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Jean Harlow and Me

Jean Harlow was my grandfather’s cousin. So does that make her a great-aunt to me? I’m not sure what she was to me, but to the rest of the world she’s one of those blond bombshell movie stars that met an early, tragic death.

My grandfather, Paul Carpenter (Jean Harlow’s real name was Harlene Carpenter) was one of the biggest influences in my life. Even though he died when I was only seven, I can remember him as if we were just visiting yesterday. We spent hours together leaning over the dining room table—him teaching me how to write and read. So I knew how to read before I ever went to kindergarten. He was an artist who made his living working at newspapers in the layout department. I have several of his paintings, which I will cherish forever.

But back to Jean—or Harlean. It was always a part of family legend that she’d written to him over the years, particularly when he was in the war. I’m certain my grandmother saved them for years and years—but unfortunately, we’ve not ever found them. We still might. After all, we are still finding things—bits and pieces of recipes, photos, old letters from other family members—in the boxes of boxes of papers she left behind.

Which brings me to my point. How fabulous would it have been for my grandmother to have made a scrapbook full of those letters documenting my grandfather and Jean Harlow’s correspondence?  But, of course, she didn’t. I wonder why. She had pasted together many scrapbooks over the years—full of photos of event, vacations, or even newspaper clippings. But still, it’s hard to see any real piece of either my gram’s or my grandfather’s personalities on those pages. Now, a letter? What would that say about them? About the way they wrote? What they thought about? Were there any private jokes between Jean and my grandfather? We’ll probably never know.

Still, it’s fun to think about being related to Jean Harlow, no matter how distant. How about you? Are you related to anybody famous?

8 thoughts on “Jean Harlow and Me

  1. Cathy says:

    How cool! My ex is famous… at least, his voice is.

    It’s amazing to find old letters and such–since my brother moved in with my mom so that she could continue living in her home (she’s pushing 93, but still pretty sharp and spry, though slowing down), he’s been trying (on and off) to organize piles of stuff. Nothing, it seems, ever leaves that house. My paternal grandmother lived with us all through my childhood, and her old bedroom and closet still contains boxes of letters and ephemera. The last time I was “home,” I went through a couple and found letters from my father’s dad–a man who, according to family lore, abandoned the family and divorced my grandmother when my dad was 3. But it was clear from the letters that he didn’t completely abandon them–most of them were letters to my dad that had apparently contained a dollar or a fiver along with claims that that was all he could afford. One letter referenced a tennis ball my dad’s dad sent him for his birthday–he had heard Dad had gotten a tennis racket, and he hoped he could use a ball–it was all he could afford.

    Those letters completely changed my perception of my dad’s dad (hesitate to call him a grandfather, although I guess he is technically–I never saw him, and nothing I ever heard about him was good, except that he was–like my dad–an accomplished engineer and inventor).

    I hope you find those letters one day!

  2. Jen on the Edge says:

    I believe she would be your first cousin twice removed. (She and your grandfather were first cousins; you are two generations removed from that relationship.)

    I really hope those letters are found one day.

  3. Tara Swan Cheng says:

    I’m not sure how to reach you but my grandmother was her first cousin as well. Ann Lynn Green. How exciting! My grandmother had a few photos of them in their younger days that got passed around our family along with many other things after her death.

  4. John Spahn says:

    Well Mollie, you should enjoy watching your Great Aunt on TCM. Sunday August 7, 2016 is Jean Harlow day all day. You can watch many of her films. Also, you can read her autobiography free on Kindle from midnight Aug 5-midnight Aug 7, 2016. (The Girl From Missouri). This is the real Jean Harlow. Enjoy!

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