|Hollywoodland||Jun 8 2011|
Above is the front page of New York’s Daily News, from today 1937, with a headline about the death the previous day of starlet Jean Harlow. Harlow was world famous, and her passing, which came suddenly, or at least seemed to, triggered wild speculation in the tabloid press because of confusion over what had killed her. Left to fill the fact vacuum, the tabs claimed she had died variously of alcoholism, complications from an abortion, over-dieting, sunstroke, poisoning due to her platinum hair dye, and VD. Eventually doctors realized she had died of kidney failure, and had actually been ill for a long time. She had been fatigued for weeks, and the previous year had suffered a bout of septicemia and sustained a bad sunburn—both indicators of kidney dysfunction. But a correct early diagnosis probably would have made little difference, since there was no treatment for kidney related illnesses in 1937—penicillin wasn’t in commercial usage yet, and dialysis was a decade away. Harlow was twenty-six when she died. Below is a selection of publicity photos of the woman nicknamed the Blonde Bombshell. She was one of the first sex symbols in American cinema, and remains one of the most revered.