Jean Harlow was born Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri on March 3, 1911. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a housewife. After her birth, her mother divorced her father and moved to Los Angeles, where she tried to become an actress. Unfortunately, her mother failed to get a foothold in acting despite tireless screen testing.
During their time in Hollywood, Jean and her mother were living off of their grandparents, who sent them money every month. After her mother's dreams of acting appeared futile, her grandparents threatened to stop sending money and her mother ended up marrying a man named Marino Bello. The new family moved to Chicago and Jean started studying at Ferry Hall School, which was an expensive private school.
In 1928, Jean married a man named Charles McGrew and moved back to Los Angeles. She had no initial interest in acting, but was encouraged to pursue it after she met a studio executive at Fox Studios. She went to the casting office a few weeks later and signed up for a screen test under her mother's name, Jean Harlow.
Jean was hired on the spot and given a role in her first movie, "Honor Bound". Although the role was small, she was given spots in other silent films, including 1927's "Why is a Plumber?" and 1928's "Moran of the Marines". These films gave her some degree of recognition, but failed to give her major celebrity status.
Her big break came in 1930 when she was cast in the epic Howard Hughes film, "Hell's Angels". In the film, she played the love interest of two friends who find themselves involved in World War 2 as fighter pilots. The film was a huge hit and launched her into stardom overnight.
The next year, she starred in 1931's "The Public Enemy", a gangster epic. In the film, she plays James Cagney's character's love interest, Gwen Allen. The film was a massive success at the box office and further increased her stardom.
In 1932, her contract was bought by MGM Studios and started getting better roles that showcased her comedic talent as well as her good looks. Her first film under the new contract was 1932's "Red-Headed Woman", followed by "Red Dust", with Clark Gable.
During the production of "Red Dust", a scandal erupted when Harlow's second husband, Paul Bern, was found dead in her bedroom. He was bare naked and had a bullet hole in his head, but she was found innocent of rumors of murder that the media propagated. The public managed to look past the scandal and her popularity rose even further with audiences.
In 1933, Harlow was involved in a well-publicized affair with boxing champion Max Baer. Once his wife found out, she threatened to divorce him and name Harlow as the cause for "alienating his affection". MGM Studios arranged a marriage between Harlow and Harold Rosson, a cinematographer, to diffuse the situation and avoid scandal. The Baers divorced seven months after the marriage, keeping a low media profile.
In 1937, Jean contracted a bad case of influenza that she managed to recover from, but not without some physical damage. She was diagnosed with kidney failure soon after, which was then an untreatable condition. During the final stages of filming "Saratoga", she collapsed on set and was taken to the hospital, where she died on June 7, 1937. MGM managed to finish the film after her death and release it and the film ended up being her most popular film ever.