Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Death of Jean Harlow

'Goodnight, my Dearest Darling'  

Jean Harlow was making her last film Saratoga, costarring Clark Gable. One day she was out ill with what they said was a cold. William Powell took the afternoon off work to take care of her, bringing her chicken soup and ice cream. There are different reports of her final days.

"Only three weeks before she was stricken with the malady that was to end her life, she came to the studio carrying a cake with her. She was as pleased as a little girl with it. 

"'This is our third anniversary cake,' she said laughing at the three little candles decorating the top. 'Bill sent it because it was the anniversary of our first date.'" -- Louella O. Parsons article, The Milwaukee Sentinel, June 15, 1937

Magazine clipping June 4, 1937 Jean Harlow's health improving
June 4th, 1937 Harlow was reported improved, expected to return to work

Later things took a turn for the worse. Violet Denoyer an MGM makeup artist and friend of Jean Harlow's was applying the star's make up for Saratoga. "Suddenly, Miss Denoyer said, Miss Harlow looked at her and said, 'You know, Violet I have a feeling I'm going away from here and never coming back.'

"Two hours later while she was on the set, she turned to Robert Golden a director and gasped, 'I'm terribly sick, Red. Call Bill.' 

"She referred to William Powell, suave film star who had been her constant escort for more than a year. Since Christmas she had worn a huge star sapphire ring on the third finger of her right hand. It was a gift from Powell. He and a studio nurse took her home the day she became ill. Miss Harlow never returned. Powell was with her when she died."
-- St. Petersburg Times, June 9, 1937

"This is the last photograph of the beautiful star
and was taken during the final scenes of Saratoga,
an M-G-M film in which she was starred with Clark Gable."
-- 1937 article about the funeral

"She was doing Saratoga. We sat in the back of the car. Jean was on my left and she looked very fragile and she had the ring that Bill Powell had given her, it was a big star sapphire. It was on her finger and her hands looked almost too
Newspaper accounts of
her death talked of Powell's
being at her bedside.
frail to lift that big ring. 

"And I said, 'Jean you don't look very well.'

"And she said 'I feel awful, just awful,' she said. 'I don't know if I can finish the picture.'"
-- Maureen O'Sullivan was another big MGM star, a friend of Powell and Harlow. She appeared in The Thin Man to name just one of her many famous films. O'Sullivan is also the mother of actress Mia Farrow. Quote from Harlow Biography.

William Powell went to her home and was one of those instrumental in having her transferred to a hospital.

As said, there is debate as to whether they were engaged or not at the time of her death, there's even debate as to whether or not they were still a couple. Not unusually with a romance like theirs and a big star dies young, different stories began circulating quickly. The press is eager for any news

William Powell spoke in a very rare interview about Jean Harlow's death. He seemed moved to respond in 1964-65 by a biography and films that were coming out. Powell said no one thought her illness was that serious. They thought she'd be back at work in a few days. He went to see her on Sunday. From the article....

"She startled me and said, 'You look fuzzy.'

"'I don't, really?' I joked. But I was suddenly worried. I held up my hand. 'How many fingers can you see?' I asked her. She couldn't see any. This was very disturbing.

"I called the doctor and asked him to come right away. In a matter of minutes he was there. He took one look at her and called for an ambulance.

"Mrs. Bello and I rode with her to The Good Samaritan Hospital where she was put immediately into an oxygen tent.

"We spent the night in the hospital, but Jean was in a coma and didn't know we were there. In the morning, she died."

The date was June 7, 1937. After almost three decades, Bill's voice broke and it was hard for him to go on.

His final gift to the girl he loved and admired was a $25,000 crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park for Jean and for the mother he adored when her time would come. They are there together in death, very close, as they were in their time on earth.
-- The Miami News, January 10, 1965 

A fire chief who'd come to the hospital was interviewed. Members of the city fire department inhalator squad called at the last minute to furnish oxygen for the declining star.

Some papers said that her final word was his name, and he had been too choked up to respond. Some articles at the time and years later said that she'd died in his arms. "But it was too late then," Recalls Powell. "She was too far gone. She died in my arms. It was the saddest day of my life."
 -- The Tuscaloosa News, December 13, 1964

Motion Picture Daily Magazine displayed an image
of Jean Harlow's photograph and a grieving MGM lion
Anything and everything was reported. Her half-hysterical mother urging her to keep fighting. Their friend, actor Warner Baxter paced outside her death chamber in the hall. And the inevitable, "Powell was wearing a sports suit and polo shirt without a necktie."

What killed Jean Harlow? People began having theories immediately. Some wanted to place blame, talk of how it could have been prevented while those closest to her were in still in shock and grieving.  

She died of uremic poisoning, better known as acute renal failure or kidney failure in June 1937, her age was justFilm star Jean Harlow Dies, Wm Powell, Family at Side newspaper headline 26. This was a time before dialysis and kidney transplants.  

