75 years ago today, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard attended the funeral of 26 year old Jean Harlow. Jean was a dear friend of Clark’s. They starred together in The Secret Six, Red Dust, Hold Your Man, China Seas, Wife vs. Secretary and Saratoga. He loved her lack of pretense and how casual and free spirited she was. While everyone else called her “The Baby,” he called her “Sis.” Theirs was not a romantic relationship; he was like her protective older brother. They were filming Saratoga together when, after weeks of looking bloated and feeling fatigued, she collapsed on the set. She died just a few days later.
Carole Lombard never co-starred with Jean, sadly, but she was very fond of her. At the time of her death, Jean was dating William Powell, Carole’s ex-husband. In fact, the two couples had double-dated to the Academy Awards just a few months prior.
The studio decided to scrap Saratoga altogether but fans and theater owners pressured MGM to release The Baby’s last film. Various stand-ins were used for Jean and her voice, and many of her lines were given to supporting players. Clark said that working with the stand-in was like “holding a ghost.” Saratoga became one of the highest grossing films of the year.
A moment of silence was observed at 9:00am at all the Hollywood studios on the morning of the funeral–June 9, 1937. The funeral service was held at Forest Lawn Glendale, in the Wee Kirk o’Heather Chapel and Louis B. Mayer made sure it was a grand event. Fans clamoured at the gates of the cemetary and photographers scaled fences. The lawn was covered in flowers that had overflowed from inside the chapel. Clark served as a pallbearer and usher and Carole saved him a seat. All of Hollywood turned out to say goodbye to Jean, with 250 mourners packing into the small chapel. Jeanette MacDonald sang Jean’s favorite song, “Indian Love Call” and dueted with Nelson Eddy on “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.”
The grand spectacle of Jean’s funeral led Carole Lombard to tell Clark to make sure that when her time came it was not an elaborate circus. Clark obeyed her wishes.
Jean’s elaborate marble crypt in the Sanctuary of Benediction inside the Great Mausoluem, Forest Lawn Glendale cost William Powell a reported $25,000.
It is gorgeous, with a bench and its own stained glass skylight. There are three spaces in the crypt, Jean’s is simply marked “Our Baby.”
Her neighbor was Irving Thalberg and she was just a few yards away from her co-star in Dinner at Eight, Marie Dressler. In the years that followed, the hallway completely filled up, with Red Skelton, Norma Shearer and Sid Grauman joining. William Powell’s parents were also entombed in this hallway. Jean’s mother,”Mama Jean,” occupies one of the other spaces in the crypt, but the third is empty–forever. Many speculate that Powell intended that space for himself. If so, it didn’t come to fruition, for he is buried in Cathedral City next to his son and his widow.
It’s amazing how Jean died at such a young age, so early in her career, but yet she resonates with so many people. Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren and Carole Landis, famous blondes in their own right, all named her as an influence. She was young, sweet and caring–completely the anti-diva, and was at the beginning of a new page in her career when her life was suddenly whisked away. Jean is truly a reminder that life is short and to make the most of every day.
I have no doubt that Clark was thinking of Jean when he later said:
“That’s what’s so strange about life. The brave ones don’t make it.”
Rest in peace, Sis.
*Pics of present-day Forest Lawn Glendale taken by me, October 2011.
Welcome to Dear Mr. Gable, the site that celebrates The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable.
Subscribe for e-mail updates
The Gable Gallery
What I’m Reading and Watching
Disclaimer© 2009-2013 Dear Mr. Gable | dearmrgable.com, all rights reserved. This site was created for educational purposes and is in no way affiliated with the family or estate of Clark Gable. No copyright infringement is intended.
- Article Archive
- What I’ve Been Reading and Watching
- Radio Shows Index
- Miscellaneous Radio Appearances
- The Silver Theater
- March of Dimes
- Mail Call
- Good News
- The Gulf Screen Guild Theater
- Lux Radio Theater
- The Chase and Sanborn Hour
- Greek War Relief Benefit
- Command Performance