Rumors circulated about Harlow and her mother being Christian Scientists who refused medical treatment, leading to Harlow's death in 1937. There appears to be little truth to these rumors. Harlow actually was receiving medical treatment from doctors, and was not being prayed over by Christian Scientists, when she died.
A number of correspondents who have written to us and sources we have seen indicate that Jean Harlow's mother was an active Christian Scientist, although she may not have been a member when Jean was born. There are conflicting reports about the degree to which Jean Harlow herself was or was not raised as a Christian Scientist, and the degree to which she was interested in the faith as an adult.
Harlow was considered the most popular "sex symbol" in Hollywood when she died at the age of 26.
From: "An Interview with Leatrice Gilbert Fountain: Part 2" in Leatrice Gilbert Fountain: Daughter of Hollywood Legends, posted on The Silents Majority website; interview conducted in 1998 by Silents Majority correspondent Sheryl Stinchcum; URL: http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/Guest/lgfviewc.htm (viewed 3 August 2002):
SS: You grew up surrounded by celebrities. Which ones were you friendly with?From Platinum Girl: The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow, by Eve Golden (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991), pg. 13:
Leatrice: I remember Jean Harlow very well. She was a Christian Scientist and my grandmother was her "practitioner," or healer-advisor, and my uncle was her agent.
Jean Harlow was born into a singularly ordinary world... Kansas City, Missouri... was safe, calm,and nurturning; from the perspective of a hectic adulthood, youth spent there might seem one long Sunday School picnic.Platinum Girl, pg. 25:
The actress was born into this world on March 3, 1911. Her parents were dentist Mont Clair Carpenter and his young wife, Jean Poe Harlow Carpenter... ...the girl was named Harlean. Even after the christening, though, her family called her "The Baby," a nickname that stuck for life."
...Harlean's father came from old Pennsylvania stock... In 1872 Abraham and Dianna Carpenter [Jean Harlow's grandparents] followed the mass of pioneers to the vast, lonely Midwest...
[Jean Harlow] was enrolled in a French Catholic girls school for the winter-spring semester of 1926 [at the age of 15], an arrangement that lasted about five minutes. The "Baby Jeritza" of Hollywood was just about as fond of the nuns as they were of her, and she startted a campaign to get transferred to a more congenial school.Platinum Girl, pg. 213:
...Fresh from her brief bout with Catholic school, Harlean once again became the local flaming youth.
The death of Jean Harlow hit the front page of every newspaper on Tuesday morning with a mixture of genuine grief and inaccuracy. Jean's illness had been so underestimated and misinterpreted that all kinds of bizarre rumors sprang up.The funeral, from Platinum Girl, pg. 215:
The most popular (later perpetuated by Irving Shulman) had a starry-eyed Christian Scientist Mama Jean imprisoning her daughter, praying over, and denying medical treatment: "The air is filled with evil vibrations!" she supposedly ranted. "Evil is struggling to stay inside Jean. . . . She's just pretending, to make a fool of me. I hate her!" This is, of course, sheer nonsense, though for years the Church of Christ, Scientist, has found itself in the position of defending Mama Jean, who was not, in fact, a Christian Scientist; although a Christian Science service was read at Jean's funeral, Mama Jean declared, "I have no creed, no denominational religion." Indeed, it was she who insisted on medical help when Jean caught the flu in February of 1937. Kay Mulvey stated that Jean "was such a little trouper that she made little" of her illness, but that "had she [Mama Jean] known that she needed a doctor that soon, she would have had one." Far from being held prisoner that week, Jean had the constant attention of Dr. Fishbaugh and Blanche Williams, as well as regular visits from Powell. Medical bulletins detailed exactly what treatments she was receiving, and bedside prayer was not among them."
On Wednesday, June 9, MGM closed its doors for Jean's funeral. At the Wee Kirk o' the Heather in Glendale, she lay in a silver and bronze coffin, looking "as though she were asleep. . . "The funeral, from Platinum Girl, pg. 216:
Jeanette MacDonald sang "Indian Love Call," Nelson Eddy followed with "Ah, Sweed Mystery of Life," and Genevieve Smith read a Christian Science eulogy. Jean's stand-in, Barbara Brown, was overcome and had to be led sobbing from the ceremony...From Jean Harlow Trivai page on "Divas" website (http://home2.planetinternet.be/verjans/Acting_Divas/Trivia/Trivia_Jean_Harlow.htm):
The following Saturday, Jean was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetary in Glendale. Visitors to Forest Lawn are directed reluctantly to the Great Mausoleum. Strolling past the Dolly Sisters, Gable and Lombard, Marie Dressler, and Theda Bare, one encounters the Jean Harlow Room, barred from the public by a gate, and a security camera.
Died aged twenty-six from complications arising from a bladder infection. It is not true that her mother - a Christian Scientist - kept her from a doctor because of her religious beliefs but the fact was that Jean wanted to finish the movie 'Saratoga' with Clark Gable before going to go to a doctor but by that time it was too late and she died before completing the picture. The picture was completed with a stand-in in some of her scenes.From: "Marilyn's Life Story" by firstname.lastname@example.org (http://marilynm.websitegalaxy.com/wsn7277.html; viewed 4 October 2002)
...Grace would often take Norma Jeane [Marilyn Monroe] to the movies where they'd see the latest Jean Harlow movie. Grace's idolization of Harlow rubbed off on young Norma Jeane, and from then on, Jean Harlow was her favorite actress... Their lives are so similar, that it seems Jean Harlow's life was almost a blue-print for Marilyn's. They were both raised as Christian Scientists...From: Amanda Coyne, "This alaskan life: Reading the scientific way" in Anchorage Press, November 27 - December 4, 2002, Vol. 11, Ed. 48 (http://www.anchoragepress.com/archives/document5353.html; viewed 5 July 2005):
There have been lots of famous Christian Scientists - Marilyn Monroe, Carol Channing, Jean Harlow, the Anchorage Daily News' Kay Fanning, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman from the Nixon administration, Val Kilmer, Robert Duvall.