An Afternoon in Harlow Heaven

Thanks to my friend Richard Adkins of Hollywood Heritage, I was given the great treat Saturday of being able to attend the book signing for Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira’s newest book, Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital 1928-1937 (Angel City Press), which was held in Jean Harlow’s former home on Club View Drive in the Westwood Hills.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect day or a more perfect setting for the occasion, which was held just two days after Harlow’s 100th birthday. The house has been so lovingly maintained throughout the years that you could easily imagine Jean bounding down the stairs on her way to the studio or quietly curled up by the big fireplace in the sunken living room studying her latest script. Aiding in the effect were a series of photographs placed all around the house showing Jean in the same spot during her time there.

Then…

Now…

Then…

Now…

Then…

Now…

Jean, Norma Shearer and Paul Bern, Behind is Irving Thalberg, Mama Jean (Hidden) and Marino Bello

It’s one thing to be somewhere you think a famous person once was, but to be able to actually stand or sit exactly where they were was a special treat clearly enjoyed by the guests who ranged in diversity from Holly Madison to Leonard Maltin (How much more diverse can you get than that?). While Mark and Darrell graciously signed copies of their book in the sun filled breakfast room, the guests sipped on wine and noshed on snacks laid out in the spacious dining room. As I stood there happily munching on my cheese/salami/cracker combo, history suddenly tapped me on the shoulder again and I was reminded of the famous photograph, taken in this very room, of Jean and her new groom Paul Bern, cutting their wedding cake, surrounded by a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood royalty including Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, David and Irene Mayer Selznick and others, on that long ago day in 1932.

The event’s hosts, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Chandler could not have been more charming – or trusting – as they allowed the guests free rein to wander about the house, both upstairs and down, which everyone did, all the while marveling at how beautiful the home was and how miraculous it was that it hadn’t been remodeled beyond recognition. Although a few of the bathrooms and the kitchen had undergone the inevitable march of progress, it was astounding to see such rare period details remaining untouched such as the rich mahogany woodwork featured throughout the house and the green and black tile work in what had been Jean’s own bathroom. What seemed to strike Richard and I as most amazing were the incredible gothic-looking doorknobs still in place after eighty-two years.

The name “Club View” is not a misnomer. All the houses lining this stretch of Club View have just that, a beautiful view of the Los Angeles Country Club and beyond from their ridge top perches. 1353 Club View was one of several speculative homes built on the street by developers I.W. Adams and Associates in 1929, but it appears they lavished extra attention on this particular one, declaring it to be their “masterpiece.” William H. Kraemer, the home’s architect, may not be a household name, but he did a truly fine job with his design of this stone and timber English Country home. It is filled with wonderful period details and its thoughtfully laid out design makes the home appear much bigger than it actually is. It is a very beguiling home that charms today as much if not more than it did back in 1929 and everyone who appreciates historic and beautiful old houses owes a debt of gratitude to its excellent custodians, Dr. and Mrs. Chandler. For more current pictures of the house click here.

The El Cortez (later Harvey) Hotel at 5640 Santa Monica Boulevard was another William H. Kraemer design (1927)

The Club View neighborhood has had an interesting celebrity history in itself. None other than the most famous dog in film history, Rin-Tin-Tin, was Harlow’s near neighbor down Club View, living in his own little house at the rear of 1336 Club View Drive until his death at the ripe old age of 14 in August 1932. Upon his death, his owner/trainer Lee Duncan and his wife arranged to have the great film dog buried in the backyard where he presumably still rests today. Jean Harlow, a great animal lover, must have enjoyed having Rinty so near and there is even an old Hollywood legend that the famed canine died in Harlow’s arms (!). A few years after Harlow’s departure, the “Invisible Man,” famed character actor Claude Rains, took up quarters across from the former Harlow home at 1354 Club View.

We cannot ever know just exactly how many beautiful young people have been drawn to Hollywood by the lure of the movies. We do know they are in the countless thousands. While a precious few have been able to grasp the elusive brass ring of stardom, even fewer have ascended to the level of Hollywood icon. Jean Harlow, who died at the tender age of 26, is one of those rare few. Her beauty, no matter how extraordinary, would not have been enough, however, nor even talent. There has to be something more, something unexplainable, something that connects with us in a way we cannot even adequately express, but we know is there, that elevates her to that lofty perch. Perhaps Marie Dressler, as Carlotta Vance in Dinner at Eight (1932) expressed it best when, after Jean Harlow’s character declares she’d read a book that said one day a machine would replace every profession, she deadpanned “Oh my dear, that’s something you need never worry about.”