Motion Picture Daily ran this note:
"Loew's Spooner in the Bronx and Loew's Astoria, Astoria, L.I. which are showing Personal Property in which Jean Harlow appears will stop the shows for one minute today. The shows will be halted at the time funeral services are to be held in Glendale, Cal."

Jean Harlow's Funeral:

Guests were limited to 200-250 people. Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Carole Lombard, Warner Baxter, Una Merkel, Maureen O'Sullivan, W.S. Van Dyke, Robert Montgomery were there. 

Clark Gable was a pall bearer. Nelson Eddy sang Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and Jeannette MacDonald sang The Indian Love Call.  Powell sat beside Jean's mother at the funeral. His own mother sat on his other side.

Jean Harlow's first and third husbands, Charles McGrew and Hal Rosson, were in

"Her second husband was Paul Bern, a film producer whose death a few months after their wedding is still somewhat mysterious, without full explanation of motives for suicide."
-- Gettysburg Times, June 9, 1937

"The service was temporarily interrupted by the drone of aeroplanes overhead."

Police guards were there to keep the crowds back, though fans got in after the services to take souvenirs such as flower petals. 

"Barred from the funeral service yesterday a crowd waited for hours outside the cemetery hoping at least to see some of the 200 film notables inside. 

"This they missed but after the brief service was finished and everybody was gone, they rushed through unlocked gates and scrambled for bits of the Jean Harlow Dies newspaper headlinethousands of flowers. 

"Some had to be content with tiny scraps of ferns. One little girl placed in her purse a few petals from a rose."
-- The Tuscaloosa News, June 10, 1937 

Carole Lombard is reported to have said to Clark Gable, "Paw, don't ever let them do this to me." Gable and Lombard would marry in 1939. Tragically, Lombard, who helped Powell through his grieving for Jean Harlow, was killed in a plane crash only five years later in 1942.  

Similarly, in 1958, Gable would tell wife, Kay Williams that he didn't want to have a funeral like the large one given to actor Tyrone Power, who'd died of a heart attack. In November 1960, Clark Gable himself died of a heart attack. The wives of both Power and Gable were pregnant at the times of their husbands' deaths.

Reports of Jean Harlow's funeral said that "the services were simple, brief and unostentatious." Others said that MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer had orchestrated something like a scene in a Hollywood film.  

"As a special tribute, all film studios were observing one minute of silence at 9 o'clock." 

Ray-Ban Women's 4101 Jackie Ohh Sunglasses
Choose frame color, material, more. High customer rating

There are photos of an anguished Powell wearing dark glasses. He helped Jean's mother to her car. But other photos show his own mother, Mrs. Nettie Powell and Otis Wiles friend and studio attache on either side of him. Another friend, it's said is behind him just in case.

Wee Kirk O' the Heather
in Forest Lawn Memorial Park

The flower blanket made of 500 gardenias and 1500 lilies of the valley that covered the casket were from from Bill's father William Powell, Sr., his mother and Jean Harlow's mother. 
"One floral token, however went with the platinum blonde screen star to her resting place. Placed in her hand just before the casket was closed for the last time. It was a single gardenia, her favorite flower, with the inscription, 'Good-night my dearest darling.' The card was unsigned but the handwriting was believed to be that of William Powell, constant escort of Miss Harlow of recent months, who was among the most obviously grief-stricken at the funeral."
-- The Evening Independent, June 10, 1937

Some articles implied and at least one stated that the ring was left on her finger when she was buried in the crypt. Another said she wore no jewelry. The ring was something that had great meaning to her. It has always been on her finger
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
at the funeral
since Christmas, articles said. "She even showered with it on." It seems probable that she was wearing it or it was placed with her when the casket was closed.

We see differences in descriptions of the dress she was buried in. Most say it was a gown from the film, Libeled Lady. I've seen it described as pure white, pure pink, blue and a few different prints, or hand-painted flowers. That's from people who say they saw her and others.

Powell, her mother and father were the last to see Harlow before the casket was closed. They decided the body would not be taken to Kansas City, the star's former home. 

When talking about the funeral, they started referring to Powell as her bereaved sweetheart as much as calling him her suitor.

A magazine covering the funeral of Jean Harlow refers to her as Powell's Spirit
Newspaper excerpt, Harlow wore the sapphire ring given to her by Powell when buried
Some reports noted Harlow's
wearing the ring at her funeral,
"She wore only one jewel, that giant star sapphire that
was William Powell's last gift to her."
Bride and quotes Edgar Allan Poe's poem, Annabel Lee.

The article says it was confirmed that the gardenia unsigned card placed in her hand and were from Powell. His "trembling handwriting" was a bit different from his usual handwriting. 

Because of rumors which had already started, newspapers and magazines were being kept from him. "Those things would hurt him deeply if he knew," friends said.

