By Santiago Lovo
Marilyn Monroe’s face is probably one of the most recognizable in pop culture. Her alluring smile and iconic style have inspired millions, including other celebrities like Madonna, Gwen Stefani, and Britney Spears. However, what many ignore is that Hollywood’s most famous face also drew inspiration from another icon, the one and only Jean Harlow Carpenter, best known as Jean Harlow. Who was she? She was a woman who changed gender norms and tore down taboos about women: a Hollywood goddess for whom censorship wasn’t a thing. Also, some argue, she was the very first sex symbol.
This platinum blonde was a successful actress during the first years of sound films. Her career wasn’t that long (it lasted from 1928 and ended tragically in 1938), but her short presence in the industry was probably the noisiest of the time. Her lifestyle was seen as immoral and scandalous by the conservative society of the time, and for that reason, she was always under the spotlight of the press. She had three failed marriages (a terrible sin at the time), the first one when she was only 16 years old.
Harlow was a natural trend-setter, and her glamorous style was soon copied by everyone, including her characteristic platinum hair. According to her former stylist, the sessions needed to achieve her unique hue were painful and uncomfortable, but she endured it all her life. The interesting thing about her style is that she used it as a way to rebel against social norms imposed on women. One of the things she was the most criticized for was the fact that she didn’t use underwear. Imagine the scandal in the thirties!
Now, besides the obvious resemblance between Monroe and Harlow, their sudden death at a young age is something they also share. Jean passed away when she was 26 years old due to complications from a condition called uremia (a kidney malfunction); Marilyn passed away at 36. However, it all goes beyond that. The legacy in pop culture Marilyn left is actually Harlow’s.
Such was Marilyn Monroe’s fascination for Jean Harlow that one of her career aspirations was to play Harlow in a biopic. It has been said that even before her tragic death, Marilyn had been in talks to finally achieve her dream in the production of Harlow (1965). After her death, the part went to Carroll Baker, and it became one of Baker’s most important films.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
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