But...the damage had been done. The popularity of that book and the Hollywood resurgence of interest in Jean Harlow led to two biopics about her being made. One, a Paramount feature in color with Edith Head costumes, starred Carroll Baker. Baker had also played Rina Marlowe in Paramount's adaptation of THE CARPETBAGGERS (1964). The other was lower-budgeted black and white film starring Carol Lynley as Harlow. Judy Garland had begun rehearsals with Lynley as Harlow's mother. Lynley told me that Judy Garland did some very good work for two weeks and then she was off the project. She was replaced by Ginger Rogers. Ginger had replaced Judy in the MGM musical, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949), which reunited Ginger with Fred Astaire. Both biopics portray Harlow as a beautiful but unfortunate Hollywood character who was used, abused. The biopics, both titled HARLOW, came out in 1965.
Back to RED DUST. Harlow plays Vantine and adds new luster and wit to the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold role. She's a wise-cracking, quick-thinking, motor-mouthed hooker who winds up in Saigon. Decades before Barbra Streisand was a chatty hooker in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, there was Harlow in 1932's RED DUST. Gable's no-nonsense macho man character just wants to be alone and have a drink. But life has thrown him and Vantine together -- and she won't shut up. She's trying to make small talk. Vantine winds up trying to explain to him how cheese is made. When I was kid, I watched that scene -- a scene my grandmother and mother loved -- and I laughed so hard that my sides ached. I still laugh.
Still only in her 20s and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, she's so famous that she can lampoon her own image -- which she does delightfully in 1933's BOMBSHELL, a Hollywood-on-Hollywood comedy. Jean Harlow had three MGM releases for 1933 -- HOLD YOUR MAN co-starring Clark Gable, BOMBSHELL and DINNER AT EIGHT.
The Oscar nominees for Best Actress of 1933 were Katharine Hepburn for MORNING GLORY, May Robson for LADY FOR A DAY and Britain's Diana Wynyard for CAVALCADE. Kate won.
After RED DUST, Jean Harlow should have been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1933's DINNER AT EIGHT and BOMBSHELL. She was more than just a Hollywood sex symbol.