably just pick you up out of that story that you just told and put ourselves in there, but have it be specific to Marilyn.
I understand that you and Elisa have known each other for quite some time. Elisa, you worked with Darrell on your tours.
Elisa: We’ve known each other for a few years. I was putting together my tour company. I started with Marilyn Monroe and The Doors, then Darrell’s book came out when I was putting the company together and I was a Jean Harlow fan. My path to Jean Harlow was I knew that Marilyn idolized Jean Harlow, so I started reading on Jean Harlow to get better insight into Marilyn. And then I ended up falling in love with Jean for her own merit.
Darrell’s book came out and I bought it and it was exactly what the world needed for Jean Harlow fans, because it was not only a great biography, but there were all these photos that no one had seen before so you’ve got a tremendous insight into Jean Harlow. I started thinking, “Oh, I would really love to tell her story.”
I started putting Post-It Notes in the book of places I could go on a tour and just putting it in the back of my head. And then one day I was at the Hollywood Museum and I saw Darrell there. I recognized him from the picture in his book, and he was rearranging the Harlow collection in there. And this is very out of character for me—I’m not the type of person to go up to people, but I went up to Darrell and I said, “Excuse me, Are you Darrell?” He said, “Yes, I am.” And I said, “I just wanted to let you know how much I love your book.”
And he thanked me. I said, “I wish I had known you were going to be here today. I would’ve brought my book for you to sign.” He told me about a book signing he was going to be at it. It was the LA Times book event. I ended up going, I wanted him to sign my book and he noticed I had all these annotations in it, not written in the book because I wouldn’t do that. But I had Post-It Notes all over the place and he said, “What’s this?” I said, “Someday I’d like to do a tour about her. I’m doing tours on Marilyn Monroe and the Doors, and I really want to do a tour on Jean.” And that’s how it got started. I did finally think, “I don’t know if this is going to be a regular tour or not, but I just wanna do it once I have to get this out of my system.”
I contacted Darrell and I asked if he would co-host the tour with me, and he agreed. The morning of the tour, I woke up to look at ticket sales and it was sold out. I could not believe it.
Elisa: It ended up being a very successful tour, and it sold out every year until Covid.
Darrell: We had so much fun on it. Knowing the owners of some of her homes, we had the opportunity of sometimes going inside the home her home on club you drive, the owners are very good friends of mine, and they said, “You know what? Knock on the door for home. We’ll let you in. If we’re not, you can take pictures on the front step.” There was one tour where we were inside the house for 45 minutes running around, taking pictures everywhere. It was a Harlow dream come true.
Scott: I’m not sure that our listeners will know this, but isn’t it fascinating that Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe lived on the same street? Not at the same time, of course.
Darrell: Two doors down from each other. I’m actually going to tell you something you probably don’t know. Jean Harlow passed away in 1937. The house was then purchased by William Gargan. His family lived there for 20 years. His son, Leslie Gargan, used to walk the dog in the fifties and he remembered walking by Marilyn and Joe’s house one evening and he said they were in the car yelling and screaming at each other in the driveway. He just said, “Oh, that marriage isn’t going to last.”
Scott: You know what’s interesting is they moved in to that house on North Palm right after they got married. They were only together nine months. Either way it’s a bad sign.
Scott: You and I met at home of another very famous blonde.
Darrell: Mae West.
Scott: Mae West. We were at a party that was hosted by Kimberly Biehl.
Darrell: That’s right. She’s terrific. She’s a wonderful person. And you know what? She’s been sort of having these salons there, which I think really honor Mae West, and she must be so proud that her place is being treated as a cultural center.
Scott: It’s a great apartment and she’s a collector, as well. It’s interesting to be in the apartment and walk around and have her say, “This was so and so’s and that was so and so’s.” And, of course, she actually has some of Mae West’s personal belongings as well.
Elisa: And there are a lot of photos of Mae in the apartment, so you can line up those photographs and stand there yourself. It’s a really amazing experience. I was really glad that all three of us have been able to honor Mae in that regard.
Scott: Another very famous blonde. I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen a whole lot of Mae West movies, but I think we all know some of those quotes.
Elisa: Oh yeah.
Scott: Right. Let’s talk a little bit about Jean Harlow and Marilyn.
Darrell: The thing that I wanna say more than anything is the thing that they have in common, apart from the fact that Marilyn idolized Jean Harlow, is they have this sensuality and this vulnerability and accessibility on screen that you can’t fake. It’s fine if Marilyn Monroe idolized Jean Harlow and wanted to be like her.
