This is article appeared in Hollywood magazine in 1935, as publicity for the upcoming China Seas. Clark Gable and Jean Harlow were buddies, and the publicity team at MGM liked to circle that around. Here on the site we’ve got this article about them on the set of Wife vs. Secretary. And This one behind the scenes of Hold Your Man is fun too.
The endearing way he talks about Jean is so sweet. So difficult to wrap your head around the fact that she would be dead in two years, at the age of 26.
Here is what Clark had to say about his buddy Jean in 1935 (Jean’s part about Clark coming up tomorrow!):
To me, Jean always seems to have rather a man’s attitude toward life. I don’t know just how to explain this, but I always feel it when I’m with her. You can talk to her so naturally. She understands and appreciates the things men are interested in. Of course this appeals to any man.
Instead of the slinky evening gowns and bizarre costumes you might expect her to wear, after seeing her on the screen, she usually goes around in a pair of slacks, or a sports skirt, short socks, and sneakers. She seems utterly unconscious of her beauty.
She adores golf. She is an expert fisherman. She loves riding. And she makes no allowances for herself as a woman in these sports. She plays them on an equal basis with men—and discusses them more intelligently than one woman in a hundred.
She never uses her femininity in conversations—to win arguments, for instance, or to put over a point. So many woman suddenly “go feminine” when they think it will turn the tide their way, but I don’t think Jean even thinks of her sex in such circumstances.
She has, too, a complete sense of fairness. I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who is more of a straight shooter. She is fair in the things she does and the things she says. I have seen her, on one occasion, give a bit player an unusual break. The girl had a short line to speak, and then Jean was supposed to interrupt her. The girl had tried awfully hard, but as the scene was to be played she would be hardly noticed. Jean said, “I was an extra myself once, so I know what this means to her. Couldn’t we change the script a little so my line can be delayed—and I won’t have to walk in front of her?”
I’ve never known Jean to “go temperamental,” and when you consider the number of days we have worked together, this is a real tribute. I have seldom seen her out of spirits. Of course, she’s human, and she has occasional flare-ups. But they last only a short time and are always directed where they belong. Usually she is right.
She’s a swell sport. For instance, if I have to “sock” her in a picture—and believe me, it is done with the utmost reluctance!—she never asks me to take it easy. She doesn’t expect me to. When I “dunked” her in the barrel of water in Red Dust, she didn’t seem to mind at all. I’m always a bit embarrassed about such scenes, and her attitude helps. It’s just part of the business to her, and she goes through the retakes, if they’re necessary, like a trouper.
Again, during the making of China Seas, she had a bad cold, and right in the middle of it we had another scene where she had to be soaked. She didn’t complain once, though I’m sure it was anything but pleasant for her. And if she didn’t have such radiant health, it would take her weeks to break up the resulting cold.
One of the characteristics I have in mind when I say she has a man’s attitude is her amazing sincerity. She is always perfectly frank. There is no halfway about her, she treats everyone the same way—director, producer, or fellow actor. When we were making The Secret Six, Wallace Beery once criticized her for some minor detail of her performance. Without hesitation she flared right back at him. Remember, at the time, her position wasn’t nearly so important as his. But he admired her frankness—I believe their friendship dates from that day.
She never keeps things pent up inside herself. She doesn’t nourish a grudge. If she has anything to say, she brings it out into the open, and then forgets about it. I like that.
Looking back on our first picture together, the talks we had will always stand out in my mind. After her success in Hell’s Angels, she was a step ahead of me on the way to success, yet she never made me feel that it was her picture any more than mine.
Neither of us knew much about the business, and we tried to figure things out together so the rest wouldn’t realize how awfully green we really were. I remember Jean would ask me at the end of every scene—“How’m I doing?”
And I asked her the same.
We criticized each other, trying desperately to learn. Nobody else seemed to pay much attention to us. We were not among the chosen few who saw the daily rushes. Every good word Jean heard about me, she would rush to repeat to me. And things that weren’t so good, too, because she knew that is one way of progressing.
We used to plan, jokingly, what we wanted if we ever did get to the top. Jean never particularly wanted fame. The lights and the crowds and the glamour of being a star never seemed to mean much to her, even before she had them. She wanted, sincerely, the happiness of knowing she had done a job well.
If you talked to her directors and other fellow stars, I think you’ll find that she feels the same way today.
She was, I remember, terribly afraid of being typed in “vamp” roles. She was afraid that her part in Hell’s Angels would mark her forever in the eyes of the fans. Red Dust wasn’t much better. But she didn’t complain.
She is, in my opinion, one of Hollywood’s best comediennes, and I feel that she is right in wanting to do more comedy. Certainly few stars in Hollywood could have equaled her wonderful performance in Bombshell. I hope she is given the chance to do more pictures like that.
She is a thoughtful person, considerate of those around her. Every morning she has coffee and doughnuts on the set. Instead of ordering one cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts sent to her dressing room, she orders a huge pot of coffee and a couple of dozen doughnuts for the entire company.
Because of little things like this, every extra I’ve ever talked with adores her. Sometimes they are critical of other stars, who may be, in their eyes, ritzy or up-stage. But Jean stands ace high with all of them.
Having grown out of the extra ranks herself, she has not forgotten her friends and acquaintances among them. Out of every crowd, on our pictures, she will find a familiar face or two. It’s always—“Hello, Eddie!—“Hi, there, Janet!”
She has boundless enthusiasm—a quality so many people outgrow. In many ways she is like a kid in her pleasure over little things. Just the other day a property boy who had worked with her on Bombshell brought her a live rabbit. She couldn’t have been more pleased if it had been an expensive gift.
Because they like her, everyone who works with her tries to make things easier for her—even though she isn’t a demanding person, and prefers to do things for herself. She has told me of making the dance scene in Reckless. She had never danced for the camera and was terribly nervous. She had to do her stuff in front of a hundred or so but players—all of them chosen for their expert dancing. If they had so much as whispered a word of criticism, she told me, she wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. Instead they applauded her, and kept crying out, “That’s the stuff, Jean! You’ve got it now!”
And their enthusiasm meant so much to her that by the third “take” she was dancing like a professional!
It has always been a bond between us that we started at about the same time, and our progress has been more or less parallel. Neither of us can remember “way back to the silent days.” We went to the same class in the same school, in other words, and we’ve been promoted in the same pictures. Of course, in between, we each went separate ways, she with other leading men and I with other leading ladies. After a picture, we make no effort to keep up our friendship. But when we see each other again, we seem to pick up where we left off, regardless of what has happened to us in the meantime. It’s marvelous and rare to have a friend like that. Most friendships are lost unless they are kept alive.
Probably this outburst puts me in the class of her fans. I am. And I think you’ll find that everyone who really knows Jean feels just the same way.