'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
|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.
"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.
|Motion Picture Daily Magazine displayed an image|
of Jean Harlow's photograph and a grieving MGM lion
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 just 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 thousands 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."
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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
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
|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."
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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