I think a lot of people tried that, but she had the sensuality, she had things that she was born with that you can’t fake. And that’s the thing that they have in common. They are both incredibly radiant on the screen, incredibly sexy and sensual. The way they move on the screen, they own the screen and it’s authentic to their character.
To me, that’s the thing that they have in common the most. And the fact that Marilyn had that wish, but she also had the “it factor” that put her on the same level as Jean Harlow.
Elisa: Darrell if you could go into Jean’s rebellion at MGM. She was suspended at one point.
Darrell: Jean Harlow did not want to be the sex vulture. She wanted better material. But what really was the genesis of that suspension was that she was being paid as a stock player and suddenly she’s a star with their name above the title.
Her parents, who ran the show, felt that she should be paid as a star even though she had a seven-year contract. “No, we want it renegotiated.” She was set to show up for a movie. I think it was Living in a Big Way with Marie Dressler and she didn’t show up. She also didn’t think that the material was very good, but it was really her parents who forced the suspension so that she would get proper pay. And it’s the way anybody ever got paid when suddenly became a go suspension and,
Elisa, I do wanna answer your question in another way. I think the way that Jean Harlow fought for her career actually happened year before in 1931. She hated being a sex vulture and she thought she would have a very short-lived career. And between her agent and her parents and her, they conspired to go on a tour back east without Howard Hughes’s consent to just be showcased to the public. Behind the scenes, Paul Burn, who would eventually marry her, was trying to get her over to MGM for a film, Red-Headed Woman, which was a sex comedy.
Harlow was not known for any comedic skills, but in her personal life, Paul Burn saw her as being a very fun loving, exuberant person. He wanted to get that character on screen. What she wanted was a character who was sympathetic. It’s the one thing she didn’t have. And she just felt if I can have that, I can show people what I can do.
So, she goes back east. It was supposed to be for three weeks. It went three and a half months. It was so popular. And in that way, she fought against Howard Hughes and his whole system to be taken seriously by someone else. MGM eventually agreed, and on her birthday, March 3rd, Irving Thalberg called Jean Harlow back east and told her that MGM was gonna buy her contract.
So, it was a gamble that paid off and she went to MGM and became the movie star that Paul Burn knew she could be, and it’s the Jean Harlow that we know to this day.
Scott: That’s really fascinating. I wonder if she inspired Marilyn to do the same thing?
Darrell: It’s one thing I really admire about Marilyn. All this crap about her being a victim, she had terrible things happen to her as a child. She had a lot of savvy. She went on strike. She went to New York. She gambled her entire career for something better. That takes guts self-belief. It takes a lot. That’s certainly not the girl that’s in that movie that’s out now.
Scott: One of my favorite Marilyn Monroe quotes, and there’s a recording of her saying this in her final interview with Richard Merryman. She was fighting with the studio about a dressing room in her pay while she was filming Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when they said to her, “You’re not a star.” She said “Well, whatever I am, I am the blonde.” She knew what she brought and she knew what she was worth, and she knew what she could bring to the studio and she really fought for herself.
Darrell: And also shows how clever she is, because that’s a very clever thing to say.
Scott: I actually own an album of cards that you would get from packets of cigarettes. This was Marilyn Monroe’s personal album of these cards. This is something that’s from Marilyn’s childhood. She basically kept it her entire life. Inside that album is a little card of Jean Harlow. That’s one of those things that I’ve always thought, Well, you know, here’s a direct connection between Marilyn and Jean Harlow, something Marilyn herself collected about Jean Harlow. That’s really fascinating.
Darrell: The one thing I wondered is how did Norma Jeane get introduced to Jean Harlow? Did she go and see movies with her mother or her aunt, or did she only see her through movie magazines?
Elisa: It was primarily movie magazines. Her mother and her mother’s best friend, Grace, were big movie fans. They would take Norma Jean to the movies, but Grace in particular would say things like, “When you grow up, you’re going to be a great Jean Harlow.”
Darrell: Oh, isn’t that prophetic or planting a seed?
Elisa: Grace, who went on to become Norma Jeane’s legal guardian after Gladys’s breakdown, would dye her hair blonde sometimes to look like Jean Harlow. Jean Harlow was just around Norma Jean when she was a little girl. And that makes me wonder if you know a little bit about Jean Harlow’s impact in general on the 1930s because she wasn’t just a movie star, she was a sensation.
