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I'm writing about the pre-Code Jean Harlow flick Red-Headed Woman, which is filled with Anita Loos' laughs and loaded with 1932 dynamite. Jean Harlow is as sexy with titian hair as she is with platinum blonde locks. And only Harlow could make you feel sympathy for a gold digger like Lillian "Lil" "Red" Andrews. In any other actress' hands, the character of Lil might have been an unsympathetic, vile tart but Miss Harlow makes her so humorous, so likable that you can't help but smile over her exploits. Lil's a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who uses sex to get what she wants.
Lil rooms with wisecracking hairdresser Sally (Una Merkel), has a bootlegger boyfriend, and works as a secretary at the big coal business owned by the rich and ritzy Legendres, Junior and Senior (played by Chester Morris and Lewis Stone).
Fortunately for Lil, nearly all the men in her life think with their third legs and are boobs for boobs. This makes her "job" as a gold digging, homewrecker a whole lot easier. Not that Lil lacks sex appeal to get the "job" done. She first uses her body to obtain and manipulate Legendre Junior's purse strings. After Lil marries Junior (Chester Morris) for wealth, she then tries to blackmail and bed her way toward social acceptance by her husband's peers. But one too many indiscretions—with the chauffeur—takes the bloom off her rich man's bud, and not even reconciliation with her hubby works now. Eventually she skips off scot-free to a charmed future as a noble concubine—with a racehorse, a titled lover, and the same chauffeur all her very own.
Lil's score list in a 79 minute movie: 1. Al, the bootlegger (William Pawley) 2. Bill Legendre, Jr. (Chester Morris) 3. Charles B. Gaerste (Henry Stephenson) 4. Albert (Charles Boyer) 5. Unnamed Parisian millionaire. I think William Legendre, Sr. (Lewis Stone) and Uncle Fred (Harvey Clark) are the only men who manage to keep their trousers buttoned when Lil's around.
"Red-Headed Woman," words and music by Raymond B. Egan and Richard A. Whiting, is the film's theme song. Listen below:
Jack Conway was an actor turned director and producer. He was with M-G-M as a contract director from 1925-1948. He directed Jean Harlow in four films: Red-Headed Woman (1932), The Girl from Missouri (1934), Libeled Lady (1936), and Saratoga (1937).
Katharine Brush's 1930 novel Young Man of Manhattan was made into a film starring Claudette Colbert, Norman Foster, and Ginger Rogers. Rogers' character, Puff Randolph, utters the cool line, "Cigarette me, big boy."
Brush's 1931 novel Red-Headed Woman was adapted by Anita Loos into the film of the same name.
Katharine Brush's 1946 short story "Birthday Party" is often taught in literature classes and appeared on the 2005 Advanced Placement English Literature Exam. Read it here.
Anita Loos was a screenwriter famous for a colossal number of films. Just a few of her hits are Red-Headed Woman (1932; writer), Hold Your Man (1933; screenplay; story), San Francisco (1936; writer), Saratoga (1937; screenplay; story), The Women (1939; screenplay), Blossoms in the Dust (1941; screenplay), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945; uncredited).
Loos was also a playwright, known for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949) and Gigi (1951), and an author, famously writing the novels Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1927).
|Jean Harlow and Anita Loos|
Douglas Shearer was a pioneer sound designer and recording director who played a key role in the advancement of sound technology for motion pictures. He worked at M-G-M with his sister, Norma Shearer.
Cedric Gibbons was an art director and production designer for M-G-M. He is credited as the designer of the Oscar statuette in 1928. He was nominated 38 times for the Academy Award for Best Production Design and won the Oscar 11 times. Gibbons also made significant contributions to movie theater architecture. He was married to actresses Dolores del Rio and Hazel Brooks.
Adrian Adolph Greenberg, known mononymously as Adrian, was M-G-M's costume designer from 1928-1941. He worked with Joan Crawford 28 times, Norma Shearer 18 times, and Jean Harlow 9 times. Adrian famously insisted on the best materials and workmanship in the creation of his designs. Though openly gay, he was married to Janet Gaynor from 1939 until his death in 1959.
Harold Rosson was a cinematographer who was nominated for five Academy Awards for his work on: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Boom Town (1940), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), and The Bad Seed (1956).
In 1936, Rosson was awarded an Honorary Oscar for the color cinematography of the 1936 David O. Selznick production The Garden of Allah.
Rosson was briefly married to Jean Harlow.
Blanche Sewell was a noted film editor at M-G-M from 1925 until her death in 1949. She edited Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and many others.
Jean Harlow, born in 1911 as Harlean Harlow Carpenter, was a wildly popular film actress and sex symbol of the 1930s. Nicknamed "Baby," the "Blonde Bombshell," and the "Platinum Blonde," she died at age 26 of kidney failure.
Chester Morris was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role in 1929's Alibi. He portrayed Boston Blackie in the Boston Blackie film series. In later years, he appeared on Broadway in Blue Denim, Advise and Consent, and The Subject Was Roses.
Lewis Stone was an actor known for his role as Judge James Hardy in the Andy Hardy film series and as an M-G-M contract player. Stone was one of the most prolific actors during the early years of the film-making industry.
