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?