Darrell: Jean Harlow exploded into public consciousness in 1930 with her first starring feature, Hell’s Angels. Howard Hughes—I’m gonna say dyed versus bleached, just because I don’t know the difference—a really light white color. And it was called “platinum blonde,” a phrase created by Lincoln Quarberg, specifically for Jean Harlow. So, she is the first, the original platinum blonde. And on the screen, her hair is like white cotton. And women were electrified by her hair. Men were electrified by her sensuality. Platinum became the rage of the early 1930s.
Every movie star took one turn at least on screen as a platinum. Her measures a screen is just huge.
Scott: One of the things I think I’ve definitely noticed is with Marilyn and with Jean Harlow is they literally just jump off the screen. I think that was one thing that Marilyn definitely had, that Jean Harlow had as well, you can’t not look. You’re just drawn to what they present on the screen. And it’s just always been fascinating.
Elisa: They glow.
Darrell: Absolutely. They’re both radiant.
Elisa: Right. Can you describe her appearances a little bit?
Darrell: Pre-MGM, she just looks like a tough gun moll, almost always. She makes some not very good movies where she’s not very good at all. Others, she’s pretty competent. Goldie is a terrible, awful movie about awful characters, but she’s really good in it. That’s 1931 Fox film.
When she goes to MGM in 1932, Marlene Dietrich had already conquered Paramount. She brought in these high arched eyebrows, and I wonder if it’s Dottie Ponedel who gave that to her. Jean Harlow—who had a large nose—MGM gives her these higher eyebrows that are pencil thin, bee-stung lips, parts of hair on the other side of her face, which somehow is more symmetrical and gives it a longer Marcel look that is just so much more accessible. She’s vulnerable, she’s accessible. Her face reads from, 20 feet away easily. are the ways her features changed or her look changed.
Scott: Darrell, tell us what you know about Marilyn’s interest and participation in The Jean Harlow Story. The film that was pretty much on the docket, from what I understand at the studio for quite some time off and on.
Darrell: Jean Harlow’s mother, Mrs. Bellow—Mother Jean, never, ever, Mama Jean that was construction by Irving Shulman based on Mama Rose from Gypsy. Never call her mother Mama Jean. It’s Mother Jean.
Scott: Everybody take note: It’s Mother Jean.
Elisa: Mother Jean.
Scott: Interestingly, when you do research, there’s a lot of references to Mama Jean, if I’m not mistaken.
Darrell: It’s all post-1962. It’s Irving Shulman trying to figure out how to make you understand her mother. And Mama Rose is like the biggest character on Broadway at the time in Gypsy. “Call her Mama Jean. Got it! Stage mother—got it!” She was never called Mama Jean in in her lifetime.
Mrs. Bello, Mother Jean, Mommy by Harlene, Mother, Mommy. I know that her mother, Jean, wanted to tell Jean Harlow’s story as early as 1949. There was a manuscript that was written, I’m literally just learning about this week, so I can’t give too many particulars.
I was told what the gist of the manuscript was and I realized, Oh, this never got published. It’s so fictionalized. In the fifties, there was a gentleman working with Mrs. Bello—Mother Jean—to bring her to the screen and was interested in it a Monroe vehicle. I have the script. I’ve read about a third of it, and then I put it down because again, it was just so fictionalized, even though Mrs. Bello endorsed it. I just went, “Oh, I’m not gonna read this.” I do need to read the whole thing so I understand the whole shape of the movie. But my understanding is that Marilyn didn’t like the script and said, “I hope they don’t do this to me when I’m gone.”
Scott: Are you sure it wasn’t called Blonde? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Darrell: Blonde is so horrific to me and so vile. This happened to Jean Harlow in the early sixties with this book, Harlow: An Intimate Biography, a phrase that never existed before where Irving Shulman, was writing dialogue between characters and he wasn’t there. A lot of just sleazy stuff. In the way that Marilyn has been violated, Jean Harlow was also violated. So many of her friends came out of the woodwork to deny the book and try and get the truth out there of who Jean Harlow really was. All Marilyn’s contemporaries are pretty much gone, so it’s left to people like you guys to reach out and tell the truth.
Elisa: The book that Darrell was just referencing came out in the 1960s and it was written by someone in Jean’s life. It was a terrible book about Jean and to the point that Mrs. Bello had passed away, but Jean’s father, Dr. Carpenter—he was a dentist—wanted to sue for libel or looked into it, at least I believe, Darrell. But you can’t libel a dead person, so you can’t sue, which is why you can say whatever you want about a dead person,
Darrell: Or make a really bad movie about a dead person.
