We are delighted to welcome back our friend Mollie Cox Bryan, whose new book, The Jean Harlow Bombshell, is out this month. We Chicks can’t wait to read it, especially since Mollie told us an incredible story about her connection to Jean the last time she was here. Welcome back and congratulations on the book, Mollie!
Chances are, if you’ve heard of the movie star Jean Harlow, one of the first things you think about is her platinum blonde hair. Indeed, she was famous for it—among other things, her snappy one-liners, her comedic acting talent, and her curves.
Today, if you want to sport that platinum shade of blonde, it’s much easier to attain than it was in 1930. The eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes came up with a moniker for her “the Platinum Blonde.” So, the name came first, then the color. The secret recipe was revealed decades later by her personal hairdresser: peroxide, ammonia, Clorox and Lux flakes. Which probably burned like heck.
Harlow repeated the painful process once a week, knowing that her hair was as much a part of her image as the long silky tight-fitting gowns she donned. This regime took a toll and she lost huge chunks of her hair prompting her to use wigs and, later, sport dark hair colors.
In 1937, age 26, and at the height of her career, Harlow died of kidney failure and uremic poisoning. Some believe that the heavy-duty dying process may have led to her demise. Ammonia and Clorox, when mixed, create hydrochloric acid, a noxious gas that can lead to kidney damage when inhaled. But this is just a theory.
Most likely, Harlow’s kidneys were damaged when she contracted scarlet fever at age 14. Kidney damage is a slow progressing disease often remaining undetected for years, especially in the 1930s. Harlow was also plagued with a host of health problems during her short life, including polio, meningitis, pneumonia, multiple bouts of influenza, and alcoholism—though the harsh hair bleach probably didn’t help matters.
But Jean Harlow was not the only movie star to go to such beauty extremes. It goes without saying (I hope) that you should not try any of this at home:
• Audrey Hepburn’s signature doe-eyed look came by separating her lashes one by one using a safety pin.
• Joan Crawford made her eyes “sparkle” by cleaning them twice a day with boric acid.
• Clara Bow restricted her diet to only 500 calories a day and rolled around the ground in tight clothing to lose weight.
• To achieve baby soft skin, Elizabeth Taylor exfoliated her face with a razor instead of a facial scrub.
Even though my newest book, The Jean Harlow Bombshell, is not a historical, I researched the time period, Hollywood, and actors, and I have to say I was the most fun research I’ve ever done. I have special place in my heart for Jean Harlow, as we’re distantly related. So she’s my favorite actor of the time—how about you? Who’s your favorite classic Hollywood actor? Answer in the comments to be entered to win an e-book of The Jean Harlow Bombshell.
Mollie Cox Bryan is a writer of women’s stories. Her stories have many forms: cookbooks, articles, essays, poetry and fiction. Mollie grew up near Pittsburgh, Pa., and attended Point Park University, where she received a B.A. in Journalism and Communications.
Mollie moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where she held a number of writing jobs, and has written about a diverse array of subjects, such as construction, mathematics education, and life insurance.
While working in the editorial field, Mollie lead local poetry workshops and was selected to participate in the prestigious Jenny McKean Moore Poetry Workshop. She was honored with an Agatha Award nomination for her first novel, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. Several books in the Cumberland Creek series have received People’s Choice nominations from the Library of Virginia.