Leila Hyams was a model, vaudeville and film actress. Her film career began in 1924 and ended when she retired in 1936. She appeared in more than 50 film roles in those 12 years.
With her Kewpie-doll looks and wry line delivery, Una Merkel was a popular second lead in a number of films of the 1930s, usually playing the wisecracking best friend of the heroine, supporting actresses such as Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, and Loretta Young.
Henry Stephenson was a British stage and film actor. He portrayed friendly and wise gentlemen in many films of the 1930s and 1940s. Stephenson appeared with Errol Flynn in four films: Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Prince and the Pauper (1937), and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).
May Robson was a major stage actress in the late 19th and early 20th century. Robson was the oldest person to enjoy a major Hollywood career and the oldest to receive an Oscar nomination, for her leading role in Lady for a Day in 1933. She usually played crabby old ladies with hearts of gold.
Charles Boyer was a stage and silent film star in France before coming to the United States. His first Hollywood break came with a very small role in Jean Harlow's Red-Headed Woman (1932).
Harvey Clark was a stage and film actor. He appeared in 198 films between 1915 and 1938.
After the credits, the first 1:18 of the picture features snappy dialogue by Anita Loos. Some of the film's best remembered lines are from this small portion of the movie.
Jean Harlow's first words as she reclines in a salon chair with her perky breasts draped in satin:
"So gentlemen prefer blondes, do they? Yes, they do."
In the next scene, Harlow adjusts her dress as she sexily saunters over to the window. She pulls the skirt of the dress tightly over her legs and asks an unseen woman the following question:
Harlow: "Can you see through this?"
Unseen woman: I'm afraid you can, Miss."
Harlow: "I'll wear it."
The next scene features a shot of Harlow's gorgeous gams. A newspaper falls to the floor. She had cut a headshot of her boss from the newspaper and inserts the photo into a frame on her garter. She says:
"The boss's picture. Well, it'll get me more there than it will hanging on the wall."
In the final scene Lil (Jean Harlow) meets Sally (Una Merkel) at a store with a soda fountain. Their conversation:
Lil: "I'm on my way up to the boss's house with his mail."
Sally: "Why didn't his secretary do it?"
Lil: "Because I swiped it off her desk. These are important and they gotta be answered right away. Maybe I'll get a chance to stay and take dictation."
Sally: "What'll that getcha?"
Lil: "Don't be dumb. His wife's in Cleveland."
Sally: "Say! Bill Legendre's crazy about his wife."
Lil: "Well, he's a man, isn't he?"
More racy (and humorous) dialogue by Anita Loos. Friends and roommates Lil and Sally are quite a pair. Harlow even flashes a bare breast while changing into her nightwear.
Lil: "And there we were like an uncensored movie, when in walks Mrs. William Legendre, Jr. and catches us! Right in the old family parlor!"
Sally: "Ahhh! Oh, you dirty little homewrecker! Whaddya think that's gonna getcha?"
Lil: "Listen, Sally, I made up my mind a long time ago, I'm not gonna spend my whole life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks."
Sally: "Well, I hope you don't get hit by a train while you're crossin' over."
Lil: "A girl's a fool that doesn't get ahead. Say, it's just as easy to hook a rich man as it is to get hooked by a poor one."
Sally: "Oh! So that's what you're gonna do!"
Lil: "That's it. I'm gonna amount to something in this town. You'll see!
Lil: "Well, you son-of-a-sea-snake! Have you got on my new pajamas? Yeah, well you shake right out of 'em, Hortense."
Lil: "I'm too important these days to sleep informally. What if there'd be a fire?"
Sally: "You'd have to cover up to keep from being recognized."
Lil: "Say mug, let's have a little more respect outta you, now that I belong to one of the fine old families."
Sally: "Oh, yeah? Well if I were you I'd go a little bit slow."
Lil: "Whadda you mean by that?"
Sally: "Well, Bill Legendre and his wife might get together and decide that you were merely a strange interlude."
(Jean Harlow's bare right boob appears at 1:14-1:15 in the film clip above.)
Lil: "Strange interlude, nothing! When I kiss 'em, they stay kissed for a long time."
Sally: "Well, see you don't get left holdin' the bag, sweetheart, full of nothin' but air. You better hang on to that bootlegger of yours."
Lil: "What? Go on with Al after Bill Legendre? Oh no, I've started on the upgrade, and whatever happens, baby, I'm in the big leagues now."
The famous (infamous in 1932) S and M scene
Lil: "Oh! Do it again! I like it! Do it again!"
The Hays Office approved Red-Headed Woman after the elimination of some suggestive dialogue and shots of Jean Harlow. But this sadomasochistic scene was considered okay for public consumption in 1932? I'm surprised it wasn't retooled or cut. It's one of the reasons the film was banned in the UK until 1965.
Red-Headed Woman Images
|Likeness of Jean Harlow on cover of Photoplay Aug. 1932|
|Portraits of Jean Harlow|
|Colorized photo of Jean Harlow|
|Chester Morris and Jean Harlow|
1, 2 and 5 feature Chester Morris and Jean Harlow.
3 features Chester Morris, Jean Harlow and Leila Hyams.
4 features Lewis Stone, Chester Morris and Jean Harlow.