Scott: It’s really unfortunate that this is happening and I think a lot of the fans, myself included, are really trying to do our best to make sure that everybody knows it’s a fictional story. It’s not true to life. not true to form, It’s not Marilyn’s biography.
Darrell: Unfortunately, it’s on film and people will take it in and think it’s true. It’s really awful. I wanna say one thing about it. This is how I am going to live with the fact that that movie exists. So I’m gonna quote Elton John, “Goodbye. Norm Jean, Though I never knew you at all. You had the grace to hold yourself while those around you crawled.”
Scott: Yep. yep. There you go. I think we know who’s crawling, don’t we.
Darrell: Just how—they’re bottom feeders. People that use people, I call them bottom feeders. You just have to live with them. I feel like this is the price tag when you are a sex symbol. You sign up for something, you had no idea what the depths of it are, and it will chase you for eternity. It’s the deal with the devil. You are other people’s fantasy and you will get raked through the coals forever. It’s the price tag Jean Harlow’s paying to this day, and it’s the price that Marilyn is paying to this day. Just don’t crawl in the mud. There’s a reason that she’s not in the mud because she was extraordinary. She was a very strong person. I was talking to Cora Sue Collins, who was a child star in the 1930s. She knew Marilyn in the forties and fifties.
Scott: Mm hmm.
Darrell: I told her about the movie. She said, “That’s not the person I knew. The person I knew was smart and engaging.” And she thought she was a wonderful person.”
Scott: And I think it’s important for the listeners to know and understand and recognize that we know that she wasn’t perfect.
Darrell: She was a human being. She had her faults. Jean Harlow had her faults. Some of them were in public and very embarrassing.
Scott: I know a lot of people who’ve met Marilyn personally who knew her, who spent time with her, and they’ve actually said there were times when she wasn’t all that nice. And, I think that there was an amazing amount of pressure that came with that level of celebrity.
Darrell: I also think that Marilyn, she ended up on the cutting room floor in one of her first movies, she learned the hard way to fight to stay on top. And she was a fighter. To me, that’s so apparent.
Scott: And here we are, 60 years later, she’s still on top.
Scott: I think as I’ve already said previously in an earlier podcast, this isn’t the best year for Marilyn. We’ve had a couple of incidents with the Anthony Summers Netflix documentary that was put out, and of course the Happy Birthday Mr. President dress incident. You were involved in that, as well. You did that great video from Ripley’s really got up close and personal with that tear in the shoulder strap.
Darrell: I knew from what you had published about it all the mess in the back. I went in just like sneaking into Nazi Germany. No one else was around. And I just started filming and I started looking and then I saw the shoulder strap, the right shoulder strap on the back. And I went, Oh my God, there’s a rip. And they pinned it to the mannequin to hold it up. It’s not completely ripped open, but halfway. And it’s like, how did this happen? This was not like this when I saw it in person last time. I don’t care what someone says to vindicate themselves. That dress, is it damaged!
It happened on K’s watch. And if you wanna fix your PR, why don’t you pay to have it restored?
Darrell: Be the hero.
Scott: And do the right thing. The interesting thing about that tear is I did a screen capture of the red carpet walk tear was not there when she was wearing it, that happened after the red carpet walk at the Met Gala. Kim Kardashian is interviewed at the top of the stairs and you can see clearly that the tear is not there.
Darrell: Right, but then she did go and change. What happened when she changed? Also, whether she ripped it or it ripped between leaving New York and coming back to Los Angeles, it happened because of what she did. Why don’t you just pay to have the thing restored? It’ll cost a fortune—money well spent.
Elisa: Talking a little bit about fighting for your own image, Marilyn was very conscious of her image, and I know that Jean Harlow was, as well. They were both really conscious of how they were portrayed on screen, but also going back to the sex symbol image, they wanted to be more than that.
It was kind of like you said, Darrell, they signed a deal with the devil not knowing how they would be perceived, and they were both very different in their private lives than their image. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what Jean was like in her personal life. And then the second part of that question is Marilyn went on strike to fight for better parts and Jean did something similar. There’s a little rebellious streak in both of them, even though they’re both I would consider to be a relatively kindhearted woman.
Darrell: Jean Harlow became a movie star because her mother wanted to be a movie star, not her. Her name is Harlene Carpenter. Her mother’s name was Jean Harlow. She took her mother’s name as a lark and signed up with Central Casting.
