How nice it must have been during a cold winter night during the Great Depression to be able to slip into a neighborhood bijou and watch Jean Harlow light up a screen with her matchless combination of earthy sexiness and well-timed wisecracks.
I caught Hold Your Man a couple of weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies. A comedy-drama, I thought it works best in the first half, when Harlow and Gable have some priceless dialogue. You can just feel Harlow’s body as she walks around in the form-fitting dresses, and stands with a gentle insolence with her hand on her hip. Then the movie turns more dramatic and too sentimental. Still, I could see how just looking at Jean on the big screen could have taken an audience on a mini-vacation from its woes.
Harlow’s platinum blond hair and slinky outfits had women across the country adapting the look for their own. You can get a sense of what New York felt like in Harlow’s prime when you look at the paintings of Reginald Marsh, who populated his canvases with images of Harlowesque types striding through the tumult of New York City, whether on the streets, the beaches, the dance halls, or burlesque stages.
The reason why Jean Harlow is so sexy still is because she makes us laugh. Even though we can’t get her to sit down on our individual laps, she gets a real physical response out of us–a physical release–when she evokes our laughter. A beautiful woman with a warm-hearted sense of humor (as opposed to the cutting kind) is the most alluring of all females. And Jean was very generous, even democratic, in the distribution of her charms through the medium of comedy.
Hmm. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I can imagine her sitting on my lap, too…