BOMB SHELL by David Stenn


The Life and Death of Jean Harlow
Email this review


 Rather winning life of Jean Harlow, with some revisions on the tale offered by Samuel Marx and Joyce Vanderveen in Deadly Illusions (1990)--and many fresh interviews plus a handful of new folks speaking out who have kept silent until now. Stenn (the well-received Clara Bow, 1988) gives a sympathetic, well-rounded Harlow--one immensely superior to the Harlow (1965) by Irving Shulman and Arthur Landau that prompted two scurrilous film bios back in the mid-60's--but he doesn't actually add much to the Harlow we already know. Aside from massaging the boot blows by Shulman and Landau, and cleaning up the suicide of Harlow's second husband, producer Paul Bern, this is more a refresher course than a set of discoveries. The big, definitive life is yet to be written, although most of Harlow's intimates are dead and still fresher material than Stenn's is not likely. The best qualities here are Stenn's attention to his subject's acting and the growth of her talent, and Harlow's often physical presence on the page, especially in her wacky nude scenes with studio photographers and at parties, and in Stenn's capturing of her shyness, the modesty at the core of the woman, which her nude moments only enforce. Yes, Jean Harlow, aided by her mother, would ice her breasts to a tight firmness and play scenes braless--but this was ``Jean Harlow'' the image and top moneymaker for MGM, not Harlean Carpenter, the towhead deep inside the image. The biggest villain in this bio is Mother Jean, ``who had slave-driven her [daughter] to stardom, sabotaged her marriages, squandered her money, and sacrificed her happiness.'' Harlow, going by Stenn, was marked for early death when her mother, a Christian Scientist, didn't have Jean properly diagnosed at 15 for the nephritic infection that killed her at 26. Between takes, a platinum Venus sits firmly on your lap, knitting socks. (Sixty photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-42157-5
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993