It’s her mother who pushed her to actually show up for extra calls and pushed her up the ladder, which ultimately led to stardom. It’s her sensuality that made her a sensation, but she was shocked and horrified that people mistook her for the character that she played on screen in Hell’s Angels, this heartless man eater, and that wasn’t her at all. And so she actually never wanted to be photographed with single men one on one because it would be in the press. “This is who she’s sleeping with now!” She famously refused to pose with Maurier Chevalier unless her mother stood in the picture with them so that the press wouldn’t say that she and Maurice Chevalier were having a thing. So she hated that she was seen as a sex vulture. That’s the word that she used to describe it. And she wanted Norma Shearer’s career, Helen Hayes or something. She wanted to do something better. Her favorite book was The Foresyte Saga, and I think that’s what she would’ve loved to done movies of that kind. Maureen O’Sullivan—would loved to have had her career. She thought her movies were jokes.
Elisa: In private life, she liked to read. She was a book worm. She liked to knit.
Elisa: And it’s just very different from the femme fatale she played on screen. As entertaining as we might find her, people were starting to mistake the image for the real woman and there’s pictures of her on the set in between takes where she’s reading and knitting. And she lived with her mother for most of her life. She was a very different person in real life.
Darrell: One of the things interesting about her is that her mother is a piece of work. Her mother should have been born a generation or two later. She would have excelled as being a liberated woman in the teens. Elinor Glyn was famous for having written in a novel, Three Weeks, where this woman is a tigress. She has a sex drive. I think that Jean Harlow’s mother identified with that heavily. She was very driven to do something more with her life than just be a housewife. She was rebellious, divorced her husband moved to Hollywood, could not launch a film career that she imagined for herself, but her daughter got the career that she wished she’d had. She was somebody who was really drawn to the glamorous lives of movie stars and her daughter excelled at. But in real life, Harlene was devoted to her mother slavishly so—would do anything she said. She loved to hem stitch. She loved to read. She would read cheap murder mysteries when she was filming and then serious works when she wasn’t working, so she would go back and forth. She wanted to have a wide-read knowledge of writing and she also imagined herself being an author in the future when her career ended. She actually did write a novel called Today is Tonight in 1933 and 1934.
Scott: Jean Harlow wrote a novel?
Darrell: Yes, Today is Tonight. She worked a lot with a screenwriter at MGM named Carey Wilson, who did not write it, but he brow beat her, pay attention to what you’re doing, think of the characters.
So she wrote it as a screenplay first because that was how she understood writing and character, and then she started to novelize it. And ultimately someone else came in to help finish the book, and it did not get published in her lifetime because MGM did not want their sex symbol to be an author and it was published in 1965.
Scott: That is really fascinating. One of the questions I had on my list to ask you, was there something about Jean Harlow that you think that the general public doesn’t know that you would wanna share? I’d never heard that Jean Harlow had written a book before, and of course the studio wouldn’t allow it because you can’t be smart and sexy.
Darrell: Never. Never, ever.
Elisa: And you can see how Marilyn would be drawn to that in her adulthood.
Darrell: Yes. Yeah.
Scott: I’ve always found it so interesting, the little parallels between Marilyn and Jean in coincidences, even though they passed away about 25 years apart. George Cukor directed them in films. He directed Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight in 1933. And then of course, he directed Marilyn in Let’s Make Love in 1960. And then Somethings Got to Give in 1962, Cukor was directing Marilyn for her final film. And, of course, they both co stared with Clark Gable.
Elisa: In their last films.
Scott: Each in their last film. They were both married three times. And they shared a hairdresser.
Darrell: That’s right. Although I think that is on purpose.
Elisa: That is on purpose.
Scott: Say more about that.
Darrell: She probably heard stories from that hairdresser. She would never have heard anywhere. It would’ve been amazing.
Scott: That’s fascinating. I’m not sure a lot of people knew that they shared a hairdresser. Her name was Pearl Porterfield, and she would dye Jean Harlow’s hair and then Marilyn hired her to dye her hair, as well.
Darrell: Savvy Girl.
Scott: Lots of little similarities there. I’m fascinated by the fact that they both lived on the same street, North Palm Drive, in Beverly Hills. Marilyn’s first time was with Johnny Hyde when she was living with him. And then of course, two doors down, was it?
Elisa: Two doors down.
Darrell: Two doors.
Scott: 508 North Palm Drive.
Darrell: I was actually just there about three days ago and I have to say, I was really upset to find out that there’s a big iron fence being put up in front of Jean Harlow’s, North Palm Drive home. It’s gonna take away any visibility from the street, which is what I think the owners want. They’re very private and I think they have become really tired of all the people who stop by to take pictures.
