In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Remembering Regional Gasoline Brands
  2. Patty Does Lyle
  3. Blogging Note
  4. At Mark Sisson's
  5. DVD Journal: "Gilles' Wife"
  6. Painter of the Indistinct
  7. Whatever Happened to Casein Paints?
  8. What Does the "Peace Symbol" Symbolize?
  9. Pole Dancing
  10. Visual Linkage

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« More Econ Linkage | Main | Seattle Bags Bag-Tax »

August 18, 2009

Jean Harlow Was Nice-Looking, Actually

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Jean Harlow was the first Blonde Bombshell movie star, dominating the Thirties scene until her death in 1937, shortly after her 26th birthday. Her only true successor in the Bombshell department was Marilyn Monroe.

That's the legend, anyhow. My problem was that I couldn't quite buy it. Yes, Harlow had a nice shape, but her facial features seemed a little too soft. And then there was the 1930s fashion of plucked eyebrows replaced by a thin, penciled line. Not to mention the watered-down holdover of the 1920s' bee-sting lipstick application that narrowed the mouth while exaggerating the thickness of the lips near the mouth's midpoint.

Yesterday I stumbled across the "real" Jean Harlow while reading up on the movie "Hell's Angels". It was released 15 November 1930, before the plucked eyebrow fad started.

Let's make a comparison. Here are some photos of Harlow later in her career

George Hurrell's classic bearskin rug photo

A "glam" pose with penciled eyebrows

Frontal pose with penciled eyebrows

Here are photos from 1929 or the very early 30s

Autographed photo

Publicity photo

"Hell's Angels" still - two-negative Technicolor

From our 2009 perspective, Harlow looks more "natural" and, to me, far more attractive in the early photos than in the later ones. Fashion being what it is, there's a risk that I'm blinkered by current standards of beauty. Even so, I'm pleased to know what Jean Harlow really looked like before 1930s glamorization took hold.



posted by Donald at August 18, 2009


It pains me to say it as I look like her in the chin/mouth area, but she is fugly. Amazing that she was a sex symbol.

Posted by: lindenen on August 18, 2009 9:06 PM

Agreed. Bad eyebrows and lipstick can't sink a face that much -- it was not spectacular to begin with.

Just try and find such a high fraction of Clara Bow's pictures that make her look bad. Rrrrrarf!

Posted by: agnostic on August 18, 2009 10:55 PM

I think Thelma Todd, known as "Hot Toddy" and "The Ice Cream Blonde," fits the blonde bombshell category, including, pace Harlow and Monroe, a mysterious, premature death.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on August 19, 2009 2:09 AM


How was the technicolor photo derived from a b&w movie?

As to your point, I agree. Makeup and hair styles in the '30s and early '40s were way over the top, actually subverting the natural beauty of many actresses. I saw one photo in which even the enchanting Myrna Loy looked like a bride of Frankenstein.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 19, 2009 8:40 AM

The same "glamorization" process is in full swing today. Perfectly healthy, good looking young women are dressed to look like street walkers. It would seem that the truly ugly women, like Madonna, have adopted this trendy look because they had nothing to lose. But truly attractive girls don't seem to realize that they are throwing away their real assets.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 19, 2009 8:41 AM

lindenen & agnostic -- Hmm. Now that we're getting picky, I say that her least-nice feature was her nose.

Rick -- Parts of the movie were shot in color, but most early Technicolor bits were discarded ages ago and the films were often re-processed in B&W. I get this info from an informative Wikipedia entry that explains that color in movies goes back a lot farther than most of us realize. Take a look: it's quite interesting.

Charlton -- 50-ish Madonna looks pretty awful these days in part due to her latest diet-exercise program she's under. If you look at face photos of her over the years and strip away the affectations, she seems to have good bone structure and features. Well, that's my impression; I never paid much attention to her.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 19, 2009 9:52 AM

Have you seen any of her movies? After seeing a couple of her films, I'm not surprised she was a major sex symbol & so hugely popular with audiences - despite not being conventionally attractive, she had "It" - she was funny, she had that charming straight-shooting, good-time-gal, tough yet sweet vamp persona, and great chemistry with Clark Gable in all the movies they made together. If the history of cinema shows us anything, it's that sex appeal depends on more than having conventionally perfect & symmetrical facial features.

Posted by: ty on August 19, 2009 11:33 AM

There's an impulse among Hollywood beauties to "uglify" themselves as their careers advance. Harlow gradually wrecked a natural girl-next-door beauty. Meg Ryan ruined one of the sweetest and dearest faces ever on screen. Farah Fawcett, sad to say, wrecked her elegant features. And now Angelina Jolie is following suit, with a tattoo and botoxed lips that make her look grotesque. There may be some interior loathing of their own beauty operating in them but I cannot say why.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 19, 2009 5:12 PM

I adore Harlow. Red Dust, Dinner at 8, Red Headed Woman, Bombshell--terrifically fun movies all, and terrifically fun performances from Harlow.

But I've never thought she was particularly attractive. Nice body. Great personality. Doggie face.

Posted by: Ron on August 20, 2009 8:06 AM

According to an aquaintance from Ms. Harlow's era, she was always considered to be a "farmer's wife all gussied up", but she played a glamour girl so well that you went along with it. Think Mae West.

Posted by: Bradamante on August 20, 2009 9:56 AM

Yeah, well I'd do her, especially after she got rid of those dark eyebrows. Oocha magoocha.

Posted by: Douglas Fletcher on August 21, 2009 5:35 AM

If you want to know what actresses (and a few actors) do to themselves, try It's a revelation.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 21, 2009 8:05 PM

Harlow was not a great beauty...people look at the hair, the curvy body and the alabaster skin, and they seem to think that made her beautiful. She was attractive, but had, not soft features, but rather hard ones, like a heavy, mannish forehead (the pencilled in brows were designed to soften it), beady, deep-set eyes, a too-wide nose, too-full cheeks and a rather shortish chin. She was just lucky to photograph well. Not to mention her pics were heavily retouched.

Posted by: Impartial on August 24, 2009 4:21 PM

Jean Harlow may have been the most beautiful woman in the 20th century!

Posted by: Dave on September 1, 2009 9:08 PM

Sorry for my bad english. Intresting title. It attracted me to read the complete post. Thanks

Posted by: Debt Settlement on September 13, 2009 11:59 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?