In truth, Jean only got the role because the actress originally starring had a Norwegian accent that wouldn’t work in the shift from silent to sound. But Jean did have that memorable blonde hair. She once said, “If not for my hair, no one would know I was alive.” It was certainly an essential part of the way she’s remembered. In her biography Life is Banquet, Rosalind Russell wrote:
”I was close to Jean Harlow. I loved her, and oh she was a stunning creature! I remember sitting under a hair dryer in a beauty parlor one day, and sitting next to me was a child, also under a dryer. She was wearing shorts, and her little baby legs perfectly formed, rested against the back of her chair while the nails of her little baby hands were being manicured. My word, I thought, a ten or eleven year old kid having that bright red polish put on, and suddenly the hood of the dryer went back and the child stood up and it was Jean. She was probably twenty-three at the time but without make-up and no eyebrows, she looked exactly like a little kid.”
No wonder everyone called her Baby forever.
To promote Jean’s image Hughes capitalized on her ash-blonde hair color, christened platinum by publicists. He offered $10,000 to any hairdresser that could match the color. Though even she had some help there. The Atlantic reported:
“I used to bleach her hair and make it ‘platinum blonde,’” Alfred Pagano, hairdresser to the stars, once said. “We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux detergent flakes! Can you believe that?”
We’ll talk more about that later.
She followed Hell’s Angels with Platinum Blonde in 1931 – the title a play on her own blonde hair. A series of other movies made with the dashing young Clark Gable, insured that her star continued to shimmer brightly for the next few years. She and Clark also became great friends; while most people called her by her nickname “Baby” he always called her Sis, and bragged that she could drink him under the table.