Scott: Yeah. See, this is a question that Elisa just asked me in our Intro Cast. If I’d won the lottery and money was no object, would I buy Marilyn’s house? I don’t think that I would, exactly for that same reason that you just mentioned, Darrell. It’s just such a tourist destination, and we talked about how important it was to be very respectful of the people that lived there. Marilyn’s house has the same wall around it that was there when Marilyn lived there, of course, but Jean Harlow’s house on North Palm, it has no fence. There’s no privacy for whoever’s living there.
Was there anything else about Jane Harlow that you think might be really fascinating that’s just not general information or public knowledge that you’ve discovered as part of your work?
Darrell: In Saratoga, Jean Harlow wore this black and white cocktail dress, which she actually ended up not wearing on film, but was photographed in it, and it’s black with white gladiolas on it. And in Something’s Got to Give, Marilyn is wearing this black and white cocktail dress, flower printed again. I think it’s white with black flowers on it. And there’s just so similar to each other. When I was putting the Jean Harlow exhibition together for the Hollywood Museum, I had these pictures. I went, I wanna do something with this.
I just put it up and said, in this world of similarities, in their final films, such a similar way that they’re dressed. I don’t know what it means, but it’s something. Since then, I’ve discovered that there are earlier photographs of Marilyn where she is copying exact Jean Harlow poses.
I wanna ask someone, is this the photographer who did this, was this Marilyn’s idea? She was certainly in 1952 being described as the new Jean Harlow. Did someone say, “Hey I’ve got this 1931 picture of Jean Harlow, let’s copy it.” Is that how it happens?
And it’s not something that I ever saw in my childhood. It’s just emerged in the last 15 years that there were some very intentional comparisons made. It’s fascinating.
Elisa: There were a couple of times, because I know the pictures you’re talking about for Marilyn. It’s 1952 and there’s even a picture of the photographer in the exact same position demonstrating for Marilyn how to sit.
Darrell: Oh my God, I’ve never seen it!
Elisa: And then of course the famous Richard Avedon photos from a few years later where she dressed up as legendary enchantresses and one of those was Jean Harlow. I think that would’ve been a great moment for her to dress up in the white dress and have the white background. It’s very Dinner at Eight. So you know, she loved that assignment.
Scott: I’ve actually gotten into arguments with people online about that photo. They say, “That’s not Marilyn.” Great. I don’t know. It’s so funny and so interesting because you just have to say to these people, Look it up. Fabulous Enchantresses, Life Magazine, 1956, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Avadon, Google it. It’s out there, but some people just they’re like, “No, that’s Jean Harlow.” “No, it’s Marilyn Monroe. I promise you.”
Elisa: Well, and here’s another coincidence. Jean Harlow’s first movie, she starred with Ben Lyon and. Ben Lyon went on to be an executive with 20th Century-Fox, and he’s the one who claims to have given her the name Marilyn. And I know Darrell, you and I have talked a little bit about does Ben Lyon stretch the truth or not? But it is a genuine connection.
Darrell: The name Marilyn comes from Marilyn Miller. I think the comparison, which I believe if I remember correctly, Ben Lyon saying, “You remind me of this actress from the late twenties, Marilyn Miller, the sweetness of her face. So will go with Marilyn.” And then, Norma Jeane picks Monroe. That’s a great name. So maybe it’s true. Actors are self-promoters, so he could have stretched the truth.
Scott: It actually is true
Darrell: There we go!
Scott: There was an autographed photo that sold in 2018 where Marilyn inscribed the photo.
It’s described as “The single most important signed photograph in Hollywood history putting to rest the controversy concerning Ben Lyon discovering and naming Marilyn Monroe. Recently uncovered by the family of Ben Lyon and never before offered for sale or seen by the public. It’s a vintage, original gelatin silver double print photograph 11 by 14. And the inscription in Marilyn’s handwriting reads, “Dear Ben, you found me, named me and believed in me when no one else did. Thanks and love forever, Marilyn.”
Darrell: And now I remember that. It was at the Paley Center.
Scott: Mm-hmm. He did contribute to her name for sure.
Elisa: He also claimed to have discovered Jean on the set when he was taking a lunch break for Hell’s Angels.
Darrell: Maybe that’s true. I think, my money is on James Hall, his co-star, because he was in a Saturday Night Kid where Jean Harlow was a second lead at best. I think that they had a connection and I wouldn’t be surprised if James Hall didn’t say to Ben, “Oh, you know what, I’ve worked with this girl and I think she might be the right person to replace Greta Nissen.” He might have brought her to Ben Lyon or brought Ben Lyon to meet her. And then Ben is the one who brought her to Howard Hughes. But I just think James Hall is in there somewhere and he died early, so we can’t get information from him.
Scott: We’ll never know.
Elisa: Yeah, and of course Greta was replaced because sound came out so Howard Hughes was switching over from a silent movie to sound, which delayed production, and Greta had a very thick Scandinavian accent, so they needed to cast an American.
Darrell: Yeah, which is odd because she’s supposed to be British in the movie.
Scott: I wanna ask you a question, Darrell, that’s asked me pretty often, almost every single interview that I do. What’s your favorite Jean Harlow item in your collection?
Darrell: Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I have an answer for that. Boy!
Scott: What would the top, three to five be?
Darrell: I’m gonna have to spout it out that way. I’m actually pulling things right now because I’m doing a book signing at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on Sunday, October 16th—plug!—in from two to 4:00 PM so there are gonna be a bunch of Harlow artifacts on display.
I have a 1937 James do little color photograph of her that was in an exhibition in April 1937. And it’s just, it’s magnificent. And it’s also now in the new updated version of the book. I covet that. I co-own a 1937 painting done of her by Tino Costa. It’s a 6-foot-high painting of her full body where her arm is thrust over her head waving goodbye.
Darrell: It’s called Farewell to Earth, and painting was missing for 50 years. It fell in my lap and I think it fell in my lap because someone knew that I had an exhibit in Hollywood at the Hollywood Museum and that I could get that painting exhibited so the public could see it. I think it was a gift from the gods and it was my responsibility to rescue it. And I did. I brought it back to Hollywood. It was on exhibit for three years. It’s resting right now, but will undoubtedly be exhibited again in the future? That’s certainly a prize. The Ignatieff mural, which is a painting that Paul Burn gave Jean Harlow as a wedding gift in 1932 for their very brief marriage, something she wasn’t crazy about and had no interest in keeping after he passed away.
I own it. I never thought I would own it, but the owners saw how much I took care of it. I knew more about it than they did. When the patriarch of the family passed away, they contacted me and said, “We want you to own it. Let’s figure out how much money that is.” I own it. So remarkable.
Scott: If you’re like me, you feel sometimes that things just come to you.
Darrell: Absolutely. The fact that that painting fell in my lap. I’m very good friends with David Stan, who wrote the definitive biography on Jean Harlow called Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow, an incredible researcher. He writes facts. It doesn’t matter what his opinion is. The only thing that matters are what do the facts tell you?
I mentored with him. So that’s how I learned how to write. It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters are, what’s the truth what is the art that you bring to telling facts? Who cares what my opinion is? I don’t. That’s not what biography is.
Scott: Right. It’s important to get the truth out there.
Darrell: Yes. Yeah.
Elisa: Speaking of truth, Darrell, a lot of people come to Jean for tragic reasons or for the wrong reasons, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about her death, which is how a lot of people find Marilyn and the misrepresentations around her death and also her marriage to Paul Burn, which you referenced.
That is a very popular topic among people who like conspiracies or Hollywood tragedies. That gets written about a lot because it’s very gossipy, and I was hoping you could clear some of that up.
Darrell: It is certainly one of the key things they share in common, and I just don’t feel like that has anything to do with why I’m drawn to Jean Harlow. I think it’s her light that I’m drawn to, not the shadow. She had some terrible things that happened in her life, most notably the death of her second husband, Paul Burn under, mysterious circumstances.
Darrell: He shot in the head and dies. The gun was right to his temple. Did he commit suicide? Did his, as it was discovered, common law wife, Dorothy Millette, shoot him and then run off and then kill herself two days later? There was a book written—not well-written—about Paul Burn, oh, 15 years ago, which lays the responsibility in Dorothy Millette’s lap, who had lived with Paul Burn in the teens, had a mental breakdown and was institutionalized.
Paul Burn went to Hollywood, started a new life and financially took care of this woman who was something of an invalid—emotional invalid—for the rest of her life. She did come to Paul Burn’s house over Labor Day weekend in 1932. Paul made sure Jean Harlow was not there. The result was he ended up dead.
So many people wanna believe Dorothy Mallet killed him. Or did he end his own life or was there a scuffle and the gun went off. Jean Harlow was vilified for it. Initially, the studio was concerned that she was involved. And certainly worked publicity in her favor, but in a very cruel way, pointing out that Paul Burn killed himself because he was impotent.
She insisted it wasn’t true, but everyone takes that as fact. Is it true? I wasn’t there. I don’t know.