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Darrell and Mark’s beautiful Harlow in Hollywood. The Amazon link is here and Angel City Press is here. It is not only done with love, it is done with expertise and in looking through the incredible collection of rare photographs artfully assembled here you can easily understand why, a century after her birth, Jean Harlow will never go out of style.

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14 Responses to An Afternoon in Harlow Heaven

  1. Steven says:

    The House is wonderful, although I think the current owners went a little too heavy with the white paint! Harlow’s former bedroom lacks the beauty and warmth it had when she lived there. Too stark for my taste I think she’d be shocked to see that today!

    • Steve says:

      Oh, but that’s the son’s room today. I think Jean would understand why his room no longer looks like hers! And in L.A. if the only problem with the house is that the paint may be a little too white, we count ourselves lucky. They tear everything down out here!

    • Lorrie says:

      I agree. If I had a historic house the only thing I would do with it is try to furnish it as much as the original was as possible. That way the spirit of the house is still alive. Why buy a historic home if you are going to ignore it’s character ? I’d do the gardens in the same way too, original as possible. I hope all the stairs in front of the house still exist….

    • Lorri says:

      I agree. Modern is usually stark and has no soul. Makes you wonder why anyone with modern taste would even buy an wonderful old house.

  2. Given Jean Harlow’s deference to her mother’s taste rather than her own, it’s hard to say what color the rooms would have been – although Harlow liked white and pale yellow, which is why Lionel Barrymore had yellow roses delivered to her crypt for many years following her death. In addition to her mother, of course Harlow had two friends/associates at M-G-M who could also have aided in the interior decoration as both designer Adrian and star William Haines had interior decorating businesses at the time of Jean’s residence at this house.

  3. You RASCAL! What a treat…

    I can’t imagine, I’ve read so much about this house. And how wonderful the way it’s been preserved.

    Remember, paint is easily reversible. Fake Mediterranean/Tuscan Bulbous Monstrosities with Riverboat Gambler Balustrades erected on the ruins of historic sites are not.

  4. The house on Easton Drive in Beverly Hills is beautiful.
    I was on that street today.

    George Vreeland Hill

  5. Lorrie says:

    Are there any inside photos anywhere of the Harlow house on Easton Drive ? From any time period ? There are a lot of photos taken of the outside but I have never seen one taken from the inside.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Lorrie:

      Thanks so much for the comments and the question. It’s funny that I’ve seen many photos of the Beverly Glen and Clubview interiors but so few of the Easton house. I feel like I’ve seen some somewhere, but the one that always comes to mind is the infamous shot of Paul Bern’s body. Not exactly the kind of Easton house interior I’m sure you’re looking for! I feel like there was a layout in an old movie magazine or maybe Pictorial California that I saw once, but I can’t place it. If I remember I’ll be happy to let you know. It’s a very interesting house!

      • I am very interested in seeing interior photographs of the Easton Dr property as well. If anyone knows of any, please let me know where I may see them. I’ve seen a total of four: The death photo, which does not interest me, a photo of them reading together by a fireplace, and the staircase, usually shown in the telling of Sharon Tate’s supposed vision on the staircase, and one of the medieval painting on the staircase. I’ve seen several photos of the outside, but only those four images of the inside. I am mostly interested in knowing if the kitchen was attached or separate from the house. Sounds like a crazy question, but for some reason I have it in my head that the kitchen was separate from the living area. Also, I’m fascinated by its floor-plan, the way it looks from the outside intrigues me. It looks like a beautiful house, more remote, and the tragedy aside, I think it was probably a happy home while they were there.I would love to buy the Easton House. I am fascinated by it. I’ve been to Beverly Hills a few times and each time I drove down Easton St just to be near it. But of course, there was nothing to be seen from the road.

        Thank you.

      • Lorri says:

        Ok thank you very much.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Can’t believe what they did to Katharine Hepburn’s Fenwick house! They ruined it.
    Made it into their own monstrosity.

  7. Karen Tomolonius Clayton says:

    I know this is late, but … I enjoyed the story but was bothered by the grammatical error: “What seemed to strike Richard and I …” If you leave out Richard, you would use ME, not I. It is that simple. Figure out whether to use I or ME, then add the other name(s) first, to be courteous. A pairing of names and pronouns does not always require “I.” Thanks for listening.

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