The Golden Age of Hollywood

Hello friends: As the Labor Day holiday draws near here in the U.S.A, we approach the aniversary of a couple of tragedies from the House of MGM, namely the death & scandal of Paul Bern & the 1936 death of Metro's wonder "boy" Irving Thalberg.

It was namely 78 years ago that Bern died from his own hand & created a scandal that is still controversial today. Many a lesser star would have been ruined by the fallout, & the fact that Jean survived & then florished proved positive that the public loved her & did not blame her or accuse her of his death. Thalberg, who we've previously mentioned, was one of the men on the scene that fateful morning, and played a large part in "damage control", i.e. trying to stem the fallout from the situation & protect their star, and their company (he was an MGM executive) from ruin. Handling the press & the police was probably the least MGM had to worry about. Jean was devastated and had to be sedated. It's still not clear if she had been in the house at the time of his death. At the time it was thought that she wasn't and showed up the next morning. But in Sam Marx's book (he was also an MGM honcho) he stated she was there, and was removed from the place for protection.

Remember, they wanted to remove her from the time & place of the death, so she would not be suspected, even in error.


I don't think she had anything to do with it. It was the last thing she or her career needed. And if the marriage didn't work out, she could have divorced him. I always wondered if that was the real reason for his suicide. Or if it was because he was a closet gay? Or just impotenet? Thankfully we'll never really know. I say that because to me, some things are private & really none of the public's business. I just believe Jean was innocent of any wrong doing in the matter.


The suicide note allegedly was forged & given to the authorities by none other than Louis B. Mayer himself, according to Marx's book.


A photocopy of this note was on ebay U.S.A with the Chicago "Tribune" watermark on it for sale this past week. The public is invited to bid--78 years later they still remember.


Miss JH herself grew & matured and left this sadness behind her. And went back to work---for retakes on Red Dust.

Just a sign of the resilience of this fine actress--who would also live just barely 5 more years.


Any thoughts at all out there of this tragic event? Scandal, nor the Code of Decency couldn't kill her. Only a Kidney ailment.


Let's hear, dear members, of your thoughts on this as the anniversary of it nears...

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Replies to This Discussion

Here's a letter written by Jean's secretary to someone who wrote expressing her sympathy & support to her after the Bern Tragedy in Sept. 1932. Letters like these probably showed the studio
that Jean had a loyal following. And far from destroying her career, the public still loved her!
All that I have read about Jean (and it's not a lot) over the
years, it never entered my mind that she was guilty of
anything other than feeling a great need for a father figure
in her life. I think she married Harold Rossen, a cameraman,
who was quite a bit older than her as well. Poor Baby.
I'm a new member and therefore late in reply - my apologies.

Jean Harlow is an enigma. But, human non-the-less. Paul Bern was cruel to Jean. Her mother was a flake. Her step-father a gold digger. She was young and influenced heavily by her mother and step-father during, before and after her union to Bern (as exampled by the fact that Bern signed his house over to Harlow before they were married at the request of Jean's mother). She was HAPPY to be marrying him. Finding him as he truely was only hours after the nuptuals had to be a terrible blow. She didn't kill him, she was under her agent's and her mother's heavy control who told her to stay in the union in spite of his brutality and sickness. She never found true happiness. She searched for it on street corners and in bars, on the set and in her surroundings but the lovely lady was denied. She didn't have to die. But, there her mother was, again, holding the hand of fate that terrible weekend, watching her daughter suffer and eventually slip away -all the while telling people that Jean was fine and would recover because all her years in scientology told her so. Terrible events such as these can never be erased from Hollywood.
Hello & welcome to our group, Heather! Jean was a fine actress & a great star in the Hard Time 1930's. No ones life is all ups. There are downs as well. People must have the bad as well as the good. I started this discussion about the Tragedy of Bern's suicide because it was a defining moment in her life. She survived it as a person & became stronger, & it helped her grow up. She was only 21 in 1932! Her career survived it & grew as well...
But I can't think her short life was all unhappy. Certainly she was becoming independent of her Mother more & more. Stepfather was given the "air", so to speak. And you may not know it, but I feel alot of stuff was exagerated by former biographers like Irving Schulman, especially the stuff about "streetcorners & bars". David Stenn has pointed out in his excellent biography that Jean's Mom didn't kill her. She had kidney failure, and no dialysis machine existed in the 1930's to keep her alive. Uremic poisoning, you see.
Jean's life was so much more, you understand, than tragedy!!! She left a great legacy as an entertainer with many superb films to her credit.
I enjoy reading your comments & invite you to feel free to contribute to this group!
I'm glad you like Jean Harlow & her pics! That's what this page is here for! Again, welcome!

Thank you for your reply, Marcus! I appreciated Harlow for her chops long before I delved into her personal life. I had no idea of her ups and downs until I started researching her. -And common sense kicked in. None of what's been said is too much of a stretch considering the era in which she lived in Hollywood. But, I know she had as many highs as lows. It's the extremes that caught my attention and made her story a sad one. No, her mother didn't 'kill' her but she didn't believe her daughter needed medical attention untill a few hours before Jean died. And, of course, there was no bringing her back...but she could have been saved had she seen a doctor at the onset of her illness. Harlow is all of what everyone says, a star, a beauty, an actress, a tempermental woman, a daughter, a lover, a hater, crazy, lovely, talented, emotional, driven and missed. Without being all those things she would have come and gone in Hollywood without so much as a nod.
I love this photo of Jean Harlow.
From what I have read about Paul Bern - he sounded very respected and quite
liked by a lot of actresses - sort of like William Desmond Taylor. If as you say Bern
signed his house over to Jean, doesn't sound the actions of a cruel man.
Yesterday I was re-reading a FIR article about Jean and even in 1978 (when
the article was written) the author could find no-one who had a bad word to say
about her. Apparently one of her agents, who collaborated on a very horrible
book about her, was extremely repentant and said the book (one that was
written in the 60s) was all lies. I actually really love Clara Bow, but I think both
her and Jean would have to be the most beloved stars ever.
Alot of things will never be resolved from those days. They will remain mysteries. We just have to accept what transpired & move on... As for Bow, many of her films are non existant---or exist in incomplete form. From what I've seen, she was an intuative, personality actress. Much more like the stars we're familiar with from the 1930's.
I agree with you. So much has been said, edited, said differently, argued, etc. we'll really never have some things resolved. And, really, we don't know what it was like for Jean and Paul behind closed doors. Everything is open to interpretation, you know? What I may witness as a terrible car crash, to someone else was routine. I only know how much I enjoy Harlow's movies!


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