Scott: I guess there was a suicide note that was released how many days later?
Darrell: There is—the same day—there is a note that exists. Was it a suicide note or was it just found and it would work? Maybe it was a suicide note, maybe it wasn’t. It’s another one of those things where you have to question it.
I’m invested in one way that he died over the other. I just wanna know what the truth is. I think about it both ways. I don’t understand how Dorothy Millette would shoot him and not have blood spatter all over her clothes. There’s no mention of that. She died two days later. We’re never, ever going to know.
MGM was there first. Their goal was to figure out what happened and how do we protect our last remaining asset, which is Jean Harlow. That doesn’t mean that they covered up, it just meant they figured out what the story was in my books.
Scott: It’s fascinating to think that there’s so much mystery around both these two incredibly famous, beautiful blonde screen stars, Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe.
Elisa: We should say Dorothy Millette was found floating in Northern California in a body of water, just so people know how she died. We don’t know how she died either.
Darrell: If I was a bottom feeder screenwriter, of course MGM sent people up to Sacramento and tossed her off the boat. It’s the perfect thing to do, but that’s just fiction. I think that she was distraught. He paid all her bills and now he’s gone. I think she was so distraught, she just jumped overboard. She was already emotionally unbalanced.
And the other thing with Jean Harlow is the way she died the way the public saw was all of a sudden she’s dead and it’s a mystery. And she was this incredibly vital girl. And there are all these rumors about how she died that are really salacious everything from, the peroxide in the bleach rotted her brain to, some very sexual things.
And it took David Stan getting ahold of her medical records to put all the pieces together that she really died of disease.
Scott: Way back before there was ever an opportunity to treat or save someone with kidney disease.
Elisa: No transplants. It was fatal.
Darrell: No antibiotics even. It was a slow manifestation. And in the final year of her life, she’s constantly getting sick. And she even wrote a letter to William Powell saying that, “I wish I felt like my old self. Maybe I just miss you.” But she’s referencing she doesn’t feel well the way she used to, and it’s her immune system breaking down all through 1936 until she’s so vulnerable she goes in for impacted wisdom teeth and they try to take all four of them out in early 1937. She goes out on the table, they bring her back. She goes to work on Saratoga, but she never, ever really recovers from that dental surgery and finally collapses on the set on May 29th. Terrible. It’s very sad.
Scott: You know, it reminds me what Amy Greene said about Marilyn. “She really wanted to be Jean Harlow. That was her goal. She always said she would probably die young, like Harlow. The men in her life were disasters, like Harlow’s. Her relationship with her mother was complicated, like Harlow’s. It was as if she based her life on Harlow’s—instant flash, then over.”
Darrell: That sends chills up my spine.
Scott: There are certainly similarities between the two lives of these amazing, incredible women.
Darrell, you’ve got a book that’s coming out, a reissue of a book that you have co-authored with Mark Viera, and it’s called Harlow in Hollywood. Why don’t you say a little bit about.
Darrell: Yeah, 2011 was Jean Harlow centenary, meaning it was her hundredth birthday. And a couple of years before that, Mark and I, who were longtime friends, had talked about doing a book on Harlow. And what would be a goal to reach some milestone so that a publisher would be interested? Oh, it’s her hundredth birthday. That’s it. We made it happen with Angel City Press. Harlow in Hollywood came out in 2011, and I humbly say widely respected. It’s a really wonderful biography and also photo book. The book has been incredibly popular and inventory is literally sold out.
Last year the publisher said, “Why don’t we do an updated version because so many things have changed since 2011.” Great idea—and it’s coming out this month.
Scott: Congratulations! I bet you’re just thrilled.
Darrell: It’s very exciting because I could add some pictures that have come to me since 2011 that are spectacular.
Scott: We’re so lucky to have you come speak with us and talk about Jean Harlow and talk about Marilyn Monroe. How can our listeners find you online if they wanted to follow you and be part of your journey.
Darrell: My social media world consists of two things. I have a Facebook page called Harlow in Hollywood named for the book. I’m also on Instagram under the name Jean Harlow Essential.
Scott: Thank you again, Darrell. It’s been a pleasure spending some time with you and learning more about you and your book and your love of Jean Harlow and inspiration for Marilyn.
Darrell: Thank you. I’m very pleased to be the first guest. I will be tuning in to find out who your guests are in the future. I wish you continued success and I think that this is just a really sensational idea that you and Elisa are doing.
Elisa: Thank you so much.
Scott: Thanks everyone, and we will see you next time for All Things Marilyn.