Why all the hub-bub? Apparently, even more controversial than the author himself, are the accusations made by Bret that reviewers never actually obtained and read the book before offering negative feedback.
According to Bret, who on May 11 responded to a two-star review posted the same day:
"You are reviewing a book, you moron, which has not even been published! Serialisation has held back publication until after 14 May, so you cannot possibly have seen it. Reviewing a book before its time, let's hope you die prematurely too."
Bret further clarified his point in the form of a five-star review of his own book, which has since been removed:
(Take heart Harlow reviewers, it's not just you. He also posted the only five-star review to his book on Morrissey, with some choice words about those fans, too.)
On May 12 he was apparently further compelled to make his point (in all caps no less, the equivalent of screaming on the internet) on the Amazon UK page for Stenn's biography of Clara Bow of all places, ignoring the page for Stenn's Harlow biography which would seem to be a more logical place to vent:
"WHILE I HAVE NO COMMENTS TO MAKE ABOUT THIS BOOK, I WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT FANS OF THIS AUTHOR ARE BEING VERY UNFAIR TO REVIEW MY BIOGRAPHY OF JEAN HARLOW, BAD REVIEWS WHICH BEGAN APPEARING 1ST MAY, PARTICULARLY AS THE BOOK IS UNDER EMBARGO (SERIALISATION) AND CANNOT POSSIBLY BE SEEN BY ANYONE UNTIL AT LEAST 14 MAY!!!"
Apparently several reviews posted before mid-May have mysteriously disappeared from Amazon's site after Bret's outbursts.
Yet, according to Amazon, the book's publication date from JR Books Ltd. was slated for April 16, 2009, a date that remains on the site today. If an embargo was put into place, someone forgot to tell their distributor.
One UK customer confirmed to The Platinum Page that she ordered the book in late April and was notified by Amazon that it would be dispatched by April 27 and delivered by May 2.
I asked one of the reviewers who posted his comments on May 4 (after ordering the book on April 27 and receiving it on May 1) to send me photographic proof that he owns a copy of Tarnished Angel. Here's what he promptly sent back:
Show me your Tarnish
Now, not having read Bret's book yet (making me Rennell's target audience) but having some knowledge of Harlow's life and personality, this piece left me feeling like I was having a 1965 flashback to Irving Shulman's highly fictionalized rendition that caused equal amounts of controversy back in the day.
On a side note, three paragraphs in, Rennell writes:
Maybe it's a UK thing, but I don't consider the American Film Institute, who ranked Harlow #22 in its Top 100 Legends, arcane. A simple Google search of her name yields 689,000 internet references. We should all be so forgettable. But I digress.
It's very easy for any knowlegable Harlow fan, myself included, to get caught up in reading or participating in a passionate online rhubarb over the actions and reputations of both the author and his subject. It's become practically unavoidable. And nothing of real value can be gained by simply highlighting the mudslinging. So what's the alternative here?
Call me crazy, but I say try to be objective and go on a fact finding mission.
I've previously read the Harlow biographies by both Stenn and Eve Golden, and after doing so conducted Q & A with each author in order to give readers insight into the logic of the authors' research and conclusions in their own words. I'm currently in the process of doing the same for author E. J. Fleming's new book Paul Bern: The Life and Famous Death of the MGM Director and Husband of Harlow, with the cooperation of his publisher, McFarland.
In the interest of the fairness that Bret has adamantly stated he's not been afforded, I recently emailed his publisher's publicity department to request a review copy of Tarnished Angel and a opportunity to conduct a professional, legitimate interview with Bret about his work.
The story here, when I look at it not as a Harlow fan but as an experienced journalist and researcher, isn't necessarily the content of the book or the author's reputation. Although that's certainly a part of it. It's more about finding out why and how the book was conceived and written, what is its purpose, how were conclusions made and what, if any, new information the book brings to the table.
The only person who can answer these types of questions, hopefully without the previously demonstrated anger and insults, is the author.
The offer is out. Will my request be granted? Stay tuned....