Blond Bombshells: Sirens of the Silver Screen

Mae West . . .
Jean Harlow . . .
Marilyn Monroe . . .

These three actresses are part of the iconic women in Hollywood’s history known as the blond bombshells. The blond bombshells craze began when Jean Harlow (“The Original Blond Bombshell”) appeared in the appropriately titled film Platinum Blonde (1931). After the film, peroxide flew off the shelves so women could mimic Harlow’s blonde tresses.

Blond hair was not the only requirement for the blond bombshell. The blond bombshell, whether playing the femme fatale (such as Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity), the girl next door (such as Betty Grable as Loco Dempsey in How to Marry a Millionaire), or the dumb blonde (such as Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), was beautiful and sensual (and at times very risqué).  These women were adored by men and emulated by women.

To celebrate blond bombshells, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library is hosting a film series showcasing Mae West in I’m No Angel (1933), Jean Harlow in Libeled Lady (1936), and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot (1959).

Mae WestMae West

West was born in 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. After a career working in vaudeville and Broadway shows, she started her film career when she moved to Hollywood in 1932. Her first film, Night After Night (1932) was followed by seven other films during the 1930s, including She Done Him Wrong (1933), I'm No Angel (1933), Belle of the Nineties (1934), and Klondike Annie (1936), the last three films she wrote and starred in. West would star in only four more films, but her blond hair, hourglass figure, and incredible one-liners, such as “It's not the men in my life that counts - it's the life in my men” from I'm No Angel (1933) and “Why don't you come up some time and see me?” from She Done Him Wrong (1933).

Biographies available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Becoming Mae West by Emily Wortis Leider
Mae West (1893-1980)--the offspring of a classic stage mother and boxer father--evolved from vaudeville performer to the popular, but not critically acclaimed, liberated stage and movie actress of "My Little Chickadee" (1940) fame. Always trying to stay one step ahead of the censors, and losing out temporarily to the Hayes Office in 1930 when it put "Diamond Lil" on the banned list, West represented adventuresomeness in sexuality and career savvy by a female entertainer.

Mae West: It Ain’t No Sin by Simon Louvish
Sex goddess, Hollywood star, transgressive playwright, author, blues singer, and vaudeville brat--Mae West remains a unique twentieth-century figure. She made an everlasting mark in trailblazing Broadway plays and films. Biographer Louvish charts her amazing seven decades in show business, from early years in teenage summer stock to her last reincarnation as 1960s gay icon and grande dame of Hollywood survivors.

Films available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Belle of the Nineties
Mae West plays a popular burlesque performer in swinging St. Louis who travels to New Orleans and thwarts Ace Lamont's attempts to steal her jewels.

I’m No Angel
The story begins with the bewitching Tira (West), who, in addition to circus acts, performs some shady business maneuvers and takes a job as a lion tamer to escape jail. After her first show at Madison Square Garden catapults Tira to stardom, she attracts the attention of wealthy but engaged Kirk Lawrence (Kent Taylor). But Kirk's handsome business partner Jack Clayton (Cary Grant) blows his friend's cover and begins a romance with Tira.

She Done Him Wrong
Mae West plays a brash barroom entertainer in the 1890s with a soft spot for men in trouble, especially the mission director, young Cary Grant. She unknowingly gets caught up in a murder, as well as a white slavery ring, and sets about clearing things up as only Mae can. In between rescues she manages to perform some of her heated, hip-swinging classics, including a steamy belting of "Frankie and Johnnie.”

Jean HarlowJean Harlow

“The Original Blond Bombshell” was born Harlean Carpenter on March 3, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. Harlow made her first big splash in the Laurel and Hardy classic Double Whoopee (1929), but it was her performance in The Saturday Night Kid (1929) that would catch film producer’s Howard Hughes attention and catapult her into stardom. Harlow starred in Hughes’ film Hells Angels (1930), which created a sensation with her line “Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?” Harlow appeared in 41 films before her untimely death from uremic poisoning on June 7, 1937 at the age of 26.

Biographies available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn
After 56 years, Stenn persuaded Harlow's family, friends, colleagues and employers to break their silence and provide previously sealed legal, financial and medical records, which solved the mystery of her death. His account is confirmed by scores of exclusive interviews with eyewitness sources.

Platinum Girl: The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow by Eve Golden
The movie star whose hair inspired the phrase "platinum blond,'' Jean Harlow had a sexy, comic reputation on screen but was, as Golden emphasizes, more comfortable in casual clothes, relaxing with family and friends. Harlow packed a lot of living into a short time: after her career took off in 1930 with the release of Hell's Angels , she was Hollywood's blond bombshell (the title of one of her movies) until her sudden death of kidney failure in 1937 at age 26. [Publisher’s Weekly Review]

Films available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Dinner at Eight
A Park Avenue snob gives a dinner party for a visiting English peer. Little does she realize that her shipping magnate husband is bankrupt and that her daughter is having an affair with an older man. 

Libeled Lady
It all starts when society diva Loy slaps newsman Tracy with a libel suit. Tracy enlists fiancée Harlow and down-on-his luck Powell in a counter maneuver involving a rigged marriage, a phony seduction, a fabulously funny fishing scene, fisticuffs, broken promises and hearts and eventually, true love for all.

Public Enemy
Two slum boys start out as bootleggers and climb to be big-time gangsters.

 Marilyn MonroeMarilyn Monroe

 Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Monroe’s acting career began with minor roles and uncredited parts under contract to Twentieth Century Fox. When her contract ended, Monroe did some modeling until she appeared as a minor character in All About Eve (1950), which won her recognition and another contract with Fox. Throughout the early- to mid-50s, Monroe’s star power rose with films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).  Monroe’s only critical success came from her portrayal of a ukulele-playing singer in Some Like it Hot (1959). In total, Monroe appeared in 33 films before her early death at the age of 36 from an overdose.

Biographies available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Marilyn - The Last Take by Peter Harry Brown and Patte B. Barham
Here are new revelations about Marilyn's controversial death and about the massive cover-up that followed, making this national bestseller "a sizzler", according to Liz Smith. Instead of a drunken, mentally disturbed has-been, the authors present a dynamic star on the way to a terrific comeback. 

My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe by Bernieve Baker Miracle and Mona Rae Miracle
In My Sister Marilyn, Berniece Baker Miracle and Mona Rae Miracle share memories of their famous relative - a story they have kept private since the early days of Marilyn's fame. Their purpose is the opposite of sensationalism: they want Marilyn's fans to know the warm-hearted woman they knew - the one who sent them her favorite dresses, repeatedly warned them about protecting their privacy, and tried to provide her schizophrenic mother with a home even as her own world became increasingly troubled.

Films available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
A musical comedy about the adventures of two beautiful showgirls--an apparently stupid blonde golddigger and her provocative brunette friend--during a voyage from New York to Paris. 

The Misfits
A group of cowboys and a young divorcee meet in the Nevada desert to try to find a new life.

The Seven Year Itch
A situation comedy in which Ewell finds himself in a tempting atmosphere with Monroe while his wife is away on vacation. 

Some Like it Hot
Hilarious comedy with Marilyn Monroe as a ukulele-playing singer, and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as down-and-out musicians who escape irate Chicago mobsters by changing their names to Josephine and Daphne and joining a female jazz band.