It's been a while since I've had anything newsworthy to share with Platinum Page readers and I'm thrilled to say that this year, which marks the Centennial of Jean Harlow's birth on March 3rd, there's a lot on tap to report!
Let's start with the forthcoming publication of a highly-anticipated, high-quality book worthy of The Baby.
Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937 (Angel City Press, 240 pp., hardcover) by Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira, is just that book.
I've known Darrell and Mark for years. When they first started talking about writing this book in 2002, it was my personal opinion that Jean couldn't have been in more capable hands.
To me, they form the Harlow Dream Team, combining Darrell's 30-plus years studying Harlow (collecting unimaginable amounts of photos, news items and other artifacts) with Mark's (The Starlight Studio) photographic expertise and proven track record for producing exquisite, expertly researched and written cinema history books including the 1997 Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits which featured Jean. ("The Baby sold that book," Mark tells me.)
That said, after getting a sneak preview of their work, I can honestly say that they went above and beyond my expectations.
Harlow in Hollywood is a must-have for everyone who loves Jean and Hollywood history in general, whether you think you know her well or are just starting to learn about her.
Let's start with the refreshingly unique focus of the book, which tells the story of Jean's years in Hollywood, specifically set against the backdrop of the city during her era. Instead of the traditional biography format, her tale is told visually and with a narrative that's from her point of view.
I recently sat down with Darrell and Mark to learn more about their journey with Jean.
"Her voice comes through strongly and clearly in this book, that's how I write," Mark explained. "The person's voice is so important."
Darrell agreed. "The key thing was to always come back to 'what is her point of view?' Don't tell her story from someone else's perspective," he said.
The authors utilized oodles of photos including studio-produced portraits, scene stills and publicity set-ups, and never-before-seen candid images, all published together for the first time in one high-quality hardcover book, stylishly designed by Art Director Hilary Lentini.
The page-turning text is based on copious amounts of source material culled from Darrell and other longtime Harlow collectors' archives that have never been made public until now.
Readers get a good dose of the fruits of this kind of collaboration starting on page one, referencing private letters and correspondences written by Jean's school friends from Ferry Hall who stayed in touch with her until her untimely death in 1937 at the age of 26.
"Dennis Lee Cleven actually interviewed all these people from her Midwest life in the 1980s and we made arrangements to access his audio interviews and written correspondences," said Darrell who added that "Dennis was an enormously helpful resource."
"That became the basis of the first chapter which tells the story of how she came to Hollywood the first time. Because of these materials the truth about her early life turned out to be very different than what we've ever known it to be. All the dominoes still fall the same way, but the first one is very different. That informed everything that came after it, and brought new insights into Harlow's life and better explained some of the choices she made," he explained.
Another example of fresh material is a photo of starlet Rosalie Roy (photograph by Max Munn Autrey), Jean's friend who asked for a ride to Fox Film studio casting call in 1928 which resulted in Harlow getting tapped for work instead. Along with the photograph is a 1928 Christmas card sent to Rosalie and her husband from Jean (still going by her birth name, Harlean) and her husband Chuck McGrew.
"David Stenn ( Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow laid the groundwork for that story by finding and interviewing Rosalie Roy, and it's really gratifying to finally put a face to the name. That that becomes part of the Harlow story, publicly," said Darrell.
An additional key angle of the book is how Hollywood and the forces of the studio system shaped Jean's screen image and in turn how she personally affected the city. "She was a part of the whole nightclub scene of the 1930s and she was photographed everywhere, the Cocoanut Grove, The Biltmore Bowl, The Miramar, all of those hotels," said Darrell.
It's a world that doesn't exist anymore, although some of the locations she was photographed at still stand such as Bullocks on Wilshire where the book's cover portrait was taken by George Hurrell in 1935.
Although the book had been worked on for years, the changing book market landscape made selling the idea a challenge. When Mark and Darrell realized that 2011 was Harlow's centennia, that became the goal: to release a book that year. Darrell began transcribing and annotating all of the written material in his massive collection. "I worked for three solid years putting the reference material together so that when we got a pubisher we would be ready," he said.
Writing was a collaboration, with Darrell writing first drafts of each chapter, Mark writing the second draft, then passing it back and forth until both were satisfied.
Once they joined forces with Angel City Press, and with the story structure in place, Darrell and Mark worked together for six weeks on the task of going through Darrell's collection of approximately 5,000 images to come up with photos that would best illustrate the narrative.
Together they looked for unique photos that would tell the story as visually and succinctly as possible, using the most viable images, from both a collector's and a photographer's perspective.
"It was an education for me," said Darrell. "As a photographer, Mark was looking for things that I wasn't aware of, such as middle tones and starting with a good original."
"Because this is a very high-quality printing, you can't use digital copies or re-strikes, but at the same time there were certain images that were very important to the story that we had to consider," said Mark of the editing process.
"With that in mind, we had to branch out and go to other personal collections," added Darrell.
One of those images (a personal favorite of mine) is an extremely rare photo of Jean caught in a casual moment at a lodge, reading, from the collection of James Kaufmann. "It captured the real Jean Harlow," said Mark, who noted that because of the quality of the image, it was most likely taken by a staff photographer and not a personal camera.
Another of Mark's favorites was taken by an MGM photographer in 1933 at the Los Angeles Air Races. "She's with a car and an airplane and all three of them look like art deco icons, all streamlined. To me it's the knockout picture in the whole book," said Mark.
For Darrell, it was less easy to choose a favorite. "I have certain favorites and I wanted to try and get as many of those in the book as possible but in the end it came down to whether or not it served to advance the story," he said.
That they had so many images to choose from is a testament to how photogenic Jean was, and how much of her short life was lived in front of cameras. Each image is stare-worthy. "She had a quality that you can't define and yet you can't ignore," said Darrell.
"Starlets coming up in the studio system were all shot by Hurrell with the same camera and the same technique, but some jump out at you from the photos while others do not. That's because it was their personality jumping out at you," explained Mark.
"Jean had the personality, she was aware that that's the thing you need to register on film and that it wasn't just your looks," added Darrell.
Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937 will be available March 1st. Angel City Press is offering a 25% discount off the $50 cover price through this link for pre-ordered copies and the price also includes personalized inscriptions by the authors.
Pre-orders are also available from Amazon, discounted as well.
If you're in Los Angeles the first week of March there are two special Harlow events you won't want to miss:
Thursday, March 3 - Harlow Exhibit Opening at the Hollywood Museum in the Historic Max Factor Building. This exhibit will run through September 2011.
Sunday, March 6 - Jean Harlow Presentation and Q&A with Mark and Darrell along with a special screening of "Bombshell" at the American Cinematheque, Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
Stay tuned for more details on these two Centennial Celebration Events!
Jean Harlow Platinum Icon by Darrell Rooney featuring colorized images by Victor Mascaro: