motion-picture actor and sex symbol, known as the Blonde Bombshell. Born
Harlean Carpenter in Kansas City, Missouri, she married at the age of 16
and moved to Los Angeles, where she supplemented the household income by
working as an extra in feature films. She soon landed roles in short
comedies directed by Hal Roach, including Double Whoopee (1928) with
Laurel and Hardy. After divorcing her husband and adopting her mother's
maiden name, Harlow was discovered by American producer-director Howard
Hughes. He cast her in the 1930 sound version of his aviation
spectacular Hell's Angels, and she became famous for delivering the line
"Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?"
The resulting publicity led to starring roles in the gangster film The
Public Enemy (1931), the comedy Platinum Blonde (1931), and other
pictures in which Harlow was cast for her sex appeal.
Her image and fortunes changed after she signed a contract with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer(MGM) studio in 1932. Constrained by a newly instituted censorship code, the studio played down Harlow's sexuality and encouraged her to expand her acting range. She delivered delightful comic performances in several major features, notably Dinner at Eight (1934) and Libeled Lady (1936). Although Harlow was a top box-office attraction by the mid-1930s, her personal life was in turmoil. She married and divorced two more times (her second husband committed suicide in 1932) and was briefly engaged to actor William Powell, her costar in Libeled Lady. Plagued by ill health, she collapsed on the set of Saratoga (1937) and was hospitalized for kidney failure. She died of uremic poisoning, triggered by kidney failure, at the age of 26.