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"I wasn't born an actress. Events just made me one." (Jean Harlow)
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history's most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors' American Legends series, listeners can get caught up to speed on the lives of America's most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
When the American Film Institute ranked its top 50 screen legends of the 20th century, many of the people named had careers spanning several decades, but one of them managed the feat despite living less than three decades. Ranked as the 22nd greatest actress of the 20th century, Jean Harlow was on the screen for less than 10 years, but in that time the "blonde bombshell" became the most popular actress of the 1930s, eclipsing superstars like Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer along the way. In fact the platinum blonde accomplished that feat as a leading lady for just five years before her premature death of renal failure at just 26 years old.
Although Harlow is remembered today more for her tragic fate than for her career, she was influential well beyond the 1930s. Despite being so young, she managed to craft a persona as a seductive femme fatale that would critically shape how subsequent actresses approached similar roles. Of course her platinum-blonde hair served as a template for future blonde bombshells like Marilyn Monroe, who actually watched Harlow's movies and studied her performances to model her own early career off the dead legend.