Wm Powell sobs at Harlow Funeral, newspaper headline

Harlow's mother said she felt she could disclose the fact that Powell paid for "the crypt in which Jean will repose. ... The room where she will lie forever. There is a place for two other caskets in the wall. One is reserved for Jean's mother. The third? Well who knows? That Powell's purchase of the room with the three spaces may also embody the thought that he might some day wish to be placed beside Jean is not beyond conjecture."
 -- Picture Play magazine, September 1937 

Work was stopped on his film, Double Wedding, which co-starred Myrna Loy. He embarked on a long cruise abroad, wearing mourning black, suit, tie and hat. Spending most of the time locked in his stateroom, reporters tried to get photos and statements from the actor. 

He tried returning to work at the end of 1937. Powell collapsed on the set and had to take some more time off.  His mother had fallen down the stairs being injured, and this just added to everything else on his mind.

Police check cars at funeral for stowaways
Police checking the car of Jean Harlow's father for 'stowaways'

The book, George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992 includes a bit about Harlow's last sitting for the photographer and Powell's first session after her death. When they talk about old Hollywood superstars, they're talking about Harlow and Powell and Loy... When they talk about Old Hollywood glamor, they're thinking partly about the beautiful photographs taken by George Hurrell.

Harlow had come to Hurrell's studio for a sitting that would combine wardrobe from an already completed Personal Property with wardrobe from the upcoming Saratoga. Some of the photos taken by Hurrell feature her and that star sapphire. 

"As soon as Hurrell saw her he knew something was wrong. 'I could tell she wasn't well,' he recalled. 'She looked heavier and she faded fast. ... I genuinely liked Jean,' recalled Hurrell. 'Even after she became big box office, she never changed personally. She was one star who never ever believed her publicity. But the girl was driven like you'd drive a team of horses. They just worked her to death.'

"A sad postscript occurred when William Powell called Hurrell. 'I hardly recognized his voice,' recalled Hurrell. 'The underlying, mocking tone was gone. He sounded strained and wounded.' Powell asked for a set of prints from her last sitting. Hurrell obliged him. Powell was well-nigh devastated by the passing of the woman whom many assumed he would marry. 

"A few months later, Powell had to be photographed in connection with his latest film, Double Wedding. 'When he arrived for his appointment, Hurrell was shocked at his appearance. He had lost weight and his eyes were still red from weeping. William Powell did not want to be photographed while he was mourning, but the studio held him to his contract. Hurrell was not able to cheer him."
-- George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992 by Mark A. Vieira

When people think of the great era of Hollywood, independent women, 1930s fashion and glamour, they'll think of Jean Harlow. 

Jean's mother was buried in the crypt by her daughter in 1958.  

This is apparently Powell in October 1937 in Italy press swarming all over.

Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow book cover
Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming is an autobiography co-written by Ms. Loy. 

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood by Emily W. Leider is a biography of the actress. This one is available in eBook form such as Kindle.

William Powell: The Life and Films by Roger Bryant. There are very few books on William Powell. This one has the best reviews, seems to have the most accurate information and interesting content. 

Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow A 1975 Dell paperback book talks about how these four stars' lives were intertwined.

Annabel Lee, Edgar Allan Poe excerpt from William Powell's Spirit Bride article
"For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling--my darling--my life and my bride,
   In her sepulcher there by the sea,
   In her tomb by the sounding sea."

-- excerpt Annabel Lee, Edgar Allan Poe
William Powell's Spirit Bride article

The Last Installment is next:
A bit about William Powell after Jean Harlow

Related Pages of Interest: 

Sapphires, Gem Symbolism Old Hollywood Carole Lombard Joan Crawford, Mae West

Contemporary Pop Rock Country Memorial Songs Pop, Rock & Country ; Reba McEntire, Monty Python, The Beatles; Inspiration from Graham Chapman, Jim Henson memorial services

Carole Lombard and William Powell married 1931-1933; their sapphires, My Man Godfrey. Pre-Jean Harlow and Clark Gable

Sapphires Old Hollywood, Symbolism, September Birthstone

Gems on The Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness Diamond, Sapphires, Emeralds, Opals, Amethyst...

Bill Powell, Jean Harlow and a 152-Carat Sapphire Ring: Hollywood's biggest star sapphire

The Lady and The Ghost of Rudolph Valentino: He speaks to his wife, Natacha Rambova from Beyond

Have a Mermaid 1948 Movie Party Ann Blyth & William Powell,  Glynis Johns, Miranda

Colored Gemstone Sapphire & Emerald Engagement Rings, Princesses Diana and Catherine; Joan Crawford & Elizabeth Taylor, Halle Berry & Penélope Cruz ....

Lou Costello Memorial Bracelet for His Son, Tuesday Flashback Feature, Abbott & Costello

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