Jean Harlow was widely considered as the reigning sexpot of the golden age of Hollywood filmmaking. She usually played the part either of a tough-talking moll or a prostitute and was every man’s fantasy date. The reality, however, was far different. Although Jean engaged in sex from time to time, she was not possessed by it like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, or Mae West. In fact, one of the men she married, Paul Bern, was seemingly incapable of physically satisfying any woman, and this did not seem to particularly matter to Jean. Her sexual appetite seemed, if anything, below average, as she preferred older “daddy-like” men, whose sexual needs were probably no where near what her comparable age male counterpart might have been. The normal behavior we would have expected from a sexpot seems greatly overblown in Jean’s case.
In the same vein, Jean’s looks were rally nothing special. Her face was cute in an odd sort of way, but not beautiful. She had a high forehead and a weak chin, which actually offset one another and made each flaw less noticeable. Her lips were thin and her nose a bit large, but when she smiled, her face took on a merriment that made you want to smile with her. Jean was very photogenic and expressive and was a photographer’s dream come true.
Jean’s body was thin but she thought her hips to wide and her legs not well shaped, and for this reason she never wore shorts. Her breasts, which were more often commented on than any other actress, were small, only 33,” and her so-called cleavage was actually virtually non-existent. Jean’ sexual trademark, her platinum blonde hair, largely came from a bleach bottle and had been steadily falling out and it appeared by the time of her last film that she was going bald. Her movements were not sexually explosive, like Mae West, for instance, but were more bubbly and light-hearted. She wanted to be a comedienne, which she had some talent for, but only at the end of her career did she begin moving in this direction.
In reality, Jean was pretty much of an airhead, but she came by it honestly. She came from a wealthy family and was raised by an airhead mother, who spoiled her rotten. She was given anything she wanted without having to work for it, so there was never any connection for her of hard work and achievement. As a result, she just did what it took to get by and saw no necessity to exert herself any further. Her mother made sure that she only associated with the right people of her own ilk, so she never was exposed to anything while growing up outside of her limited environment. To her credit, however, Jean made her own way in the world once she hit Hollywood, despite all her handicaps. She tried hard and under the circumstances she did as well as could be expected, having had developed little common sense while growing up and having to drag around the anchors of Mama Jean and Belo, who constantly took advantage of her naivete.
This is a sad but touching story about a fun-loving girl who was swept along in a current she was powerless to break free from. We must marvel at what she had achieved with so few tools at her disposal. Although she lived the dream, it wasn’t her dream. So turn the page and see how Joan Harlow made her mark as one of the greatest sexpots of movie history