Long before Marilyn Monroe, another blonde bombshell glittered from the silver screen. Jean Harlow captivated audiences during the Golden Age of Hollywood and continues to do so in Anne Girard's Platinum Doll. Girard explores what it took to turn Harlean Carpenter McGrew into a bigger than life movie star.
How did you decide to write about the "Platinum Doll"?
I love being a champion of misunderstood characters from history. People feel like they know Jean Harlow, based on the image Hollywood created, the platinum hair, the over exaggerated eyebrows, the femme fatale screen roles. But what I found most compelling about her life, and her story, was the smart, but idealistic, Midwestern teenager behind manufactured image--and the high cost of fame.
I also loved the look at what it took to become a star in early Hollywood. Add to that the portrait of a fragile young marriage endangered by success, and throw in the quintessential stage mother and it became a story I became driven to tell.
What surprised you during your research?
I was very surprised at how different Harlean was from the iconic Harlow we know--or think we know, today. For instance, she was well-educated, she loved to read and she even wrote a novel, which was published posthumously. She had a great sense of humor and even though she was typecast by bombshell roles early in her career, she longed to do comedy and play serious roles. She got her chance in a movie called The Beast of the City, for which she won critical praise. I was also surprised by the fact that she was married three times in her very short 26 years. She died so young which does make fans wonder how many more wonderful dimensions there might have been to her career had she lived.
If you could ask Jean Harlow one question, what would you want to know and why?
I would ask, if she had it to do over again, would she have fought harder for her first marriage, the demise of which is recounted in Platinum Doll.
One of the reasons it piqued my curiosity is that, several years after their divorce, Harlow was quoted as saying that she still missed him. Also that if the child they lost had survived, her life would have been completely different. His daughter by a later marriage confirmed that he had always loved her.
When writing historical fiction, often our character's choices are pre-determined. If you could change one of Jean Harlow's decisions, what would you change and why?
While her career soared, her personal life was on a downhill trajectory after she found fame. She married three times, had affairs, and drank too much, which was thought to be one of the contributing factors in the renal failure that took her life so early. I know that she went on the have a very meaningful love affair with the actor William Powell, who was her last love, but (call me a romantic!) I do wonder if a sustaining marriage with Chuck could have been the anchor she needed.
This interview first appeared on Women Writers, Women's Books.